Book Review: Anthropology -- Salvation on Sand

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[. . .] There is power in the act of disappearing; there is victory in the loss of self. It must be close to our conception of paradise, what it's like before you're born or after you die" (Covington, 2009, pp. 169-170). Finally, because of his skill as a writer, Covington's book moves back and forth like a snake: he starts with his own point-of-view and admitted religious biases; then he lets the snake handlers speak about their practice; then he talks about Glenn Summerford's trial and his own background as a journalist; then he talks about the historical background of Appalachian people; then he talks about his own genealogical roots; then he talks about snakes and about his own attendance at some services; gradually he gets into his own desire to handle snakes and what it was like to finally handle snakes; then he talks about being driven from the church because he stands up for women. For all these reasons, the book is a unique and very personal view into an obscure and dangerous religious practice.

Covington's approach to this subject is also bad in some ways, mostly because he loses the good qualities of being a journalist. First, he starts with a topic but then makes himself the subject of his own writing, which a journalist is not supposed to do. Secondly, he loses a journalist's objectivity and evidence to back up his claims. For example, Covington says, "The lure of the secular and worldly in a region once characterized as the Bible Belt has left a residue of rootlessness, anxiety, and lawlessness (Covington, 2009, p. 24); this is a very strong conclusion but he does not back it up with objective facts. The conclusion seems to come from his own religious bias. For another example, when Covington is talking about the ecstatic expression on a snake handler's face, he says, "The expression seems to have more to do with Eros than with God, in the same way that sex often seems to have more to do with death than with pleasure" (Covington, 2009, p. 99). Covington's belief that sex often seems to have more to do with death than with pleasure is odd and is not supported by any objective facts; it is as though he is making up that idea just because it sounds good for his point. Finally, looking at his writing in a different light, his writing style is poor for a journalist because it moves in a bunch of different directions and sometimes seems disorganized. Maybe he was not trying to make his book move like a snake; maybe he was just disorganized. For all these reasons, the book is a poor example of a journalist covering a story.

3. Conclusion

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake handling and redemption in southern Appalachia is written by a journalist for the New York Times who was covering the 1992 trial and conviction of Glenn Summerford for the attempted murder of his wife with snakes. However, due to the journalist's own Southern roots and spiritual journey, the book became a first-person glimpse into the fanatical religious practices of snake handling and strychnine-drinking. Drawn to these religious practices, Covington explores their birth and development in America, explores his own family's possible involvement in snake handling, attends some services to observe the practices, and eventually handles snakes during religious services. Based on a biblical quotation that "In my name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them," this odd religious practice causes the participants to be caught up in ecstasy because these poor, uneducated people are proving their belief in God and his protection, are becoming closer to God, are losing themselves and are also becoming powerful. Covington also experiences these results from snake handling and learns from them, though he is eventually driven out of the church because he stands up for women. The book is good in some respects but bad in other respects. The book is good in that it is a unique and very personal view into snake handling; however, the book is also bad because it is also a poor… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Anthropology -- Salvation on Sand.  (2013, April 9).  Retrieved May 20, 2019, from

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"Anthropology -- Salvation on Sand."  9 April 2013.  Web.  20 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Anthropology -- Salvation on Sand."  April 9, 2013.  Accessed May 20, 2019.