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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia [Paperback]

Dennis Covington
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Jan 2010
For New York Times reporter Dennis Covington, what began as a journalistic assignment--covering the trial of an Alabama pastor convicted of attempting to murder his wife with poisonous snakes--would evolve into a headlong plunge into a bizarre, mysterious, and ultimately irresistible world of unshakable faith: the world of holiness snake handling. Set in the heart of Appalachia, Salvation on Sand Mountain is Covington's unsurpassed and chillingly captivating exploration of the nature, power, and extremity of faith--an exploration that gradually turns inward, until Covington finds himself taking up the snakes.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc; 15th anniversary ed edition (7 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818363
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 476,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Option, 8/15/11 "Heartfelt yet sensational...Covington's memoir is genuinely life-changing."

About the Author

Dennis Covington is the award-winning author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Lizard and Lasso the Moon. He teaches creative writing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IT WILL RATTLE YOUR SOUL! 13 Jan 1999
By A Customer
I first read this book while in College. I found it so interesting that I found myself re-reading it over and over. It it an extrodinary look at Southern Apalachia, the culture and lives of it's Mountain people. The prologue is as a fine peice of southern literature as I have ever had the priveledge to read. Portions of the book are chilling, even more so, when you realize that it is all true. Little did I know that 2 years after first reading the book I would live directly in the middle of the area Covington wrote about. I have had the oportunity to meet and know some of the people he described. When my job forced my wife and I to move to Scottsboro, we used the book as a literal road map when we arrived. I have loaned it out several times. I would encourage anyone, in particular Southerners, to read this fascinating book. The recent and much publicised death of one of the book's characters (John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, who was bitten by a rattle snake and died at a recent church service) led me to re-read the it again. I still could not put it down. It is unlike anything I have ever read. When this book wraps itself around you and sinks in it's fangs, there is no letting go.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An open-minded look at the rural South 4 Jan 1999
By A Customer
I am from rural Appalachia, a few miles from some of the sites in Covington's book. It's rare to see us "rednecks" and "hicks" presented with an open mind. Southern culture is quite complex--in equal parts chaotic, convoluted, and compelling. Covington captures that well. He also captures the curiously all-consuming intensity of an ecstatic religion--it never fails to bemuse me that some people won't tell you the time of day without a mention of Jesus. Snake handling is a fascinating subject, and Covington not only paints a vivid picture, he also elucidates the inchoate desire of all Southerners to recapture our past and at the same time move beyond it in the eyes of the nation. What he doesn't handle well is journalistic distance from the subject. When he gets deeply involved in the services, his analytical voice is abandoned in favor of simply recording events. I wish he had worked harder at maintaining his objectivity. But don't let that stop you from reading an intriguing book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and meaningful story 12 July 1999
By A Customer
What makes this book so interesting to me is the way that it not only chronicles the actions of the snake handlers, but the affect the situation has on the author, as well. I always appreciate books about religious subjects by authors who are not skeptical or hostile to religious matters. Covington's experiences on a spiritual level are just as compelling as his experiences with the members of the church. This is a very good book, one worth reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Scary and Sad 3 Aug 2012
By Leven1
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This documentary novel tells how after covering the trial for attempted murder of a snake handling preacher in Alabama in 1991 the author was invited to a snake handling church. This book details his experiences, the people he met and the places he visited. The author describes mostly with fondness the people he met and experiences he had. His writing gets more intense as he gets caught up in the atmosphere of the services until he eventually handles a snake.

Although very much a book about religion you do not need to be religious to enjoy it. The author is very open about his Christianity and beliefs but also that he does not initially understand why the snake handlers do it. However, as the author, who admits to an attraction to danger becomes caught up in the fervour of the services and the snake handling he becomes less objective. He even admits that during this period he actually considered fully joining and becoming a snake handler.

Eventually this obsession wears off when the many different stories of surviving snake bites and losing loved ones to snake bites tarnishes the attraction. I found the ending rather strange and was not sure why what happened happened but the author seemed to sense that the end had been coming before this incident.

The writing manages to describe the fervour that the services stir up but also towards the end the claustrophobia of being part of so small a group. This is particulary apparent if you google snake handling. Most of the articles that appear concern the same people (many of them appearing in this book). The tragedy of so many needless deaths was also made very clear to me when I noted that one of people in this book Punkin Brown (described as the "legendary Punkin Brown") died in 1998 from a snake bite.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Moving account of a culture and a spiritual quest 21 July 2007
This remarkable book tells of the author's interest in the serpent-handling Holiness believers of the south, his own spiritual journey and a search for his roots. Covington attended his first snake handling service in 1992 at the Church of Jesus With Signs Following in Scottsboro, Alabama. His interest ultimately led him to churches in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The engaging text includes descriptions of the people, their faith, church services and sermons as well as ruminations on the south and in particular the culture of Appalachia. The author's personal quest for faith and belonging is the glue that holds the narrative together and make it so special.

Along the way Covington attends Brush Arbor services, delves into the history of the Holiness movement and discovers that Methodism gave rise to Pentecostalism which in turn gave birth to Holiness. He also discovers that his great great grandfather was an itinerant preacher in Northeast Alabama, an area where snake handling would start a generation after his death.

His engagingly descriptive prose includes the observation that the music "was like a cross between Salvation Army and acid rock." Describing a service in Jolo, he remarks that the organ playing of Lydia Elkins Hollins was like "cloth ripping" and that her voice was as raw and tortured as Janis Joplin's.

Finally, Covington handled snakes himself on Sand Mountain at the Old Rock House Holiness Church near the tiny hamlet of Macedonia south of Section, Alabama. His appraisal of the numinous experience of serpent-handling is riveting and lucid and includes observations of a change in consciousess and how the handler finds victory in the loss of self.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but not worth purchasing.
Read for a college Theology class. It's entertaining, but didn't hold my interest for long. I recommend borrowing it from a library--it's not worth purchasing. Read more
Published on 17 Jun 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Both the fact and the feeling of the snake handlers' faith.
Dennis Covington takes the reader on a journey with him to the snake-handling Pentacostal lands of Southern Appalachia. Read more
Published on 15 May 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at today's South
As a native Southerner and a life long resident of one of the most colorful areas of our country, I was most impressed with the loving care Mr. Covington treated our culture. Read more
Published on 11 April 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Snake Handling - Biblical Fundamentalism Gone Awry
Probably the biggest problem any reader of Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain would encounter, is where to file the paperback when read - in the religion or herpetology... Read more
Published on 30 Oct 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Very alive
I found this book to be a powerful exploration of what is at once both a very simple and very complex faith. Read more
Published on 22 Oct 1998
4.0 out of 5 stars Left out historical documentation of the movement.
I am a cradle Pentecostal who has converted to the Catholic Church, and am from Appalachia. As a child, I remember a "Signs" church that was not too far from my... Read more
Published on 17 Mar 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is both fun and fascinating
I handle snakes and attend church but unlike the the people whoare the subject of this fascinating book I don't happen to do both at the same time. Read more
Published on 10 April 1997
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