Monday, May 5, 2014

My New Book, Radiant Truths

My new book, Radiant Truths
published April 29 by Yale University Press

Read an excerpt, "This Mutant Genre."

Buy the book.

"Rare is the collection of other people’s writing that coheres into something new and original; and rarer still is the one that takes on meaning because we read it through the eyes of the collector. Radiant Truths is exactly that rarity."
            --Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Review of Books

Radiant Truths an important book. I know people say that a lot about all kinds of books, but this one really is important, particularly if you take into account a couple influential trends in American culture.... Radiant Truths features some of America’s best writers, well known and not, at the top of their game, attempting to explain the unexplainable. And Sharlet is an excellent guide showing how, in almost every case, the writers he showcases get close to that impossible goal of literary journalism, "perfect representation of reality, visible and otherwise.                                                                                                                         --Jonathan D. Fitzgerald, The Daily Beast

Sharlet assembles a highly literate potpourri of writings about religion, faith and other manifestations of “the production of social life.” 
The phrase, notes the author in his introduction, is a commonplace of cultural anthropology, describing the narratives that enable us to live in the world: Jesus died for our sins, America is an exceptional nation blessed by God, and so forth. Interestingly, Sharlet’s chief criterion here is to gather pieces that speak to “what happens when we say ‘religion’ out loud.” The collection begins and ends with Walt Whitman: At the start, he is praying and singing with wounded Union soldiers in a Washington hospital, while at the end, writer Francine Prose is moved to tears on seeing his words, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” on a sign above the Occupy Wall Street encampment, inspired to resist “the awful isolation and powerlessness of knowing we’re being lied to and robbed on a daily basis.” Between those Whitmanesque braces are numerous pieces that are not widely enough known, such as pioneering journalist Abraham Cahan’s report from the streets of New York on the suicide of a Jewish man at Purim... Meridel Le Sueur’s almost supernaturally charged account of the Minneapolis strike of 1934, a Woody Guthrie song come to life (“the walking, falling back, the open mouth crying, the nostrils stretched apart, the raised hand, the blow falling, and the outstretched hand drawing me in”); and H.L. Mencken’s dismissive analysis of the fundamentalism that propelled the Scopes Monkey Trial: “Divine inspiration is as common as the hookworm.” 
...Readers will find plenty here to sustain questions—and perhaps even a few answers—of their own.                                                                                                                                               --Kirkus

Sharlet is an astute commentator on and questioner of American writings that investigate belief and disbelief, popular culture, and the meaning of religion and politics in American life. Here he gathers and comments on pieces composed from the Civil War through Occupy Wall Street. The collection is eclectic, in the best sense, and includes works from a broad spectrum of writers such as Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Meridel Le Seur, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McCarthy, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Francine Prose, and others to discuss "things unseen" and the meaning of an engaged conversation about religion. 
VERDICT: Sharlet's important and thought-provoking book is highly recommended for readers who are interested in our country's culture (both religious and political), creative and literary nonfiction, and well-written, well-argued writing.—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence                                                                                                                         --Library Journal