Code of the West

Guernica, a terrific online magazine of art and politics, has just published an excerpt from my new book, Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness and the Country In Between. It’s called “Code of the West,” and it includes cowboys, gunfights, the Confederate dead, karate, evil twins, and my friend Molly, herself a past contributor to Killing the Buddha:

She read her Bible with eyes for the way that “blood moves.” Once she called to say that the fourth chapter of Exodus was weighing on her mind, a difficult passage in which God decides for a moment to kill Moses, for no apparent reason. “There’s a number of different stories from my life that are like that,” she told me. She meant moments when she could feel she’d fallen from some kind of grace, periods of no safety and no explanations. “When you’re either hiding from God, or have been seen, or are on the radar screen, or are being chased.” She was fascinated by the thought that God was entitled to kill you at any time.

And yet, she was more or less at peace with the Lord. It’s the “less,” I think, that kept us friends; we liked to talk about God and we both knew that’s a conversation without many conclusions. We shared a belief that words are unstable, that learning to read is a process you can never be done with, because the words are always changing.

Also included for the low, low price of whatever your bookstore discounts it to: anarchist martyrs, Yiddish writers, fundamentalist hell housers, sinister banjo players, flying saucer believers, and a high priestess of Gor, playing the Mimi Rogers part from The Rapture.

Sweet Heaven When I Die‘s official publication date is August 15, but it should be in your local independent bookstore any day now; if it’s not, ask them to order it.  If you ordered, say, 24 copies for your extended family, they should arrive from Amazon this week. This fall, I’ll be telling stories from the book in Middlebury, Vermont; University of Vermont; Norwich Vermont; New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Shepherdstown, W. VA; Pasadena, CA; and likely a few stops in North Carolina. Details to come. Meantime, learn the “Code of the West.”

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).