Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet

Falling in Love with Joseph Smith: My Search for the Real Prophet

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by Jane Barnes
     
 

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When award-winning documentary film writer Jane Barnes was working on the PBS Frontline/American Experience special series The Mormons, she was surprised to find herself passionately drawn to Joseph Smith. The product of an Episcopalian, “WASPy” family, she couldn’t remember ever having met a Mormon before her work on the series—muchSee more details below

Overview

When award-winning documentary film writer Jane Barnes was working on the PBS Frontline/American Experience special series The Mormons, she was surprised to find herself passionately drawn to Joseph Smith. The product of an Episcopalian, “WASPy” family, she couldn’t remember ever having met a Mormon before her work on the series—much less having dallied with the idea of converting to a religion shrouded in controversy. But so it was: She was smitten with a man who claimed to have translated the word of God by peering into the dark of his hat.

In this brilliantly written book, Barnes describes her experiences working on the PBS series as she moved from secular curiosity to the brink of conversion to Mormonism. It all began when she came across Joseph Smith's early writings. She was delighted to discover how funny and utterly unique he was—and how widely divergent his wild yet profound visions of God were from the Church of Latter-day Saints as we know it today. Her fascination deepened when, much to her surprise, she learned that her eighth cousin Anna Barnes converted to Mormonism in 1833. Through Anna, Barnes follows her family’s close involvement with Smith and the crises caused by his controversial practice of polygamy. Barnes’ unlikely path helps her gain a newfound respect for the innovative American spirit that lies at the heart of Mormonism—and for a religion that is, in many ways, still coming into its own.

An intimate portrait of the man behind one of America’s fastest growing religions, Falling in Love with Joseph Smith offers a surprising and provocative window into the Mormon experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Jane Barnes’ startling, compelling book looks for treasure, much as the young Joseph Smith did, with the passion of a convert and the wild, sharp eye of someone determined to find it in the most unlikely places. This is a beautiful and utterly original book.”

—Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak

"This is a balanced and intensely personal biography of Smith, as well as an arresting memoir of a spiritual leader."
Publishers Weekly

“This is a book about faith and irony, but don't let the title fool you. Hold on to your hats, because you're going to be falling in love with Joseph Smith, too!”

—Dennis Covington, author of the National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain

“Jane Barnes offers a rollicking, visionary, and deeply personal exploration of the magnetic legacy of Joseph Smith and what his story can teach us about our own deeply American hunger for transcendence.  In a moment when many Americans are realizing how little they know about Mormonism, Barnes shows us what non-Mormons can and should love about this uniquely American faith tradition.”
—Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl, associate professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature,
San Diego State University

 “Jane Barnes’ fascination with Joseph Smith is an inward journey, an account of one person's attempt to articulate and to answer difficult questions about the mysterious Joseph, a man who puzzles and eludes her. Falling in Love with Joseph Smith made me think of one of my favorite hybrid books, Annie Dillard's For the Time Being.”

—Ann Beattie, PEN/Malamud award-winning author, professor of Literature and Creative Writing, University of Virginia

Library Journal
This narrative of Barnes's fascination with Joseph Smith (1805–1844), whom she approaches with a mix of historical admiration, literary comparison, and spirituality, is neither a critique nor an exposition of Mormonism. Rather, it is the author's search for the man behind the legend, all of which is recounted with plenty of entertaining tales from Smith's life. Barnes's knowledge of the legends surrounding Smith (gained largely as a writer for the PBS series The Mormons) is abundant, though the most outrageous of those tales are offered without a VERDICT on their veracity. She sets out to investigate why her curious interest in Smith evolved into a near conversion experience, complete with imaginary dialog among Smith, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn, and in her search she may leave readers struggling to discover the purpose of the book. VERDICT This entertaining but often disjointed memoir will be of interest to those seeking a distinct personal perspective on a religion currently in the headlines. Richard Lyman Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling remains a better option for those seeking a biography of Smith.—Paul W. Roberts, Oklahoma Baptist Univ. Lib., Shawnee
Kirkus Reviews
A thought-provoking, sometimes surprising account of a female intellectual's passion for Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and her near-conversion to the faith. Since her childhood, author and documentarian Barnes (Double Lives, 1981, etc.) has nursed "a persistent religious drive." Born into a family where religion was more ritual than the expression of true faith, she eventually began a "slow mosey" through Unitarianism, ecstatic Protestantism, Zen Buddhism and spiritual practices that verged on worship of the supernatural. By 2003, Barnes had developed an especially profound fascination with Smith. Her interest manifested first as a treatment for a PBS documentary about Smith's life, then evolved into a full-blown love for the man and his work. "His exuberant arc from boy conjurer into frontier prophet with gold plates gave me the most intense delight of which I was capable," she writes. Smith's many contradictions showed Barnes that God and irony could coexist, but more importantly, that God had "a touchingly, meltingly, divinely irreverent sense of humor." As she continued to explore the Mormon faith, she discovered that she was not the first in her family to have been touched by Smith's teachings. Both maternal and paternal relatives had converted to Mormonism, and one had even become one of Brigham Young's many wives. Ultimately, though, Barnes could not make the commitment to becoming a Mormon. While the author clearly idolizes Smith, she is not an apologist for him. A searching, intelligent spiritual memoir.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101597170
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/16/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
0 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Jane Barnes’ startling, compelling book looks for treasure, much as the young Joseph Smith did, with the passion of a convert and the wild, sharp eye of someone determined to find it in the most unlikely places. This is a beautiful and utterly original book.”
--Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak

"This is a balanced and intensely personal biography of Smith, as well as an arresting memoir of a spiritual leader."
--Publishers Weekly

“This is a book about faith and irony, but don't let the title fool you. Hold on to your hats, because you're going to be falling in love with Joseph Smith, too!”
--Dennis Covington, author of the National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain

“Jane Barnes offers a rollicking, visionary, and deeply personal exploration of the magnetic legacy of Joseph Smith and what his story can teach us about our own deeply American hunger for transcendence. In a moment when many Americans are realizing how little they know about Mormonism, Barnes shows us what non-Mormons can and should love about this uniquely American faith tradition.”
--Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl, associate professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature,
San Diego State University

“Jane Barnes’ fascination with Joseph Smith is an inward journey, an account of one person's attempt to articulate and to answer difficult questions about the mysterious Joseph, a man who puzzles and eludes her. Falling in Love with Joseph Smith made me think of one of my favorite hybrid books, Annie Dillard's For the Time Being.”
--Ann Beattie, PEN/Malamud award-winning author, professor of Literature and Creative Writing, University of Virginia

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