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  • Since I’ve always believed the real action takes place on the edges, when I spotted “Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness and the Country in Between” on the shelves of my local library a few days ago I couldn’t resist. I was not disappointed. Jeff Sharlet’s exploration of the frontier between belief and doubt makes for compelling reading. His portraits of true believers, hustlers, revolutionaries, naysayers and prophets in their own country are finely drawn and hard to forget.

    Yesterday I was galloping through the pages when a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. I picked it up and gave it a glance. It was a receipt from a previous borrower – let’s call her Alice Joy Mifflin, although that’s not her real name. This is a pretty unusual book, and my writer’s mind immediately went into overdrive. What kind of a kindred spirit wanders off the bestseller path to light into Sharlet territory instead?

    I decided to do a little detective work and Googled my fellow reader. On March 11, 2011, Alice Joy Mifflin was arrested by the Gainesville Police Department on charges of reckless endangerment of her two-year-old child. While Ms. Mifflin was lapsing in and out of consciousness due to an excess of sleeping pills, her boy managed to open some of her medicine bottles and swallowed a large number of pills. Fortunately the boy survived, but when the mother was informed that Family Protective Services might take custody of her baby, she threatened suicide.

    Six months from that day she took “Sweet Heaven When I Die” out from the library. What was her state of mind as she read it? Was she on the lip of despair? Had she turned her life around? Did she love the book or recoil in horror from it? Questions darted in and out of my weary brain.

    I learned also that Alice had moved to Arizona, and there her electronic footprint disappears. For a brief, foolish moment I toyed with the idea of getting in touch with her, but decided that she had earned the right to a new life on her own terms.

    So I took her receipt, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it into the wastebasket. Then I slipped my own in neatly between page 150 and 151.

    Me, I’m an open book.
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