The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Year of Living Biblically
Jen Garrett indirectly encouraged me to read this book. She recently purchased a book by A.J. Jacobs called The Know-It-All. I commented that I own two books by Jacobs but haven't read either of them. So when it was time to choose another adventure from the stacks, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible became the obvious choice.

Jacobs sets out to follow the Bible, particularly the odd, outdated, or weird edicts, literally. Had he stuck to this narrow perspective (a joke that would have been beaten to death in 100 pages), the book would not have been nearly as enjoyable. Throughout the year, he discovers a lot about religion, the Bible, and the meaning and purpose behind them. It's more of an experiment in spirituality rather than a spiritual journey. Although he remains basically agnostic (saying, "I'm officially Jewish, but I'm Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant"), he gains a certain respect for sacredness and structure.

The Year of Living Biblically straddles an interesting line: it contains enough earnest religious material to merit back cover blurbs from religious men, and yet it is entertaining enough that one needn't be religious to enjoy it (though a Jewish or Christian background helps make the references more familiar). I think Jacobs went a little half-assed on the New Testament (I guess he's Jewish enough that he couldn't quite embrace Jesus), but I still liked the book a lot. It strikes the right mix of humor, religion, skepticism, and memoir.

This book also inspired another project. Because some parts of the Bible seem to promote slavery, Jacobs did the next best thing: he acquired an intern. While serving Jacobs, intern/slave Kevin Roose got the idea of transferring from ultra-liberal Brown University to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University for a semester. The result is The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. I haven't looked at it yet, but it's been positively reviewed at Amazon.

Current tally: 37 books finished, 31 books acquired

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I'm still in the early stages of the Know-It-All, but I like it. His writing is engaging.
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