Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: The Year of Living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically recounts author AJ Jacobs' year-long experiment in following the Bible as literally as possible, while at the same time traveling to and interviewing other religious folk, from all over the "crazy" scale. Intrigued by the subject matter (though admittedly a bit burned out by non-fiction over the last few months), I looked forward to a crash course on the Bible, something I knew very little about. While the concept sounded gimmicky, I was willing to withhold judgement. At least for a little while.

As I mentioned earlier, the book finds Jacobs following biblical rules and traveling throughout the United States (and Israel) to understand how people can interpret the same Bible in such disparate ways. The chapters that involve the author interacting with different sects, whether they the Amish or Tennessean Snake-handlers are engaging and respectful, mostly because they allow the followers to explain their belief system themselves, unprocessed by Jacobs. Unfortunately, these scenes are few and far between.

The majority of the book takes place in Jacobs' apartment in Manhattan which he uses as an opportunity to harass the ever-loving piss out of his pregnant wife and attract as much attention as possible from complete strangers. This would be comical if he weren't completely reveling in the attention. I understand parts of the bible are silly, but did he really need to bar himself from sitting anywhere his wife sat if she happened to be menstruating? Of course not, but it makes for a hilarious blurb on the inside cover! He treats most of the book like a self-indulgent stunt and as a result, when he tries to make any grand statements they come across as trite and convenient. He vows to take every passage in the bible literally, but spends much of the book molding and trimming them to fit what he felt like talking about (usually some lame joke). He dismisses others as being 'clearly metaphoric' snarkily and then handles snakes a few chapters later while acknowledging that most Christians believe 'picking up serpents' to be a metaphor.

As SS spoke of at the book meeting, hating Jacobs' the man made the book even more frustrating because he interviews some genuinely interesting people with fascinating things to say. I learned a great deal about the Bible and developed a respect for those who view it simply as a guide to do good. If the whole book consisted of these interviews and life philosophies alone I would have been quite satisfied. Instead, I had to suffer through Jacobs' obnoxious sideshow routine.

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