Saturday, 5 December 2009

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically

yearoflivingbiblically The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A. J. Jacobs

Category: Non-fiction

Synopsis: Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbour. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.

The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal, and will make you see history’s most influential book with new eyes. The Year of Living Biblically will charm readers both secular and religious. It is part CliffsNotes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down. (From the back of the book

My Thoughts: This is the best book I have read all year and I have read some good books. This book made me think. It made me understand. It made me laugh and it even brought tears to my eyes at some points.

Like Jacobs I grew up in a secular family and I find religion perplexing and intriguing and in part I am a little bit jealous of people of faith. My grandmother was Catholic and my mum once said that she envied her faith. The comfort my grandmother gained from her faith is something I wish I had. I, however am a sceptic. I want to believe but I can’t quite bring myself to believe. One of the most perplexing things I find with people of faith is their belief in parts of the Bible but not others. This specifically applies to those Biblical literalist I have encountered (primarily on the interwebbies). Jacob does a very good job of presenting what these people believe and why. Does he pass judgment, yes, but to my, secular liberal, views he does it with compassion and understanding. He states that he cannot believe what they believe but at the same time there is a sense of him wanting to have that strong faith.

The sections that had me laughing out loud where often connected to his wife's reactions to his project (her sitting on all the chairs in the apartment when she is menstruating is pure genius on her part) . I read several sections of the book out loud to my parents as I sat reading they were that funny. I also read out sections that I thought were particularly profound. One of these sections was this:
“The Bible is right: A deluge of images does encourage idolatry. Look at the cults of personality in America today. Look at Hollywood. Look at Washington. I’d like to see the next presidential race be run according to Second Commandment principals. No commercials. A radio-only debate. We need an ugly president. I know we’re missing out on some potential Abe Lincolns because they’d look gawky and gangly on TV.” (106)

Looking over my notes on the book I do have one thing that I am still wondering about: What would this book look like if a woman had written it? Many of the rules he touches upon points to the differences between men and women. I would like to read the book written by a woman doing the same thing.
The book primarily deals with the Old Testament as this is where most of the rules are located, but also because these are the rules that Jacobs with his Jewish heritage feels closest to. If I have one criticism of the book it is that I would have liked to see more commentary on the New Testament. The three chapters that cover the New Testament feel shorter and flatter than the nine that cover the Old Testament. They do include some fairly profound thoughts but they feel rushed. This is probably in part because of the birth of Jacobs twins and the changes that they cause in his life (and I was so happy that they had those kids). It didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book but I did notice the change in the book. 

For those of you who read my Teaser Tuesday on this book: He out Bibles the Jehovah's Witness. The man ends up having to leave without Jacobs being “done”.

I highly recommend this book!


Amy said...

Thanks for this review! I've been wondering about this book, and I actually almost bought it on a whim a few months back. Now it's definitely on my to-be-read list!

Janet Ruth said...

Very interesting review, and now I will have to check out this book too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.