Tuesday, January 29, 2008

the year of living biblically

a j jacobs once read the encyclopedia brittanica. he wrote a book about it. i haven't read that book.

but i have read the year of living biblically. the name might tip you off as to what, exactly, he did. yup. and, as you might think, trying to follow every biblical law and precept makes for a damned interesting book. growing a beard, helping old ladies across the street, getting a chicken slaughtered... all sorts of random stuff, just like the bible says.

it's even more interesting than that, even. if he spent a year systematically working through the bible's laws, finding ways to follow them while living in new york, that would be a good stunt and make for an interesting book. but this is more than that. it's the spiritual journey of an agnostic who is trying to stay openminded in the face of fundamentalism and figure out if there is anything to religion. he doesn't take the bible lightly or treat it irreverently. on the contrary, he earnestly tries to find what rings true to him, even in the most ridiculous of fringe faiths. if he were tom robbins he would be making his audience piss themselves laughing as he wittily tore the bible's odder sections and stranger followers to shreds, but jacobs isn't robbins. instead, he aknowledges that his subjects are indeed strange too the (secular) observer, but that amid the snakehandling and dietary laws there are deep and valuable truths.

it's a tricky dance he does, being a funny, critical-minded guy respectfully investigating western civilization's most revered book and its followers. he could so easily become sappy, preachy, cynical, mean... there are many ways he could have written a book that made me despise him. but he didn't.

i also loved all the times he mentioned his wife's reactions to the strange things he did. i really like that woman. i suspect that in the right circumstances my parter and i would be good friends with he and his wife. plus our kids are the same age and every time he mentioned his toddler i looked fondly at mine.

before reading this book i assumed that the kind of man who would write for esquire would be shallow, materialistic and mean-minded. i was wrong. i think i need to read his other book. and maybe start reading the mens' magazine he writes for.

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