The Year of Living Biblically


I picked up A. J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically (original title: By the Book) from a street library, appropriately enough, outside a local church, and took it with me to read on the train between Sydney and Melbourne (11 hours of total relaxation, can't recommend it enough). A fellow passenger wearing a large crucifix caught sight of the cover and eagerly asked for a look; however, after a quick glance, she handed it back with a bemused expression, and I'm guessing it wasn't quite the book she thought it might be.

I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed it. It falls into the category I call 'chatty memoir.' A.J. Jacobs is known for his immersive journalism; I'd previously enjoyed The Know-It-All, which chronicled his quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. The Year of Living Biblically similarly follows Jacobs' attempt to follow every rule in the Bible. He grows his hair and his beard, refrains from touching his wife during certain times of the month, dresses in white, begins praying regularly, tries to stop lying (this is a particularly difficult injunction) and explores many more obscure Biblical rules, including animal sacrifice, scaring a pigeon off its nest and hunting for a flawless red heifer.

His conclusion is that every Bible-based religion and sect 'cherry-picks' because it's simply impossible to follow every rule, partly because they often contradict each other. A self-described secular Jew, he's also pleasantly surprised by a growing sense of spirituality, which maybe derives from a 'fake it till you make it' approach -- praying three times a day at first feels artificial and stilted, but in time he finds himself looking forward to prayer time and feeling genuine gratitude. Wearing white makes him feel 'lighter.' He begins to see the benefit of keeping the Sabbath, a day of rest, and giving to charity. And he also develops an unexpected sense of connection to his cultural heritage, and a couple of moments of transcendent joy.

A.J. Jacobs is a very funny, self-deprecating and acutely observant writer. His quest swings enjoyably between the very silly and the delightfully reflective. The Year of Living Biblically turned out to be a more thoughtful and deeper journey than I was expecting, and I'm guessing the same was true for Jacobs himself.

No comments:

Post a Comment