Joanna's Reviews > The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
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's review
Aug 06, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: 100-books-2010, non-fiction

I really enjoyed the concept behind this book. I loved the idea of the experiment and was absolutely engaged to find out whether following the Bible as literally as possible would lead the author to a spiritual awakening or an increased sense of enlightenment.

All of my favorite moments in the book are directly related to that idea: when he feels the joy of God in dancing, when he unconsciously and reflexively prays after his son gets hurt, when he is entranced by the snake handlers, etc. And I enjoyed his exploration of other religious groups who believe in the literal interpretation - creationists, the Amish, Red Letter Christians, and others.

But as the book went on and on, I began to dislike the narrator. Talk about missing the forest for the trees - he seemed to become so intent on the details of snail dyed blue thread for fringing your garments that he missed a lot of larger picture lessons about how to be a good person. For example, not picking a fight with your wife because you forgot to pack your special horn that you are supposed to blow at the start of each month. In a similar way, his patchy enforcement of "no lying" (and this was also the case with a lot of other rules) seemed to come up most frequently not in situations where he would be made uncomfortable, but in situations where other people (like his wife) would be embarrassed or inconvenienced. Can he check his email on the Sabbath? He isn't supposed to, but he does. Can he take out the recycling on the Sabbath when his wife asks him to? No, the Sabbath is a day of rest. Can he take a picture of his wife and her mother at his mother-in-law's birthday dinner? He protests about making graven images. And yet, somehow, there are approximately 200 pictures of his beard throughout the book. Obviously, if you are trying to follow the literal word of God for an entire year, you are going to slip up. That's a given. It just drove me crazy that the times when he seemed to be really bent on enforcement of various rules was so often at the expense of others instead of himself.

He also glosses over a lot of controversial passages/interpretations of the Bible. I felt like he went more in depth about whether the Bible is for or against drinking wine than he did as to whether the Bible actually prohibits homosexuality. And when he gets an unpaid intern, he asks to be able to call him his 'slave' in order to be able to throw in some information about biblical slave laws. That was so flip it was actually disgusting.

I see that Jacobs' new book is about self-improvement. I hope that somewhere along the way, he stops experimenting and actually puts some serious effort into genuinely becoming a better human being.
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Reading Progress

August 6, 2010 – Started Reading
August 6, 2010 – Shelved
August 6, 2010 –
page 58
14.95% "This is a really fascinating book, but I feel sorry for the woman this guy is married to."
August 9, 2010 –
page 102
26.29% "Have I mentioned how sorry I feel for this guy's wife? He just built a hut in their living room."
August 10, 2010 –
page 145
37.37% "As I move further into this book, I dislike the narrator more and more. He enforces the 'no stealing' rule against his son taking more than one straw from Starbucks, but seems awfully lax in his own enforcements."
August 15, 2010 – Shelved as: 100-books-2010
August 15, 2010 – Shelved as: non-fiction
August 15, 2010 – Finished Reading

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