All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A. J. Jacobs, is stunt nonfiction at its best. Jacobs, a journalist, is well suited for a structured, disciplined project like this one, in which he attempts to follow the Bible’s diverse and sometimes unexplainable rules for an entire year.

Jacobs is admittedly agnostic. He decided to follow his previous book about reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica by delving into religion. His reasons were simple: 1) the Bible is “the most influential book in the world, the all-time best seller,” 2) trying to live the Bible would be his “visa to the spiritual world,” and 3) study for the book allowed him to further explore Biblical literalism, which he found fascinating.

Jacobs struggles with how to determine which Bible laws to follow and how to interpret them. He wonders why God would care, for example, if we wore mixed fibers (or as Jacobs drolly put it, “an unkosher blazer”), which violates one of the laws from the first five books of the Bible. What he determines is, “We don’t know.” But Jacobs gives a more artful and philosophical explanation than simply that we don’t know. He provides a couple of theories—one of a parent setting guidelines a child can’t understand, and one that says “you never know what’s important in the long term.” So, Jacobs attempts to follow the spirit of the law when possible (including stoning adulterers) but sometimes following the intent (no actual eye for an eye).

The author handles the experts he interviewed with respect, even though he might not have agreed with them. He is charitable in his descriptions, and fairly recounts their expressions of faith. He is free with descriptions of his own shortcomings including his marital woes, ranging from their infertility issues to his wife’s disapproval of his strict adherence to some of the purity laws dealing with women.

As the book progresses, Jacobs begins to find himself changed. Not in the sense that he becomes an Orthodox Jew or a Fundamentalist Christian Literalist, but in the sense that he becomes more reflective about his own life and the actions he takes. He considers how he disciplines his son, how the magazine he writes for encourages a lifestyle that contradicts the one he has adopted, and how he fits into his place in his family and their history.

Jacobs’ book is well-researched and documented, and he cites all manner of religious experts and students of the Bible. He doesn’t make any declarations about what is right or wrong, but recounts how he sees things differently in light of his research. There’s no heavy-handed proselytizing here—simply the story of one man’s foray into Biblical living and perhaps, what is right and wrong for him.

The Year of Living Biblically was published in 2008 by Simon and Schuster.

No comments:

Post a Comment