So here’s the elevator pitch for The Year of Living Biblically: this guy, technically Jewish, but secular — an avowed agnostic, actually — decides that for one full year he will follow the laws and commandments of the Bible. All of them. Literally. (Except for those it would be criminal to follow.)
(He also ignores some commands about disposition of bodily waste that I can’t locate after a few minutes’ search, but am pretty sure I read at one point.)
There are few interesting aspects to this — he’s doing an experiment on himself to see how following biblical precepts affects his own attitudes. But he also demonstrates the impossibility of following all of the Bible’s instructions. He makes a pretty strong case that as much as some hard-liners decry the “cafeteria” approach to living by the Bible, it’s actually the only viable approach. The questions, he asserts, are of where you draw the lines on one hand between interpretation and literalism, and between continued relevance and outdatedness on the other.
In the course of his year he talks to everyone from Orthodox Jews to right-wing evangelicals and snake handlers. When I wrote about The Guinea Pig Diaries I paid it the somewhat left-handed compliment of being more entertaining than educational. I’ve felt slightly guilty since that I didn’t emphasize the entertainment value by mentioning how many snorts, chuckles, and outright guffaws the book inspired. The Year of Living Biblically also repeatedly made me make noises, and I learned more from it to boot.
I also thought it dragged a bit (although I can’t imagine how I would have felt trying to live through the year it took Jacobs). Jacobs spends most of his time on the Old Testament before switching to the New, and I was distinctly impatient for the change of focus — although toward the end of the Old Testament section I found probably my favorite passage, in which Jacobs discusses the inconstancy of his faith, or lack thereof, with a clarity and honesty that struck me as very uncommon. (It reminded me of one of my favorite David Bazan lyrics, which is in no way a left-handed compliment.)
This book also dovetailed oddly with my own life. One of the most profound and lasting effects on Jacobs is that he find himself continually and deeply grateful for the good things in his life. My experiences in January of 2008 and in May and June of last year changed me so fundamentally that some people have begun to describe me as an optimist. (That notion inspires a lot of cognitive dissonance, but I have to concede I see where they’re coming from.) Jacobs never literally expresses the words that have become my mantra — “every day is a gift” — but I think he might agree, even if he, like me, doesn’t think of the giver in particularly concrete terms.
needs more demons? (for once, not going there)