Friday, March 6, 2009

The Year of Living Biblically (A.J. Jacobs)

I wanted to wait, I really did. I wanted to be able to tell you that The Year of Living Biblically, ANOTHER New York Times Bestseller, was an amazing book that I couldn't put down. I wanted to be able to tell you to go out and get this book, because Jacobs writes hilariously about an incredibly interesting topic, but I can't, and it kills me. I was so excited to read this book. I had so much hope for it, but it's taking me so long, and I've lost so much interest, that unfortunately this is going to be the historic FIRST FAILED BOOK. I just couldn't finish it, after weeks of trying (I still have six months of the biblical year to go).

A.J. Jacobs is also the author of another New York Times Bestseller, The Know-It-All, which is described on the cover as "One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World." The Year of Living Biblically is described on the cover as "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible." So it's a totally different book, because in one he's reading the encyclopedia and talking about it, and in the other he's reading the Bible and talking about it.


As I mentioned, it says "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible" right on the cover. That's pretty much the whole synopsis.

The end.


Just kidding. Kinda. What the cover of the book doesn't tell you is that Jacobs is boring (he repeats himself, a lot), self-centered (he frequently talks about how much he Googles himself, so he might even be reading this right now. oops), and overall not a very talented writer. The book is allegedly set up chronologically, with each chapter being a different month of the year, but it tends to skip back and forth between stories that are happening in that month and stories that happened way earlier but just weren't mentioned. That's a good strategy if you're writing a narrative, with reveals and secrets and plot twists, but when you're writing a factual account of how you're coping on a day-to-day basis with this difficult task you've set for yourself, and then randomly jump back three months every once in a while, it doesn't make sense. Why didn't you just tell us then, A.J.? Another reason this book didn't really grab me is that there's no end in sight. He isn't really aspiring towards anything. He vaguely makes reference to looking forward to figuring out if maybe this experiment will possibly make him more spiritual or something, but that doesn't really give the reader any incentive to keep going. At best the book provides some mildly humorous anectodes, but it reads like a case study that's almost funny. I've honestly read descriptions of quantum physics with more personality (JourneyByStarlight, if you're interested).

Seriously, the whole year could have been summed up in one sentence with Jacobs just writing "It was awkward" on the first page. It's not funny enough to pull you through it, which is such a shame, because the situations and complications that come out of this experience are interesting and have the potential to be so compelling. It doesn't go anywhere, though. I hate to judge it so harshly when I haven't even finished the whole thing, but when it takes me almost a month to get only halfway through a 332-page book, something's not right. If you still think that the concept is thought-provoking enough to pique your interest, go right ahead and try it out. Maybe you'll have a better time with it than I did. I'm not the biggest fan of nonfiction in the world, but I've read some outstanding pieces (The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester, for example, which I highly recommend and might review some day). This is not one of those outstanding pieces, though.


The Year of Living Biblically
by A.J. Jacobs

The only reason this got higher than a 5 is because the concept was so original. I was so excited to read this book, but it's boring, it really let me down.

The chapters were months of your year. Okay, Jacobs, that's a neat way to separate time, make it easy for the reader. Too bad you didn't really follow that model throughout. Oh, and you're a bad writer.

So let's sum this all up:
-Bad writing
-Uninteresting main character
-No real goal beyond finishing the year
Yeah, sounds like a winner.


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