Sarah White

Review by

Every family's journey to parenthood is unique, and that's particularly true when it comes to families that choose foreign adoption. In The Red Thread, Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle) explores the reasons and reactions different couples have in the course of adopting children from China.

Maya Lange opened The Red Thread, an adoption agency for people wishing to adopt from China, after she lost her own child in a freak accident, a story she keeps to herself. Hood’s narrative follows a group of couples as they make their way through the adoption process.

There's the famous retired baseball player and his wife, both of whom worry that a child will ruin their relationship; the type-A mom-to-be who wants her child now, if not sooner; the woman who wants loads of children—her own and adopted kids—but whose husband ran away when his last girlfriend got pregnant; the couple with a biological child with a congenital health problem who long for a healthy child; the woman struggling with a series of miscarriages and the difficult relationship with her stepdaughter; and Lange herself, who thinks she's finally ready to let love into her life again nine years after her first child's death.

The individual family stories feel a little bit clichéd—desperate women, ambivalent (or worse) husbands—and the fairy tale ending of the book will leave readers wanting a sequel that explores the reality of integrating adopted children into families with other children, or into the life of a single mom just starting to open herself up to other people after a long stagnant period.

Readers who are at all familiar with foreign adoption will have trouble suspending disbelief at how smooth and quickly things go for these families. The timeline is truncated, and at least a couple of the characters who adopt wouldn't be able to do so under China's current regulations.

But for readers who don't know a lot about foreign adoption or why a couple might choose to go that route, the book is illuminating and heartwarming. The stories of the Chinese women who gave up the adopted girls add another layer to the story that many people might not think about: these children were loved by the women who left them behind, and it was a huge sacrifice leave the children with an unknowable future.

The Red Thread reminds readers of the joy and magic that come with welcoming a new life into your world, even if that life originally came from thousands of miles away.

Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas and is a friend of two families that have grown through the  adoption of children from Asia.

Every family's journey to parenthood is unique, and that's particularly true when it comes to families that choose foreign adoption. In The Red Thread, Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle) explores the reasons and reactions different couples have in the course of adopting children from China. Maya Lange opened The Red Thread, an adoption agency for […]
Review by

Things haven't been going too well lately for Paul Gustavson, protagonist of Pete Nelson's I Thought You Were Dead. The freelance writer has signed on to write the book Nature for Morons, part of the wildly popular Morons series, but he enjoys drinking at his favorite dive bar far more than he enjoys working. His wife has left him, his girlfriend is simultaneously dating another man, and his father has just had a stroke, leaving his older brother Carl to once again take over and show everyone how much more together his life is than Paul's.

The best thing going for Paul is Stella: she's witty, wise and unconditionally accepting of Paul's many flaws. She also happens to be a geriatric German Shepherd/yellow Lab mix who can no longer climb the stairs and is feeling her health slipping away.

Yes, Stella can talk. And while that might turn off many readers of serious literature—many readers, period—Stella is actually quite the well-rounded character. So well rounded, in fact, readers may wonder why she's a dog at all and not an office mate or pal at the bar—in short, a human of some sort.

But this oddball relationship is what makes Paul seem redeemable; this affection will cause readers to root for him. Though the book is often murky, sad and mired in "a dark, private, pissy place" where Paul is "free to loathe himself"—secure in the knowledge that no human loves or cares about him—the resolution of the story is happier than that. It's so neat, in fact, that one can almost see the novel as a big-screen romantic comedy, with Steve Carell as Paul and maybe Sandra Bullock as the woman who sees past his gruff exterior, limited prospects and romantic issues—who finds something that’s worth paying attention.

Ultimately, I Thought You Were Dead is about the catastrophes that make a person realize his life is a mess, then do everything he can to put his life back together—perhaps, in the process, creating something better than he dared to hope for.

Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas.

Things haven't been going too well lately for Paul Gustavson, protagonist of Pete Nelson's I Thought You Were Dead. The freelance writer has signed on to write the book Nature for Morons, part of the wildly popular Morons series, but he enjoys drinking at his favorite dive bar far more than he enjoys working. His […]
Review by

Evangelical Christians are a growing force in America, to the frustration—and sometimes fear—of nonbelievers like Gina Welch. Raised a secular Jew by a single mom in Berkeley, California, Welch moved to Virginia in 2002 to complete her master’s degree and became fascinated by the hardcore Christians that surrounded her. To learn more about these people, what drives them and why they’re so interested in converting the rest of the world to their point of view, Welch infiltrated Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church founded by über-evangelist Jerry Falwell. She spent two years pretending to be a Christian—even getting “saved” and baptized and going on a mission trip to Alaska—in order to get at the truth of who evangelicals are as individuals and what the movement means for America. She shares what she found in her book In the Land of Believers.

Readers less cynical than Welch may find her initial treatment of the faithful harsh and mean-spirited. She didn’t seem to take what she was doing seriously, and readers may wonder why she wanted to spend so much time getting to know people she clearly didn’t respect. In time, though, she began to see the members of the church as more than their ideology and to find comfort in their community, the regularity church attendance brought to her life, even the cheesy praise music sung at every opportunity. In the end, she says she felt “a kind of belonging” and understanding that evangelicals are so enthusiastic about their faith because they see its potential to change other people’s lives just as they feel it has altered their own.

No matter the reader’s opinion of evangelicals, Welch says they’re a group that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored: “Listen to them, include them in the public conversation, understand the sentiments behind their convictions, and you invent the possibility of kinship.” That’s what Welch aims to do with her book, which provides a candid inside look at faith for people who don’t have a clue where evangelicals are coming from. If readers can make the same sort of mindset change Welch made by writing the book, it could forever alter the way they think about people of all faiths.

Sarah E. White is neither an evangelical nor a Christian. She writes from Arkansas, home of former Baptist preacher-turned-governor-turned-evangelical darling, Mike Huckabee.

Evangelical Christians are a growing force in America, to the frustration—and sometimes fear—of nonbelievers like Gina Welch. Raised a secular Jew by a single mom in Berkeley, California, Welch moved to Virginia in 2002 to complete her master’s degree and became fascinated by the hardcore Christians that surrounded her. To learn more about these people, […]
Review by

Peter Bognanni would probably not appreciate the word "sweet" being used to describe his punk-rock-fueled debut novel, The House of Tomorrow, but parts of the story are decidedly so. This memorable tale tells the story of 16-year-old Sebastian Prendergrast, who lives in a geodesic dome outside North Branch, Iowa, with his Nana, who has homeschooled him in the gospel according to Buckminster Fuller since he was orphaned at the age of 5.

When Nana (real name Josephine) has a stroke while the Whitcomb family is visiting the dome, Sebastian is thrust into the wider world for the first time. Sixteen-year-old Jared Whitcomb, who is recovering from a heart transplant, decides he and Sebastian should start a punk band to ensure he's earned the heart he only received because another teenager died. His older sister, the beguiling Meredith, is a constant distraction to Sebastian and an irritation to Jared. Their mother, Janice, a church youth group leader, struggles to hold the family together since her husband left after Jared's transplant.

Bognanni deftly describes the angst and loneliness of these two teen boys, which they seek to scream out with their band, "The Rash," while making their debut at the church talent show. They talk of "wanting something real to happen"—wanting to be outside the clutches of their guardians, yet still longing for their love and protection.

A poignant passage makes a parallel between Nana's enthusiasm for the teachings of futurist architect and philosopher Fuller (and the man himself) and Sebastian's burgeoning obsession with punk—a musical style he didn't know existed until he met the Whitcombs: "Both had distrust for big corporations, big religions, and the government," Bognanni writes. "Both had a do-it-yourself motto. If something wasn't out there in the world that needed to be, whether it was a new sound or a new form of housing, you were supposed to do it yourself. It is only those who dared to do something different who made real contributions to life and art."

The House of Tomorrow is a hard-edged but heartrending story of growing up strange in a small Midwestern town. Anyone who’s been there is sure to relate to Sebastian and Jared—and to hope that The Rash lives on beyond its monumental and unforgettable debut.

Sarah E. White, who was born in Iowa, writes from Arkansas.

Peter Bognanni would probably not appreciate the word "sweet" being used to describe his punk-rock-fueled debut novel, The House of Tomorrow, but parts of the story are decidedly so. This memorable tale tells the story of 16-year-old Sebastian Prendergrast, who lives in a geodesic dome outside North Branch, Iowa, with his Nana, who has homeschooled […]
Review by

Britt Johnson, a newly freed slave at the end of the Civil War, moves with his family to the wild country of Texas, where he finds more dangers than the racism and violence of the Kentucky he left behind in Paulette Jiles’ gripping novel The Color of Lightning. The story hangs on what little is known of the real Johnson’s life, making the book feel as much a history as it is a novel.

When his wife and children are abducted during an Indian raid, Johnson decides he must retrieve them, and in that action he becomes a player in the much larger story of the relations between white Americans and “America’s great other,” the Native Americans who want to keep the land they have always known as the government tries to corral them on reservations.

A poet and author of two previous novels, including Enemy Women, Jiles is an adept and thoughtful storyteller who makes all of her characters sympathetic, allowing readers to see that there are no good answers to this historical conundrum. Her novel explores the feelings of settlers whose family members have been kidnapped; the Indians who took them; the captives themselves, some of whom have been with the Indians so long they starve themselves to death when returned to their original families; and the agents sent to deal with the Indian problem. Samuel Hammond, a Quaker Indian agent sent to oversee some of the most violent tribes on the southern Texas plains, beautifully illustrates the dilemma of religious Easterners charged with dealing with the tribes in a nonviolent way.

The Color of Lightning offers no easy answers or safe conclusions about this dark era of American history. It shows that people act in their own self-interest, always doing what is best from their point of view. This engaging story ably illustrates the consequences of trying to shift other people, en masse, to a different point of view, while telling the smaller story of a family trying to recover from the horror of an Indian raid.

Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas.

Britt Johnson, a newly freed slave at the end of the Civil War, moves with his family to the wild country of Texas, where he finds more dangers than the racism and violence of the Kentucky he left behind in Paulette Jiles’ gripping novel The Color of Lightning. The story hangs on what little is […]
Review by

When faced with an interminably long airport delay, which is all too common these days, the traveler has several options. He could spend the endless layover drinking at T.G.I. Friday's. He could reread The Da Vinci Code or some other book found at the airport newsstand, or spend as much time as possible interacting with his cell phone rather than his fellow travelers. Or, if he were Bennie Ford, the hero, if you can call him that, of Jonathan Miles' first novel, Dear American Airlines, he could write a book-length letter of protest to the airline that grounded him and blamed the weather when there's not a storm in sight.

Bennie has reason to be angry. He was on his way from New York to Los Angeles to attend his daughter's wedding. There's more anger surrounding the fact that he hasn't seen his daughter since she was a baby and that he never really tried to clean up his life so that he could be part of hers.

The letter reads like a sort of deathbed confession, a tale of the sins he has committed and the wrongs done to him, the story of a man who grew up with a schizophrenic mother who was always half-heartedly attempting suicide and an immigrant father who survived the concentration camps only to become an exterminator himself. A formerly somewhat famous poet who struggled for years with alcoholism, Bennie is now a translator, and his letter also shares the story of the book he is working on – the tale of a World War II soldier mistakenly sent to the wrong town, who wonders what would happen if he never got back on the train to his old hometown.

This gritty, hilarious, heartbreaking novel illustrates a life gone awry, the regret of years lived without notice and the hope of finally being able to make a change. Readers will root for Bennie to get on his plane and start making up for the lost years when he gets off. A perfect read for summer airport delays, Dear American Airlines just might get readers thinking differently about that idle time.

 

Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas and still hates flight delays.

When faced with an interminably long airport delay, which is all too common these days, the traveler has several options. He could spend the endless layover drinking at T.G.I. Friday's. He could reread The Da Vinci Code or some other book found at the airport newsstand, or spend as much time as possible interacting with […]
Review by

Fans of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts novels will find much to appreciate in her latest effort, The Winding Ways Quilt. Readers are in store for big changes as this season's quilting camp comes to a close, with longtime member Judy leaving for a great new job and Summer planning to leave for graduate school in Chicago (for real this time). Bonnie is trying to decide how to move forward after her marriage and her quilt shop ended up in shambles, while Gwen prepares for her best friend and her daughter to leave.

And new friends are joining this warm quilting circle, including Anna, the master chef, and Gretchen, the new quilting teacher. All the while group matriarch Sylvia is hard at work on a multipaneled Winding Ways quilt, which beautifully illustrates the comings and goings of members of her quilting family.

Readers who have not read the numerous previous Elm Creek Quilt books would not feel lost if this were the first one they picked up. Though The Winding Ways Quilt is 13th in the series, it focuses largely on the backstory of the quilters, explaining what brought them to quilting and to Elm Creek Quilts, and how their relationships with each other have changed and deepened through the years. There's also an important lesson or two about forgiveness and how to move on, from tragedy or just from change. That these women all happen to be quilters makes this story no less entertaining for people who are not quilters. Women who enjoy any kind of crafts will identify with the passion and enthusiasm Chiaverini's characters have for quilting.

Best-selling author Chiaverini has a loyal following of readers who want to know everything that's happening in the world of the Elm Creek Quilters. She's also designed a line of fabrics based on her novels. Odds are good that this latest Elm Creek adventure will bring Chiaverini even more devoted readers who can't wait to find out what happens next.

Sarah E. White is a freelance writer and knitter who lives in Arkansas.

Fans of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts novels will find much to appreciate in her latest effort, The Winding Ways Quilt. Readers are in store for big changes as this season's quilting camp comes to a close, with longtime member Judy leaving for a great new job and Summer planning to leave for graduate school […]
Review by

Crafts of all sorts have made a huge resurgence right along with the DIY trend, and women who knit, sew or are otherwise crafty will want to incorporate some of that into their wedding (and save a little money in the process). Khris Cochran's The DIY Bride: 40 Fun Projects for Your Ultimate One-of-a-Kind Wedding provides inspiration and projects for save-the-date cards, invitations, jewelry and accessories, ceremony decorations, programs, favors and more. Cochran, who founded the website DIYBride.com, also provides a cost comparison to show how much a similar item would cost if purchased in a store, allowing busy couples to decide whether it would be better to buy or make certain projects. A hair ornament for a flower girl, for example, costs about $5 to make but would cost about $40 to buy. The DIY Bride provides clear instructions and suggests whether a project could be completed by the couple themselves, with the help of the wedding party or with members of the family, offering clever ideas and the potential for fun invitation-building parties with friends.

It's the money, honey

Bringing all the pieces of a dream wedding together can be difficult no matter how organized a couple is. Staying on budget can be even trickier, as there's always one more detail (and expense) to add. Rich Bride, Poor Bride: Your Ultimate Wedding Planning Guide aims to help couples stick to their priorities and their budgets. Based on the WE television show "Rich Bride, Poor Bride," this general wedding planning guide contains tips from couples and wedding planners who have seen everything. The book emphasizes the importance of having a wedding planner, since their experience with vendors allows couples to stay on budget and keeps them from having to deal with last-minute details. But even for those who don't hire a planner, Rich Bride, Poor Bride offers advice from the pros that will be useful in getting to the ceremony with finances and sanity intact.

Minding p's and q's

There's a lot of tradition behind the wedding ceremony, and while some of that can be tossed aside in favor of what makes the couple happy, it's useful to have a guide to explain how things should be done. Simple Stunning Wedding Etiquette: Traditions, Answers, and Advice from One of Today's Top Wedding Planners by Karen Bussen, follows in the footsteps of Bussen's other books by pairing useful information with beautiful photos. From handling pushy parents to wording the wedding invitation, from talking about prenuptial agreements to canceling the event, this guide covers the basics of etiquette for the modern wedding. It also covers wedding showers, putting together a non-traditional ceremony and planning the reception. Simple Stunning Wedding Etiquette serves as a reminder that the right thing to do in almost any situation is the thing that makes the people who are important to you most comfortable.

Fresh from the oven

Martha Stewart provides some do-it-yourself inspiration in her new book with Wendy Kromer, Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes: More Than 100 Inspiring Cakes. While there may not be many brides who have both the skills and interest necessary to make their own cakes, all brides will benefit from learning how cakes are put together and what to consider before ordering one. Stewart and Kromer suggest basing your choice on the style of wedding, the season, a stylistic element of the wedding or the wedding's location. Brave souls who do want to go it alone will find recipes for several of the cakes and a section explaining how to bake, decorate and transport them. For everyone else, the 100 color photos and detailed descriptions of fillings, icing and embellishments serve as a great jumping-off point for a discussion with a professional cake baker.

Crafts of all sorts have made a huge resurgence right along with the DIY trend, and women who knit, sew or are otherwise crafty will want to incorporate some of that into their wedding (and save a little money in the process). Khris Cochran's The DIY Bride: 40 Fun Projects for Your Ultimate One-of-a-Kind Wedding […]
Review by

Southeast Asian jewels were prized throughout Europe during the Renaissance, and traders regularly made the precarious, multiyear journey across the seas to trade for precious rubies and sapphires that would grace the crowns of kings and the necks of noblewomen. In The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover, Abraham is an Italian Jew sent by his uncle to the Burmese kingdom of Pegu to buy gems. The story is told through letters he writes to his cousin Joseph. At first he is frightened by the bizarre tattoos and adornments favored by the local heathens (mostly Buddhists), but he feels his first taste of freedom on these shores far from the ghettoes of Venice. Culture shock sets in as his broker, Win, explains the local custom that foreign men are expected to take the virginity of women before they officially join their husbands' homes. Abraham struggles to find balance between what his religion tells him is right and what will help his business prosper. As Abraham becomes immersed in Pegu's culture and its political problems, he begins to see the beauty in the people's religion, their customs and in the people themselves. When a widowed bride comes to live at his house, he finds that there is much more to the world than he ever imagined, and that belonging can be found even among people who outwardly have nothing in common.

The novel, Hantover's first, is a beautiful, if somewhat slowly paced, story of love overcoming obstacles and the ways in which travel and immersion in another culture can change lives. Through Abraham's letters, readers see him become a different and better person as a result of his experiences in Pegu.

One would expect the setting to be a main character in a book like this, but there's actually not that much description of the lush surroundings in which this story takes place. Instead, readers are treated to a long look at the interior landscape of a man of faith whose world is shaken by the power of unexpected love.

Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas.

Southeast Asian jewels were prized throughout Europe during the Renaissance, and traders regularly made the precarious, multiyear journey across the seas to trade for precious rubies and sapphires that would grace the crowns of kings and the necks of noblewomen. In The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover, Abraham is an Italian Jew sent […]
Review by

For people who are not biblical scholars and who have not traveled to the area where the Bible stories took place, it's sometimes hard to visualize exactly where these events occurred in relation to today's world. Biblica: The Bible Atlas by Barry J. Beitzel, professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is a massive and beautiful volume that places the Bible in geographical context. From the Garden of Eden and the flood through the great judges, kings and prophets, the life of Jesus and how the word spread after his death, Biblica details the history of Christianity through maps, works of art and text. A section on the geography and history of biblical lands pinpoints the locations of significant events and explains what life might have been like in those places during biblical times. Tables of the books of the Bible, the judges, prophets, kings, Egyptian rulers, apostles, even Jesus' wondrous acts and the gospels in which they are located, as well as a glossary and Bible family trees, give readers a quick reference for details or a fascinating basis for browsing. Biblica is a complete education in the Bible and will illuminate any reader's experience of the ancient text.

A WORK OF ART
The Book of Exodus, inscribed and illustrated by 92-year-old artist Sam Fink, was a 17-year labor of love envisioned as a gift to Fink's family living in Israel. It includes 40 watercolor paintings, one for each chapter in the Book of Exodus, along with the hand-lettered text of the book in Hebrew and English. Each painting is a representation of the sky some are dark, some uncertain, some hopeful, just like the chapters of Exodus. This gorgeous coffee-table book tells the story of the Jewish people's enslavement in Egypt and their long journey to freedom with God's help. It would be a lovely gift for anyone interested in the Bible as art, and especially for Jewish readers who want to see this classic text in a new way.

A LIFE IN PICTURES
Instead of focusing on the whole Bible, The Messiah: An Illustrated Life of Jesus Christ by Jacques Duquesne focuses on the life and acts of Jesus. Illustrated with a variety of paintings from throughout history, including such masters as Da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt and El Greco, The Messiah tells Jesus' story based on what is known from the Bible and how biblical scholars have interpreted that information. It discusses, for instance, the controversy surrounding whether Jesus had true brothers and sisters Catholics view Mary as having been a virgin throughout her life, while Protestants tend to accept that Jesus actually had siblings. The book details the story of Jesus' life from the Annunciation to Pentecost, as well as providing sidebars about the life of Joseph, the role of high priests in the time of Jesus, the adoption of the cross as a symbol for Christianity, the symbolic meaning of the water-into-wine story and much more. This beautifully illustrated portrait allows readers to delve more deeply into the life of Christ and to gain a better understanding of his experiences on Earth.

NOTES FROM THE FAITHFUL
Many people who have come to faith on their own have stories about how they gave their lives to God. For many Americans alive today, that story has something to do with Billy Graham. Led to Believe: Inspiring Words from Billy Graham and Others on Living by Faith is a collection of essays describing how Graham helped people from all walks of life accept Jesus. There are stories of medical ailments being healed by prayer, a man who narrowly escaped death because he attended a revival, and kids whose lives were turned around through the power of faith and persistence. The voices represented here include a sports announcer, a baseball player, a nurse, an investment counselor and other people from all kinds of jobs and all kinds of backgrounds. Their common thread is the power of Graham's words, which allowed them to understand Jesus and want him in their lives. A story written by Graham's wife, Ruth Bell Graham, when their children were young illuminates what life as a famous preacher's wife was like, and an essay by Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, tells of an incident when she was a teenager when her father's reaction taught her a powerful lesson about the love of her father on earth and her father in Heaven. While it would have been nice to have these stories placed in context with the year they were written and biographical information about the authors, this book is still a lovely collection of stories about the power one person can have to change the world.

THE SPOKEN WORD
The Bible is at its most powerful when it is read aloud and shared with others. The Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible is an unabridged dramatic reading of the New Testament of the New King James Version of the Bible. More than 120 actors were involved in the project, including Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ as the voice of Jesus, Michael York as the narrator, Richard Dreyfuss as Moses, Stacy Keach as Paul, Lou Gossett Jr. as John, Lou Diamond Phillips as Mark, Marisa Tomei as Mary Magdalene and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Mary. Accompanying sound effects and an original musical score combine to make the reading lively and dramatic, an approach that makes the recording more interesting and accessible for people who might not be able to read the New Testament cover to cover. An excellent gift for any busy person who wants to include a daily Bible reading in their schedule, this audiobook would also provide an excellent introduction to the Bible for young listeners.

KINGSBURY KICKS OFF A HEARTWARMING TALE
If it's inspirational fiction you're looking for this holiday season, a Karen Kingsbury book is a good place to start. With more than five million books in print, and bestsellers such as Ever After and One Tuesday Morning to her credit, Kingsbury can accurately claim the title of America's favorite inspirational novelist. Surprisingly, Kingsbury got her start in the 1980s as a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times (where she began as a college intern) and later for the Los Angeles Daily News. She returns to her sportswriter's roots in her latest novel, which she developed in collaboration with NFL player Alex Smith, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. The two met at a 49ers game, and when Kingsbury discovered that Smith was deeply involved in the issue of foster care for children, she settled on a plan to help by writing a novel that features two NFL players who take vastly different paths toward helping a young boy in foster care.

The result is Between Sundays, which features a high-rolling, hard-living NFL quarterback (imagine that) who comes under the wing of a compassionate veteran. The two connect with a boy in foster care who will change both of their lives forever. Non-sports fans shouldn't worry that they'll be turned off by the football action in typical Kingsbury fashion, this isn't a sports book, but an uplifting story of human connections.

For people who are not biblical scholars and who have not traveled to the area where the Bible stories took place, it's sometimes hard to visualize exactly where these events occurred in relation to today's world. Biblica: The Bible Atlas by Barry J. Beitzel, professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is a […]
Review by

In The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A.J. Jacobs takes a year to read and study the Bible while attempting to make sense of and follow the rules in the book. The result is less satisfying than 2004’s The Know-It-All, a chronicle of his quest to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in one year, but the book is entertaining and educational for those who have wondered about the stranger side of the Bible.

Jacobs guides readers through some of the more puzzling (and, today, often ignored) parts of scripture, such as those that say a man can’t touch a menstruating woman or those requiring animal sacrifice and circumcision. Biblical field trips to Jerusalem, an Amish farm in Pennsylvania and Jerry Falwell’s immense church in Lynchburg, Virginia, bring context to his journey as Jacobs struggles to learn what it means to lead a biblical and spiritual life.

Jacobs has described himself as being Jewish “in the same way that the Olive Garden is Italian,” so this quest to follow the Bible while not believing in God often seems contrived. When he stops shaving and starts wearing tassels on his clothes, it feels like he’s just going through the motions. Even as he tries to understand why these rules were written, it comes off as though he thinks the Bible is simply a rulebook that should be followed mindlessly and to the letter.

Of course this is meant to show the folly of fundamentalists who say everything in the Bible must be interpreted literally and yet don’t stone adulterers or avoid clothing made of mixed fibers. It also provides some understanding about parts of the Bible that most people question.

While there are some moments of grace here—times when Jacobs feels more connected to his fellow man, sees the beauty in Ecclesiastes or is comforted by the power of prayer—this is not a conversion story. In the end, Jacobs isn’t any more religious, but he is changed by his journey.

 

In The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A.J. Jacobs takes a year to read and study the Bible while attempting to make sense of and follow the rules in the book. The result is less satisfying than 2004’s The Know-It-All, a chronicle of his […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!