The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
by AJ Jacobs
Simon and Schuster
Purchased in the Nook Store
[#46 in my 75 book challenge]
After my less-than-stellar review of Jacob’s The Know-It-All, I thought I’d give another book of his a try. The reviews, both online and from friends, for The Year of Living Biblically were much better. Religion fascinates me, especially the sociological aspects of religion and how different people interpret/practice it. Jacobs takes his religion to an extreme, following every single rule he possibly can from the Bible — with a dash of humor, of course! Since Jacobs is a self-proclaimed agnostic, his experience is fascinating to watch.
In true AJ Jacobs-style, the man takes his task seriously. This man does not play around. He reads the Bible and imerses himself in it, but also reads oodles of other books about the Bible: commentary, different versions, notes, and even some really extreme texts. He visits experts on various aspects of religion, and seeks many Biblical and religious experiences: he hangs out with the Amish, Hasidic Jews, an extreme uncle-turned-cult-leader, snake handlers, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and gay fundamentalists. He grows his beard, wears only white, and attaches tassels to his sleeves. He tries to avoid all lying, gossip, and lustful thoughts. Jacobs learns to love some of the rules (observing the Sabbath) and loathe others (not touching his wife when she’s menstruating). The comprehensive, yet open-minded, approach Jacobs takes to this task is fascinating. I enjoyed every day and every word of his journey.
My favorite part is when Jacobs makes his new intern, Kevin Roose, his slave. Roose is SUCH a suck-up, which makes it even more hilarious. He’s ready to do anything Jacobs asks, no matter how weird. I loved Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple, which he decided to write after his experience as Jacob’s slave. Both books affected me in a similar way. Both are about agnostic guys immersing themselves in the world of religion with open minds. Jacobs, like Roose, learned a lot about the good side of religion. This book may show a lot of the absurdity, contradictions, and outdated rules of Christianity, but it also show the history and hidden benefits behind them.
FINAL GRADE: A It’s hard for non-fiction to get an A, but this one really earned it. I love a book that surprises me, and this one surprised me around every corner. I liked it far better than The Know-It-All, and you’ll notice that I also finished this one in far less time! I definitely recommend it to adults and anyone interested in the Bible or Christianity from a humorous perspective. I learned a lot about what’s really going on in good book, and if I weren’t starting a Ph.D in the fall, I would probably start in on my life-long goal to read the whole Bible for myself. Now there’s a review that might take up more than a few paragraphs on a blog post, huh?
Have you read any interesting rules in the Bible? Have you ever learn anything about the Bible that surprised or shocked you? (The first time I read the four Gospels during Lent one year, I was shocked by how different they all are, and how many of the details from Bible stories aren’t even in the actual Bible!)
How Did You Get This Number?
by Sloane Crosley
Downloaded from Overdrive via Public Library
[#45 in my 75 book challenge]
I could sum up this review in one word:
Alright, guys, thanks for reading! I’ll see you here next week. Or tomorrow. Or whenever you feel like coming back (thank you, my lovely readers, for always coming back!).
Oh. Maybe you want to know why I gave it a meh. Okay. I think I can do that. First you have to know what this bear-covered book even is. It’s a collection of auto-biographical humor essays written by a middle-class twenty-something living in New York. You probably know I love my funny ladies and their humorous non-fiction (Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Laurie Notaro, and even Chelsea Handler), but this wasn’t quite as good as it could get.
How Did You Get This Number was like a cross between Laurie Notaro and David Sedaris, but not in a good way. It lacked the outrageous, laugh-out-loud funny moments of Laurie’s older books, and the subtle charm of Sedaris’s work. She could go either way, but she gets stuck in the middle. Dullsville. Many of the essay wandered around a lot, lost their way, and had me wondering if I had spaced out and missed entire sections. I hadn’t. Most of what I listened to has completely left my brain, so I can’t even tell you what the essays were about or why I didn’t care for them. It was just…unmemorable.
I picked this one up from the public library’s Overdrive service because it was immediately available for me to download and burn to disc for a long drive, so it served its purpose. So many of the Overdrive books can’t be burned to disc and/or aren’t Mac compatible, so my pickins’ were slim. I think I should have waited to listen to Crosley’s other similar book,g I Was Told There’d Be Cake, which I’ve heard is much better. If you happen to end up in a situation with this book, go ahead and read it…it’s better than nothing, but like I said, it’s “meh.”
Final Grade: D I started this review thinking I’d give the book a C, but upon writing my actual criticisms, I realize I can’t group it with the other books I gave a C to. It was just mediocre, not terrible, but I didn’t enjoy it. There were a few fun moments, and maybe one or two good essays, that kept me entertained in the car. But mostly I found it to be no different from listening to NPR in terms of overall entertainment value. I love NPR, but I’m not 100% fixated on what I’m listening to much of the time and I’m not scrambling to listen to most of the content more than once.
The Know-it-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
by AJ Jacobs
Simon and Schuster
Purchased on my Nook
[#40 in my 75 book challenge]
In this adult non-fiction book, AJ Jacobs decides to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in one year. He divides the book by letter of the alphbet, highlighting interesting information and entries as he reads. As a personal backdrop to the reading task, Jacobs also tells what’s happening in his life during that time: trying to start a family with his wife, his lifelong journey with intelligence and knowledge, and his attempt to win lots of money of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. It tells a story, but it takes a long time to get there.
Know-It-All has been a marathon, not a sprint. It is actually one of the first books I purchased on my Nook when I bought it at the beginning of 2011. I was so excited, and I genuinely enjoyed the reading. But I just couldn’t devour it like I do with other books.
It took me longer to read this than it took AJ Jacobs to read the ENTIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BRITTANICA. But I did it.
Though there are funny bits and interesting bits and personal bits, it’s really just a Cliff’s Notes of the encyclopedia. Reading it at night, I tended to fall asleep after a few pages. This book was awesome for improving my sleep patterns! Mostly, though, I can’t remember much of that I read.
After this, I try another Jacobs book. I will give A Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible a go, because I hear it’s better than this one. Plus, Jacobs uses Kevin Roose, his intern and author of The Unlikely Disciple (my favorite book I read in 2011!), as his biblical slave. I’m intrigued.
FINAL GRADE: D Look, Jacobs did a great job with this. He really did. But it’s too much and too slow. I love adult non-fiction, but this book wore me out. I don’t know how to suggest improvement, since my grade is based on my reading experience moreso than the actual quality of what Jacobs wrote. Maybe it’s more the type of book you skim. I will note that many of my friends (both in real life and on Goodreads) gave this one decent ratings. Maybe I’m just a slowpoke, or YA has made me lose my attention span. Either way, I can’t give it a C because it doesn’t stand up to the other books I gave C’s to.
Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Co.
Audiobook from public library
[#37 in my 75 Book Challenge]
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about me, many moons ago. Circa 2007…ish. This version of me was a little bit naive, a little less educated (both formally and practically), and not nearly as well read. 2007 me read a book that blew my mind. I loved it. I recommended to my friends, put it on my top 10 list, and five-starred the crap out of it on LibraryThing. That book was The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I read Blink and had the same reaction.
This book made me reconsider all of that Malcolm Gladwell love. Now I’m just in Malcolm Gladwell like.
What I like about Malcolm Gladwell is his think-outside-the-box, look-at-things-logically kind of style. I always enjoy a good dose of critical thinking or challenging assumptions. The ideas presented in this book were interesting and thought-provoking. It’s certainly an entertaining read. What I question is the research behind these claims. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good book! But not super-mega-amazing top-10-of-all-time worthy good. More like regular ol’ “I’m glad I read that, thank you for the fun nine hours of aural pleasure” good.
For the curious, here are the main topics covered:
- Why birthdays matter in professional hockey
- Why Bill Gates, Mozart, and The Beatles were so successful
- Why Jewish lawyers hit it big in the 80′s and 90′s
- Why Asian students are better at math
- Why KIPP schools work
- Why a Korean airplane crashed
- Why Kentucky families killed each other
- Does IQ predict success?
Gladwell explains what Outliers are and how they occur by focusing on the readers’ assumptions and then analyzing the real story more closely. In the end, his claims make a lot of sense. Each individual example may have flaws, but the basic premise works. My favorite sections, by far, were the ones about education. Gladwell’s discussion of how hard work, cultural background, IQ, luck, time, and socio-economic status all affect student achievement (or don’t) was worth a listen for any educator. It certainly made me think of how we are educating students in my school and about my own educational background.
FINAL GRADE: C Good. Worth reading, but glad I checked it out from the library. I will be giving The Tipping Point a re-read at some point to see if my perception has changed — maybe it still holds up? I do recommend it to anyone who liked Gladwell’s other books, or to anyone who likes the Freakonomics books. Just remember to think critically while you read or listen. Don’t take it all to seriously. Take it with a grain of salt, and understand that this is entertainment reading, not hard science.
Did you ever read The Tipping Point or Freakonomics or any of the related books? What was your take on this genre of non-fiction?
The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us
by Tanya Lee Stone
Viking Juvenile, 2010
Library copy from Junior Library Guild
[#36 in my 75 book challenge]
I guess you could say I was a Barbie kid. I had maybe ten Barbies and multiple outfits for each. I had Skipper and Stacie and maybe even Kelly and Krissy (I don’t remember). I had a Barbie pool, little hangers for my Barbie clothes, and lots of shoes. While I enjoyed playing with my Barbies, I never really gave Barbie much thought. But by the time I was a teenager, I was well aware that there are many Barbie lovers and Barbie haters out there. Barbie causes a lot of controversy across America, it seems, which is what intrigued me to read this book.
Stone tries to cover all things Barbie in an objective way, and this book is written for the young adult audience. I thought it did both of those things quite well, while also providing an overview for adults. I’m sure there are books out there going into crazy detail about Barbie, but I was happy with the 124 page overview. Topics and sections include:
- History of Mattel
- Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie
- History of Barbie
- Barbie as sexist/unrealistic/harmful
- Barbie as a fashion icon
- Barbie as a career woman
- Multicultural Barbies
- Mutilating/destroying Barbies
- Sexual play with Barbies
- Barbie in art
What I realized from my reading was that what kids think of Barbie does not seem to be the problem — it’s what adults think. Moreover, it’s what adults perceive about children’s behaviors and beliefs. A good portion of the book includes personal stories and memories that real people sent in to the author about their time with Barbies. It was interesting to see how other girls and boys felt about the doll as kids and adults in these reflections.
FINAL GRADEL: B This is a fascinating little book, and I’m glad it’s in my library. It’s informative and interesting, with lots of great photographs and quotes through the pages. The sexual discussions are all very tame, mostly mentioning how Barbies have no genitalia and how kids wanted Barbie and Ken to sleeping the bed together. Real Barbie enthusiasts will probably want to skip it, as I’m sure there is nothing new for them to learn. But for everyone else, I’d highly recommend it.
Did you play with Barbie as a kid? How do you feel about her now — love her, or loathe her?
I love the Titanic. Since this is the one hundredth anniversary of the ship’s sinking, I’m finding myself fascinated by all the new material out there to learn more about the ill-fated ship. This particular book is great because it covers everything. It may not cover it in full-length-adult-non-fiction depth, but it covered it all well enough for me to learn new things. I especially loved the great statistics at the end about the percentages of total passengers in first, second, and third class and the break down of men, women, and children in each who survived.
Though the book is non-fiction, it tells the story well enough to stand out. Well-written non-fiction can pull you into the story like fiction, and this one does exactly that. To me, a child of the 80′s, sometimes the Titanic can seem like that — fiction. I have to step back sometimes and remember that this actually happened. There is a spot in the Atlantic Ocean where 1,500 people floated in life jackets until they died of hypothermia in the middle of the night. And that is terrifying.
I think that is why the Titanic fascinates us. We all wonder what we would have done in the face of such chaos and tragedy. Would we escape? Become heroes? Accept our fate with peace or terror? The photos and descriptions provide by McPherson left me questioning all of those things. Of course, then I found myself wanting to watch the 1997 Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet Titanic movie and watch the big-budget Hollywood version of what happened. In fact, two of my favorite quotes in the book come from the movie’s director, James Cameron:
“I made Titanic because I wanted to dive to the shipwreck, not because I particularly wanted to the movie.”
“[The Titanic is] the quintessential story of loss, of coming to terms with death, heroism and cowardice, and the full spectrum of human response before, during, and after a crisis.”
Final Grade: B I’ve said before that it’s hard for a non-fiction book to get an A from me, and that holds with this book. It’s a FABULOUS read, a great non-fiction book, and it definitely stands out among other young adult non-fiction titles and Titanic books alike. But non-fiction always falls a little short of “OMG AMAZING” for me. And that’s okay! My students will love this one, so will adults, and I highly recommend it for everyone over the age of eleven. I could see this paring well for a fiction/non-fiction unit with The Watch The Ends The Night by Allan Wolf, which covers a lot of the same people.
Are you as fascinated by the Titanic as I am? What is is about disasters that fascinates us? And will you go see Rose and Leo on the big screen when they return this spring?
It Looked Different On The Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy
by Laurie Notaro
Random House Audio
Audio book from public library
[#21 in my 75 book challenge]
Last year I read My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler. In my review, I said I didn’t like it because it wasn’t as funny as Laurie Notaro’s books. Well, that’s how I felt about this book. Just not as funny as the old Laurie stuff.
While there were a few funny moments in this collection, I was mostly disappointed. I LOVED Notaro’s earlier books, especially The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life and Autobiography of a Fat Bride: True Tales of a Pretend Adulthood, but this one fell short. I think Laurie’s self-depricating, dorky, clumsy, awkward, and sometimes crude stories were funnier when she was a single twenty-something. Now that she’s married, it seems like she’s stretching the humor a bit and that she should have grown up a little bit more.
Don’t get me wrong — there are funny moments in here. It was an enjoyable, light read in the car. No pressure. If you were browsing the public library and came across it, I would certainly recommend taking it home to read or listen to. But I was glad that I just borrowed the book and didn’t pay money for it. My biggest issue was that many of the stories seemed to ramble on. I got lost while listening because I couldn’t quite grasp if I was at the climax of the story or why it kept going on and on after I thought the point had been made.
Final Grade: C Often funny, sometimes hilarious, with a dash of boring, this book didn’t live up to my expectations. I don’t regret reading it, but it was quite average and not memorable. I still love Laurie Notaro and want to be her friend, but I guess I will just go back to reading her earlier books. Of course, this is an adult book so I wouldn’t recommend it to my students. For my readers, I do recommend Notaro’s books…just not this one (or her fiction books). Start with Idiot Girls’ Action Adventure Club if you’re looking for a real funny read!
Waiter Rant: Thanks for Tip — Confessions of Cynical Waiter
by Steve Dublanica, The Waiter
Purchased on my Nook
[#20 in my 75 Book Challenge]
Sometimes when I’m browsing in the Nook store (which I do almost daily), I go a little crazy and just buy something because I want to read it immediately. Forget everything else on my wish list. Forget researching the title. Forget making it wait in the TBR stack to be sure. I just willy-nilly hit that “BUY NOW” button and tear into it. That’s how I ended up with Waiter Rant.
Waiter Rant comes from the website of the same name. The structure takes the narrative of Dublanica’s journey as a waiter in New York (and a waiter-blogger/waiter-writer) and frames it in individual chapters that each focus on a different aspect of his rants. There are chapters about Mother’s Day, vindictive waiter tricks, tipping, etc.
Overall, I found myself not liking The Waiter. He is certainly someone I wouldn’t be friends with. He does seem aware of his shortcomings and bad behavior, but I still can’t forgive him because he doesn’t seem to care or want to change. He does come off as very entitled, the very behavior he accuses his customers of. Much of the book is spent talking about his blog and trying to get his book deal. Authors don’t necessarily make a whole lot of money, and Dublanica still has to wait tables after he sells his book. But throughout the book I get the feeling he thinks writing the book is going to save him from his direction-less life. Oops.
That being said, I do enjoy books and blogs that give me a sneak peak into worlds that I am not a part of. I have never been a waiter, for good reason. I’d be a terrible waiter! I like reading stories like this to remind myself that my job is awesome and I’ve made good choices in life. I also gain empathy that I take with me into the real world.
Final Grade: C It didn’t change my life, but it was a fun reading experience. I zipped through it in just a few days. Folks that have been waiters might appreciate it more, but it’s worth checking out if you are intrigued. It is definitely an adult non-fiction book, so I wouldn’t put in in my library or recommend it to students. A few friends come to mind that might enjoy it, though.
And some quick questions for my readers: Have you ever been a waiter or waitress? Did you love it/hate it? What would you rant about?