Waiter Rant, by Steve Dublanica

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Author’s website
Publication date – July 21, 2008

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In this book, the pseudonymous Steve Dublanica (a.k.a. Dan John Miller) achieves for waiters what Anthony Bourdain did for cooks in Kitchen Confidential. By the evidence of Waiter Rant, not even his seminary classes or job as a psychiatric worker could prepare Dublanica adequately for what he would experience pulling shifts at an upscale restaurant outside New York City. He tells story after entertaining story about customers, co-workers, and bosses who range individually from the imperious to the clinically insane. Along the way, the author-waiter delivers sound advice on proper tip etiquette and the art of getting good service.

Thoughts: Always interested in what things look like from the other side, this book seemed like a perfect fit for me. I’ve had good service, bad service, and utterly indifferent service from people at different restaurants, and I figured it was worth seeing the thoughts and opinions of this person who turned commentary on his work into a book that thousands of people were talking about.

My intuition led me in the right direction.

The author’s candid commentary on the inner workings of an upscale restaurant and all the politics and insanity surrounding it was a wonderfully entertaining read, and more than a little informative. I can’t say that I previously even thought about some of the issues he brought up, both in dealing with coworkers and with customers.

While the author did paint himself as something of a sympathetic figure through the whole tale, he was up front and honest enough to not do that in every instance. He freely admitted that he could be just as much of a jerk as anybody else, took his revenge on cranky customers, and talked trash with the kitchen workers. While I can’t say I approved of some of the things he did, I commend him for being honest about it all, and not making himself seem completely like the poor trod-upon worker whose boss and coworkers were all out to get him.

Though I won’t lie; there were plenty of people who treated him unfairly enough, and for stupid enough reasons, that I wanted to be able to knock their heads together more than once.

This book does more than shed light on the inner workings of the restaurant world, though. Many of the practices shown in here can be transplanted and applied to just about any job. Unscrupulous business practices, manic control-freak bosses, and corporate politics doing more to ruin a job experience than anything else. These aren’t things that only exist in restaurants, and I found myself relating to the author’s situation numerous times even though I have never had a job like his before. I think this is the kind of book that can speak to anybody who’s ever worked in a less-than-enjoyable job, and as such ties many people together in a loose community that they may never have even thought existed before.

Funny, irreverent, honest, and enlightening, this book is one that I can highly recommend to just about anybody. Wjether you close the book loving it or hating it, you won’t be able to honestly say that you didn’t learn something, or that you couldn’t ever relate. Definitely worth taking the time to read.

The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, by Brianna Karp

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Author’s website
Publication date – April 26, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) “I am an educated woman with stable employment and residence history. I have never done drugs. I am not mentally ill. I am a career executive assistant—coherent, opinionated, poised, and capable. If you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t have assumed that I lived in a parking lot. In short, I was just like you—except without the convenience of a permanent address.” Brianna Karp’s account of her journey through homelessness immerses us in a timely, relevant topic that all too many Americans know about first hand.

Thoughts: I’ve had a few friends who, at various points in their lives, have found themselves homeless for one reason or another. So when I saw this book, my curiosity was piqued. It wasn’t until around halfway through that I realized I’d already heard about the author, though not extensively. I remember browsing news links one day and hearing about a homeless woman who’d landed an internship with a magazine writer. That was my introduction to Brianna Karp, and my introduction to her was, no doubt, just about identical to thoudands of other experiences, as people read the news and saw a glimpse of this woman.

Brianna’s story wasn’t an easy one to tell, but she does so with a frankness that reminds me sometimes of a person who’s seen and been through too much and has just become immune to many of the stresses associated with some of the terrible things that can happen in life. From an abusive upbringing to finding herself homeless to falling in love with a man who turns out to be a total asshat, Brianna seems to have been through a bit of everything. She doesn’t flinch away from telling it like it is.

This book does a lot to help break down some of the all too common stereotypes associated with the homeless. Let’s face it, when most of us think of homeless people, one of the first images that comes to bring is an unshaven guy in a long coat and knit skullcap, or a woman with unkempt hair pushing a shopping cart of her belongings down a street. They’re the common face of homelessness because they are very visible, by dint of their being so far outside what we expect people to be and look like. But scratch even a little bit below the surface and what you’ll find are young couples living out of their car, guys coming from a day at the office straight into a homeless shelter, and it’s not because they drink away their paycheques, but because society is expensive. Think about how much it takes to rent an apartment. First month’s rent, damage deposit equal to that, last month’s rent in some places. Ad we aren’t all lucky enough to get paid $50000 a year. Some of us make less than half that. My roommate makes about one quarter of that.

Aside from breaking down stereotypes about homelessness, another theme that runs under this whole book is the value of social networking. Weird though that may sound. But through free (or at least cheap) Internet connections, Brianna made a host of friends who helped her out of tight spots, either financially or emotionally, all because she started a blog and made a few connections to other websites. It may sound trite, but this is a testament to what people can do for one another when they are united by a common thread and pull together in times of need.

This isn’t a book I’d recommend to everyone. There are depictions of abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual — that left me queasy, and there are many parts of this book that I simply couldn’t relate to, as I don’t place the same emphasis on appearance and social-climbing that many do, especially young women. But given the main theme of the book, those parts that I couldn’t relate to are easy to relegate to the back of my mind and overlook. I can do that, but I know far too many people who can’t, and I think that sadly, the message of this book would be lost on them.

Which makes them, perversely, the very people who ought to read this book and have their preconceptions blows out of the water.

I’d recommend giving this one a chance, at least. It’s slow going at first, as Brianna spends a good deal of time setting up the backstory of her life before tackling the actual issue of homelessness, but it’s still worth the attempt.

(Provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley)

At Home in Japan, by Rebecca Otowa

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) At Home in Japan tells the true story of a foreign woman who has been, for 30 years, the housewife, custodian and chatelaine of a 350-year-old farmhouse in rural Japan. This astonishing book traces a circular path, from the basic physical details of life in the house and village, through relationships with family, neighbors and the natural and supernatural entities with whom the family shares the house. Rebecca Otowa then focuses on her inner life, touching on some of the pivotal memories of her time in Japan, the lessons in
perception that Japan has taught her and, finally, the ways in which she has been changed by living in Japan.

An insightful and compelling read, At Home in Japan is a beautifully written and illustrated reminiscence of a simple life made extraordinary.

Thoughts: I wanted to rate this book higher, I really did. Really, it doesn’t have any faults or flaws that I can point out as such, at least not that can leigitmately extend beyond the matter of personal taste. I found the prose a bit dry at home, but stylistically, that isn’t enough to condemn a book entirely.

It took me longer than it ought to have to get through this book, and I think ultimately the reason lies in the fact that it wasn’t what I was expecting. From the description online, I had expected something written in the style of a person’s memoirs, details of their life in a different culture. What I got instead was a collection of short articles.

Now, this is where opinions can easily differ. Reading short articles or stories can make a book easy to get through for some, because each section requires only a small amount of committment. For others, such as myself, constantly stopping and started makes me feel disjointed, thrown out of the groove, and I find myself quick to put the book down quite often. It drags out the reading time, and makes the book seem longer and more tedious than perhaps it really was.

It did, I will admit, have some interesting information on Japanese culture, history, and language, and for that, I’m glad I bought it. It’s rare now that I come across a book written about Japan that contains information that I haven’t read a hundred times elsewhere. This book accomplished what few others have in that it presented new information to me, which I greatly enjoyed absorbing.

I can’t say I’d recommend this book to many people. If you enjoy your information coming at you in the form of articles, then by all means, pick up a copy. If you simply must have any and all books on Japanese life and culture, then order it from Amazon. But otherwise, I’d say that most people can give this book a miss without losing out on too much.

The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose

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Author’s website
Publication date – June 3, 2010

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) As a sophomore at Brown University, Kevin Roose didn’t have much contact with the Religious Right. Raised in a secular home by staunchly liberal parents, he fit right in with Brown’s sweatshop-protesting, fair-trade coffee-drinking, God-ambivalent student body. So when he had a chance encounter with a group of students from Liberty University, a conservative Baptist university in Lynchburg, Virginia, he found himself staring across a massive culture gap. But rather than brush the Liberty students off, Roose decided to do something much bolder: he became one of them.

Liberty University is the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s proudest accomplishment – a 10,000-student conservative Christian training ground. At Liberty, students (who call themselves “Champions for Christ”) take classes like Introduction to Youth Ministry and Evangelism 101. They hear from guest speakers like Mike Huckabee and Karl Rove, they pray before every class, and they follow a 46-page code of conduct called “The Liberty Way” that prohibits drinking, smoking, R-rated movies, contact with the opposite sex, and witchcraft. Armed with an open mind and a reporter’s notebook, Roose dives into life at Bible Boot Camp with the goal of connecting with his evangelical peers by experiencing their world first-hand.

Roose’s semester at Liberty takes him to church, class, and choir practice at Rev. Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. He visits a support group for recovering masturbation addicts, goes to an evangelical hip-hop concert, and participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach, where he learns how to convert bar-hopping co-eds to Christianity. Roose struggles with his own faiththroughout, and in a twist that could only have been engineered by a higher power, he conducts what would turn out to be the last in-depth interview of Rev. Falwell’s life. Hilarious and heartwarming, respectful and thought-provoking, Kevin Roose’s embedded report from the front lines of the culture war will inspire and entertain believers and non-believers alike.

Thoughts: When I first found out that A J Jacobs’s “slave” was writing a book of his own, I was intrigued, and decided there and then that I had to get my hands on it. I’m happy to say that it was a fantastic book, a truly inspiration look at crossing the culture divide between religious and secular, showing how the line between left and right are not always as clear as many people want them to be.

Kevin Roose was inspired to take a semester away from Brown and transfer to Liberty University, a strict Christian university known for, is essence, being run by Jerry Falwell. It was a daunting prospect. Having to pretend to fit in while still maintaining journalistic distance, running the risk of making friends who have no idea about a very large part of his personality, spending time in close quarters with people whose ideology he didn’t exactly share. Immersion journalism is always tricky, especially in a time of such contention between the religious and secular worlds.

I was quite impressed with the way Roose handled everything – that is, with humour and an open mind. He didn’t try to instantly condemn everything from Liberty just because of its associations, neither did he attempt to fake blind acceptance. He struggled, he took chances, and he came away from the experience a changed man, but its a chance that he eventually felt somewhat comfortable with going through. He took something away from Liberty that he didn’t enter with, more than just the notes he took.

What he discovered, in essence, is that the people on both sides of the divide are remarkable similar in their good and bad points. Both sides have their misconceptions of the other, both sides have their jerks whom nobody likes, both sides have their sweet caring people who make your life better for having known them, and both sides have their secret dissidents and malcontents. It’s a prime example of not judging a book by its cover, of basing your opinions on experience rather than knee-jerk assumptions and self-imposed blindness.

You can’t help but close this book with a feeling of deep respect for what Kevin did. You can’t help but feel somewhat changed, yourself, after following along with his journey. There are things to laugh at (Jersey Joey’s constant ribbing), things to raise a wondering eyebrow at (Every Man’s Battle meetings to help stop masturbation), and things to give serious thought to (the way the university deems education as a dangerous thing that can lead students away from God), things to make readers pause and wonder just what all the fuss is about, on both sides of the debate.

Ultimately, this was a well-done experiment and a fantastic memoir that comes highly recommended for anyone on either side of the fence. Give it a chance; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through this by the end of History Month here, since I’ve been so busy and my reading time has been curtailed somewhat. But it’s the weekend now, I’m not at work, and so I had time to finish the last little bit before committing myself to cleaning and packing for the day.

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Anne Frank’s diaries have always been among the most moving and eloquent documents of the Holocaust. This new edition restores diary entries omitted from the original edition, revealing a new depth to Anne’s dreams, irritations, hardships, and passions. Anne emerges as more real, more human, and more vital than ever. If you’ve never read this remarkable autobiography, do so. If you have read it, you owe it to yourself to read it again.

Thoughts: I regret to say that it was only recently that I actually finally read this book, though I’ve one edition or another on my bookshelf since the sixth grade. And while I am tempted to do something of a joke review and talk about none of the events contained within the book were realistic and none of the people were believable as characters, I think I owe it to the people who actually went through that nightmare to do this thing seriously.

I became fascinated with what civilian life was like during World War 2 after seeing a book of my grandmother’s: Robert Westall’s Children of the Blitz. Plenty of books will tell me what the political side of the war was like, what it was like for the people on the front lines, doing the fighting, but there are too few books that will detail was it was like for those who were just trying to stay alive in their homes. It’s one thing to shake your head and say it was a terrible time and to quote some statistics, but it’s quite another to read something written by somebody who was actually there, talking about their life amid uncertainty and bombing and fear of being killed in the night. It brings it all home, makes something distant and sanitized seem actually real, and, if you think about it, might actually cause a sleepless night or two.

While reading this, I was struck with just how alike Anne was to the girls of her age that I knew and know. Occupied with the same problems, thinking the same thoughts, and never mind that Anne was in hiding from Nazis and nobody I know can claim that. Reading entries about things like her daily routine, her thoughts about others, the sense that “life goes on” really came through clearly. No matter what, no matter how serious the situation, we still remain ourselves and the same old things will still bother us. We may not complain about them as much, but they’re still there.

I her thoughts about Peter to be particularly amusing. It started with, “Oh, he’s so dull,” went to, “He’s interesting, but you mustn’t think I’m in love with him, because I’m not,” right to, “I can’t stop thinking about him, I think I’m in love with him.” Oh, teenagers.

I don’t often come across books that I would recommend to everyone I meet, but it seems a shame if a person goes their life without reading this book. There are echoes of World War 2 still in our society today, and to not understand even a little of what that all means is a little bit sad. It’s not knowing your own history, particularly if you’re in, well, Europe, North America, various parts of Asia… Yeah, there’s a reason it was called a World War, after all. If you happen to live in this world, do yourself a favour and read this book if you haven’t already. It may not contain any stunning revelations about life, but you close the book at the end feeling a bit different than before.

Learning to Bow, by Bruce Feiler

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Since its publication, Learning to Bow has been heralded as one of the funniest, liveliest, most insightful books about the clash of cultures between America and Japan. With warmth and candor, Feiler recounts the year he spent teaching within the world’s most heralded school system, and through his unique perspective, demystifies contemporary Japanese life.

Beginning with a ritual outdoor bath and culminating in an all-night trek to the top of Mount Fuji, we accompany Feiler as he discovers the roots of modern Japanese culture: watching boys and girls learn gender roles; experiencing the impact of strict school rules; and understaning the reason for Japan’s business success. In school, Feiler teaches his students about American culture, while after hours, they teach him their own customs – everything from how to properly dress an envelope to how to date a Japanese girl.

Thoughts: Bruce Feiler takes us on an insightful and often humourous look at what it’s like to teach English in a Japanese junion high school. He combines classic cultural research with his own personal experiences, giving the reader a good look inside a world that so many people both love and often misunderstand.

It isn’t just the Japanese school system that Feiler lets the reader explore in Learning to Bow. All aspects of Japanese culture are up for grabs, from dating to the proper way to eat lunch to fashion. He often makes comparisons between Japanese and American methods, drawing his own conclusions but still giving us a chance to form our own without his bias. While he may disagree with the benefits of some parts of Japanese culture, he doesn’t say, for example, that those aspects are bad. Merely that he disagrees.

I’ve read this book twice before, and still love it now as much as I did when I first opened the cover to page 1. Though Feiler’s experiences recounted in the book take place in the late 80’s, the words and story themselves have such a timeless feel that they could have been written yesterday.

Most certainly, I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s seriously interested in teaching in Japan (through the JET program, perhaps), or for those who are interested in another look into Japan’s fascinating culture.

Japanland, by Karin Muller

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) During a year spent in Japan on a personal quest to deepen her appreciation for such Eastern ideals as commitment and devotion, documentary filmmaker Karin Muller discovered just how maddeningly complicated it is being Japanese. In this book Muller invites the reader along for a uniquely American odyssey into the ancient heart of modern Japan. Broad in scope and deftly observed by an author with a rich visual sense of people and place, Japanland is as beguiling as this colorful country of contradictions.

Thoughts: I have what some might call a minor major obsession with Japan. As such, it didn’t take much convincing for me to buy this book, which is an account of the author spending a year in Japan in search of harmony and balance for her life.

What this is not, I should say, is a travel guide to Japan. It contains a lot of fantastic insights into the culture, both mainstream and more esoteric, but if you plan to read this book thinking that it will make your trip to Tokyo easier, you’ll be disappointed.

On the other hand, if you have an interest in what Japanese culture is like for both an insider and an outsider, then I definitely recommend this book. From her stay with a host family to her Buddhist pilgrimage, Karin Muller weaves a wonderful story with skill, honesty, and respect. She’s not ashamed to reveal her own ignorance of some situations, nor is she ashamed to point out when other people are just plain baffling, at least by Western sensibilities.

I have read this book more than once now, and it’s one of the few books that I can safely say I take more away from it each time I read it. It’s an engrossing book, with plenty to amuse those who nothing about Japanese culture and those who know quite a bit.

By the end of the book, whether the author feels they’ve achieved a sense of inner peace and harmony is almost irrelevent. She’s learned a great deal, experienced more than most people ever dream of, and she’s taken away a little piece of another place to keep inside herself. In a sense, her pilgrimage toward the end of her time in Japan was only a fraction of the pilgrimage she embarked upon, and it left an impression that even the reader can feel as they share the journey from beginning to end.

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home, by Mori Kyoko

(For the curious, force of habit has me naming this author Mori Kyoko instead of the more western Kyoko Mori. It seems more natural to me to do this with Japanese names.)

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) A memoir of crossing cultures, losing love, and finding home by a New York Times notable author. As steadily and quietly as her marriage falls apart, so Kyoko Mori’s understanding of knitting deepens. From flawed school mittens to beautiful unmatched patterns of cardigans, hats and shawls, Kyoko draws the connection between knitting and the new life she tried to establish in the U.S. Interspersed with the story of knitting throughout, the narrative contemplates the nature of love, loss, and what holds a marriage together.

Thoughts: Having read two of the author’s YA novels, I was excited to find that one of her memoirs involved yarn, which is a passion of mine. (Big fibre artist when I’m not reading and writing, you see.) I was interested to see just what lay inside.

What I found was a frank and honest telling of many parts of her life, ranging from events in her childhood to her marriage to open self-reflection. Arranged in sections relating to specific knitted garments and how they relate to her life as a whole, it was easy to see the common threads that held everything together, that pushed and pulled and held all the events and emotions that she experienced. Following the author’s journey like this, I not only got to feel closer to her and understand her better, but I got the chance to understand myself a little better too, as though I was less a passive observer and more an active participant.

Which, I think, must have been intentional. Aside from the fact that she can tell a good story and create believable characters, it didn’t escape my notice that the theme of “common threads” can be applied between author and reader, between participant and observer, and that there’s a connection to be felt.

More than that, there’s the lesson that no matter how many threads run between people, places, or things, nothing is eternal. Nothing is so flawed that it cannot, with a little effort, be snipped and repaired until the problem has been fixed. And not everything needs to be perfect, either.

I admire her more now that I’ve read this book, and I took away from it more understanding and inspiration than I expected to. This was far more than a story about yarn, more than a story about a woman, and, much as in knitting, weaving, or spinning, the finished whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

(Received from the publisher through NetGalley.)

The Know-It-All, by A J Jacobs

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) “Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), The Know-It-All chronicles NPR contributor A. J. Jacob’s hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z.” The Know-It-All recounts the unexpected and comically descriptive effects Operation Encyclopedia has on every part of Jacobs’ life – from his newly minted marriage to his complicated relationship with his father and the rest of his charmingly eccentric New York family to his day job as an editor at Esquire. Jacobs’ project tests the outer limits of his stamina and forces him to explore the real meaning of intelligence as he endeavors to join Mensa, win a spot on Jeopardy!, and absorb 33,000 pages of learning.

Thoughts: Words cannot properly express how much I enjoyed reading this book. I read it not too long after reading Jacobs’s A Year of Living Biblically, and I loved his writing style in both books. He’s got a wonderful sense of humour, nicely balancing self-deprecation and personal anecdotes in a way that really allows you to get inside his head.

This book is written in sections much like encyclopediae, with the topic name and then Jacobs writing what he found so fascinating or weird about it, or an event in his life that related to the entry. It’s obvious by his writing that he was a prolific note-taker, as some of the entries contain phrases like, “I just read this,” or “as I read this,” making the reader feel as though they’re taking the epic challenge right alongside him.

Aside from a humourous look at the acquisition of knowledge and one man’s slightly demented quest to read all that, you can actually learn a lot, too. Most of the info you’ll pick up from this book will be the sort of thing that you can dazzle your friends with of Trivia Night at the pub, but you come away from it feeling a little bit smarter, a little bit more knowledgeable.

In my opinion, this book is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it.

A Year of Living Biblically, by A J Jacobs

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Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) From the bestselling author of The Know-It-All comes a fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible.

Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.

The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history’s most influential book with new eyes.

Jacobs’s quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations – much to his wife’s chagrin.

Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain.

Jacobs’s extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down.

Thoughts: As fascinated as I am with all the various interpretations of what’s in the bible, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of this book when it was on sale, and I don’t regret a single penny of its cost. Jacobs has a wonderful style, fluid and funny and educational, and he manages to effortlessly draw the reader into his adventures and misadventures until it feels like we’re living the very same project.

This book does a wonderful job of showing, for one thing, how a lot of people cherry-pick which rules they do and do not follow from the bible. I’m sure by now everyone’s heard the old argument against homosexuality that comes from Leviticus, but the very same book contains admonitions against eating shrimp and rabbit, and not wearing clothes of mixed fibres. But a lot of bible-thumpers in cotton-polyester suits convenienty pass over those other laws, for any number of reasons. Jacobs sought to incorporate every aspect of biblical law into his life, including such tricky things as not touching any surface on which his menstruating wife sat, or wrestling with the ethics of stoning people in this modern age. He struggles to reconcile the conflicting messages and rules within the bible, and seeks out other worshippers of all flavours in order to better understand and get to the heart of religion itself.

What comes out is a hilarious example of just how both Christianity and Judaism have changed since their respective inceptions, and also brings to light just how few people who claim to follow the bible actually bother to do so. It reveals just how many differences in interpretation are rationalized. It shows how living “old-school biblically” doesn’t often work nowadays. It offers great insight into the minds of believers and nonbelievers alike, from varying perspectives, and it’s an enjoyable ride the whole way through.

For those who enjoyed David Plotz’s Good Book, I highly recomment A Year of Living Biblically, and vice versa.