Saturday, January 22, 2011

BC2011: Good Book

About 10-12 years ago, I tried to read the Bible from cover to cover. As a Catholic, this is far beyond the required reading; the Church has already extracted the "important" parts for Mass, and no one really encourages the faithful to dig deeper (digging into scripture tends to unearth messy contradictions). I got bogged down somewhere in the Book of Isaiah, which impresses Catholics slightly more than Jews (Isaiah comes about 15 books later in the Catholic Old Testament than in the Jewish Bible).

My faith is considerably weaker today, but I still have a strong cultural interest in the Bible. Almost every day, one hears a quotation or story that originated in scripture. I've also been in a reflective, pseudo-spiritual mood lately, so bought David Plotz's Good Book during the last week of 2010. Like a number of books these days, this one grew out of a Web project, "Blogging the Bible" at Slate.com (I have not read the blog, so I cannot compare the book and blog). The author reads the Jewish version of the Bible, providing summaries and commentary. He doesn't proselytize. Good Book is about understanding the stories of the Bible rather than delving deeply into religious belief and faith. It's a little like a humorous Cliffs Notes, making it particularly useful for those with a secular curiosity.

I enjoyed Good Book quite a bit. Plotz finds humor within the scripture and interjects plenty of his own without crossing the line of flippancy. Theologians could argue that he oversimplifies or leaves out some important details, but any summary is guilty of those charges.

Good Book is part of a genre I call "books about reading books." Last fall I read A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, which is about reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Waiting on my "unread" shelf is Reading the OED by Ammon Shea. Another related book I should mention is Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically, another entertaining book based on holy scripture, which I reviewed as part of Book Challenge 2009.

      

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