Book Review: Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielson

Book Review: Heaven is Here by Stephanie NielsonHeaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy by Stephanie Nielson
Published: April 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover (320 pages)
Genres: Memoir
Source: Library

 
Stephanie Nielson began sharing her life in 2005 on nieniedialogues.com, drawing readers in with her warmth and candor. She quickly attracted a loyal following that was captivated by the upbeat mother happily raising her young children, madly in love with her husband, Christian (Mr. Nielson to her readers), and filled with gratitude for her blessed life.

However, everything changed in an instant on a sunny day in August 2008, when Stephanie and Christian were in a horrific plane crash. Christian was burned over 40 percent of his body, and Stephanie was on the brink of death, with burns over 80 percent of her body. She would remain in a coma for four months.

What emerges from the wreckage of a tragic accident is a unique perspective on joy, beauty, and overcoming adversity that is as gripping as it is inspirational. Heaven Is Here is a poignant reminder of how faith and family, love and community can bolster us, sustain us, and quite literally, in some cases, save us.
4 Stars

Surprisingly, her emotional trials of mending her family relationships got to me more than her physical trials did.  On some levels Stephanie is not very relatable with her Leave it to Beaver life, but I found myself relating to her a lot when she was going through this trial of surviving burns on 80% of her body because I connected with her honesty, selfishness, guilt, and her eventual resolve to work hard and overcome.

beware-spoilers

Stephanie Nielson’s life sounds like a 50’s sitcom.  I think it was the freckles and apron that tipped me off.  I didn’t think it was a bad thing necessarily.  Maybe she’s not the most relatable person to read about, but she was certainly interesting to read about since her life was very different from mine.  Still, she has a simple love for simple things that was very catching.

I had learned that those doses of quiet joy like that can be brief, but their effects are long lasting and often carried me through the busy and challenging times of running our household.

 – Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 10

She had a humor and honesty about the small annoyances in life that was fun to read about.  My favorite example of this was when she moved into a house and the previous owner said she left some things for her that she thought she would want.

What I believe she meant was that she decided to save time packing only half of her stuff, and leaving the rest for me to worry about.  In the bathroom we found an old bar of soap, a razor, toilet paper, women’s personals, and even her deodorant.

 – Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 60

After reading about her perfect life (which honestly sounded to me more like a nostalgic look back on her lost life instead of bragging), it goes into the tragic plane crash that she survived.  Stephanie put this quote in the book as an introduction to part 2 which is all about her surviving and recovering.  I love this quote.

“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.”

– Washington Irving

I don’t know why, but the part where they scrape away the skin on her face makes me so sad.  Stephanie suffered burns on 80% of her body – including her face.  It’s so hard for me to imagine losing what I look like.

The doctors scraped away my skin to save my life.  It was a moment’s consolation to learn that they had paused before they took the knife to my face, before they carved away the tissued that had defined my facial features, before they scraped my beauty away.

– Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 104

As hard as it was to live through her physical trials with her, I thought her emotional and family trials were much more difficult and it was those that really got to me.  Her fragile hope was heartbreaking.  All she wanted was to be a mother and her children were scared of her.  One child easily accepted her, one child didn’t recognize her and one child couldn’t be in the same room as her.  The parts that made me cry the most were her struggles reconnecting with her kids.  The saddest part was hearing her youngest, barely a toddler, pound on the front door and crying for mommy.  His aunt had taken care of him for so long that he called her mommy instead of his mom whom he didn’t recognize.  I can’t imagine what that would feel like as a mom to hear that.  Those moments and others like it yanked on my mommy heart strings.

She went through a near death experience.  I’m not usually a fan of those, but it was interesting reading about hers.  It’s brief in the book and it helped me see what she was going through and how close she was to dying more than once.

Her guilt was so raw and real.  Every mom experiences guilt and I could relate to her feeling guilty even though it wasn’t her fault.  She says that “I had done something awful–unforgiveable–to my sweet and innocent children (pg. 122).”  It seems ridiculous to feel that way, but as a parent I know my kids need me all the time for everything and being gone from my kids for 3 months, no matter the reason, would feel like an awful betrayal.

She was brutally honest about her feelings of selfishness and I admired that honesty.  Selfishness is definitely not accepted in our society but this experience made me wonder if maybe she needed to be that way to heal emotionally and physically.  Is there a right amount of selfishness?

On some level I realized how selfish it was to keep him out of my room.  I knew I was ignoring his needs and his emotional pain.  I was sorry for that, but not sorry enough to change my mind.

– Stephanie Nielson, Heaven is Here pg 125

Stephanie and her husband, who was also burned, seemed to have a magical love story.  When she was in a coma, her heart kept racing when her husband came in the room.  It was something straight out of a fairy tale.  Then later, when she is crying about going home because she literally can’t do anything and was worrying about who would cook dinner and fold the clothes, her husband says that he will do it.  He seems happy about it, too.  Just as long as they’re together it doesn’t matter who is doing what.  What a Prince Charming.

I was touched by the story of her husband being haunted by nightmares so their three-year-old son would come sleep in the room with his dad and the nightmares would go away.  It was such a bittersweet role reversal.  I loved her son Ollie’s forwardness, openness, and acceptance.  He’s the child that accepted her right away and I found him very endearing.  One of my favorite stories is of Ollie loudly telling people in the restaurant to stop staring at his mommy.

One of the inspiring things about Stephanie was when she realized that even though she had hit rock bottom and couldn’t even control her own body, she could control how hard she worked.  Hard work was all she had left.  Instead of refusing to do things, she didn’t give up.  Reading her blog now is inspiring in little ways to me.  I came across a post where she was doing a craft for Easter and you could see pictures of her burned hands.  It looked like it was difficult and painful for her to do the small details of it.  The thing that inspires me is not Easter crafts (I loathe crafting) but the fact that she decided to go back to doing the things she loved doing before her accident despite the fact that it was now much harder.  

When she wants to have another baby, I couldn’t help but think “Hasn’t your body been through enough?!” But I went to her blog and saw posts of her baby daughter’s 3rd birthday and how grateful they were to have her, I couldn’t help but be impressed that she continued to not just survive but to work hard for the things that she wanted.  I would like to hope that I would be that way, too.

I went back and read her blog posts about her pregnancy and the unique challenges she faced because of her burns.  At the end when she expereienced swelling, her skin on her legs couldn’t stretch and so the swelling went inwards and she said it felt like “like thousands of needles poking my skin all day“.  Reading honesty like that makes me feel grateful for things I had never thought to be grateful for.  I am so grateful right now for skin that can stretch on my body.

Content Rating: Everyone, clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Stephanie Nielson

Stephanie Nielson

Stephanie Nielson was born and raised in Provo, Utah. She is the author of nieniedialogues.com, a popular blog about her life as a wife, mother, and Mormon. Stephanie lives in Provo with her husband and children.

 

Book Review: Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

Book Review: Seedfolks by Paul FleischmanSeedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Published: 1997
Format: Paperback (102 pages)
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Source: Library

 
A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha's heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil's dad, who sees a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Maricela, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead.

Thirteen very different voices and perspectives—old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful—tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.
3 Stars

This very short novel is a beautiful story about what it means to be a community and how a community comes from having something in common – even if it’s as small as a garden.  Each chapter has a different character and a different point of view about this community garden which made it feel more like a short story collection instead of a novel.  I enjoyed reading it in that format since it gave me a chance to see the garden in so many unique and interesting ways.  The cast of diverse and interesting characters was delightful.  One of my favorite characters was the old lady who kept drinking a tea made from flowers and her doctors told her not to.  She outlived all those doctors and would say their names like a “chapter in Genesis.”  I just love that!

When we discussed this book in book club, we wondered who the main character was since it was told from so many points of view.  I liked my friends idea that the garden was the main character since it changed and grew the most.  I also liked where the term “seedfolks” came from.  One of the characters talks about her ancestors who were the first black family in Colorado and she thought of them as her “seedfolk” since they planted their roots there for her.  This was a cute story about community and how we have more in common than we think.

Content Rating: Mild. It was a clean read and appropriate for a young middle grade audience.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Paul Fleischman

Paul Fleischman

Paul Fleischman grew up in Santa Monica, California. The son of well-known children's novelist Sid Fleischman, Paul was in the unique position of having his famous father's books read out loud to him by the author as they were being written. This experience continued throughout his childhood.
Paul followed in his father's footsteps as an author of books for young readers, and in 1982 he released the book "Graven Images", which was awarded a Newbery Honor citation.
In 1988, Paul Fleischman came out with "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices", an unusually unique collection of poetry from the perspective of insects. This book was awarded the 1989 John Newbery Medal. Factoring in Sid Fleischman's win of the John Newbery Medal in 1987 for his book "The Whipping Boy", Paul and Sid Fleischman became to this day the only father and son authors to both win the John Newbery Medal.

Book Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

Book Review: Splintered by A. G. HowardSplintered by A.G. Howard
Series: Splintered #1
Published: January 1, 2013
Format: eBook (371 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence.

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
2 Stars

Splintered starts out as an awesome retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a gothic twist. Alyssa, the main character, goes on a journey fixing what Alice broke in Wonderland, which I thought was a clever idea. The middle suffered from way too much info-dumping. The end never quite recovered from that loss of momentum from the slow middle.  The story turned into a shaky quest to get this thing so she could get that thing then the other thing and I easily got lost which made me stop caring about the story.  I sadly didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.

beware-spoilers

I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quick.

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 1)

What an opening line! It’s so cool! This girl, Alyssa, is slightly crazy but so relatable and likable that I kind of over looked it.  She kills bugs as a way to deal with hearing their voices and then makes beautiful/creepy art out of them.  It’s such a strange but fascinating way to deal with the struggles she has.  The fact that she does her best to deal with them instead of ignoring them is what makes her so easy for me to like.

I tapped the bee hard enough to stun it. Then I whisked the flowers out of the water and pressed them between the pages of a spiral notebook, to silence their chattering petals.

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 4)

Chattering petals.  I just love that.

When Alyssa does go to Wonderland, she meets some flower zombies (which is an awesome idea all by itself) and then tries to fix all the things that Alice ruined in Wonderland to fix a curse that has plagued her family (who are descendants of Alice) ever since.  What a cool way to retell Alice in Wonderland! She soaks the ocean of tears up with a sponge and defeats a creepy gothic version of the walrus.  Oh. My. Gosh. I am so on board with this.  I’m having the best time!

Until….

Alyssa goes to Morpheus’ house.  He’s the “grown-up” caterpillar meaning he’s a moth/human thing of some sort.  So cool.  But at Morpheus’ house we run into the major issue I had with this book.  What started as a journey to fix a curse is getting twisted into a story about Alyssa getting crowned Queen because she’s actually a descendant of the Red Queen (and so not cursed but a half-breed, solving that problem nicely).  We obviously don’t know that at this point in the book (which was almost exactly in the middle), but to foreshadow such a big shift like that takes a lot of info-dumping.  Buckets and buckets of tedious, boring information.  It took so much setting up to have the twist at the end that *gasp* Alyssa is the new Red Queen (!) that I had lost interest by that point.  I kept getting impatient with the middle of the book waiting for things to happen again.  Some of the info-dumping was about things I had already guessed, like her mother was not really insane. Duh.  It’s hard to keep interested in a story when 30 pages of it goes something like this:

“After Queen Red was exiled to the wilds, she was never seen again. Her stepsister, Grenadine, married the king and became Queen— a woman so forgetful, she could never handle wearing the crown. And now her king wants to give her two.” Morpheus drags a glittering diamond tiara from the bag. “I’ve a spy stationed in the Red castle. When the White Court came to me with news of Ivory’s fate some weeks ago, I sent word for my contact to steal the jabberlock box. I’m harboring Ivory here, along with her crown, to keep them safe from Grenadine and King Red. If they control both the Red and White portals, good luck ever getting home.” He tucks the tiara away again. “All this will be ameliorated once Alyssa finds the vorpal sword. It’s the most powerful weapon in Wonderland. I can use it to force them to grant Ivory’s freedom. Her portal will be open to you then.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 201)

It’s too much all at once.  I want to experience events as much as possible and be told about past events as little as possible.  One instance of info-dumping isn’t so bad.  It happens sometimes in stories.  But so many stories like this were told right in a row that it slowed the story down.  We get info-dumps about her boyfriend’s past issues and info-dumps about how Alyssa has looked extremely different the entire time she was in Wonderland.  Say what.  I’m baffled that this guy would keep Alyssa’s altered appearance to himself.  For what reason does he do this exactly? No guy would mention it that late in the game if they had even noticed a change in her appearance at all.  But because he decided to keep it to himself, we get another glorious info-dump.

“You’ve been like this the whole time. I noticed it when we first stepped out of the rabbit hole. I thought your makeup had smeared. But then, after the ocean, you still had it. I didn’t make the connection until I saw Morpheus without his mask a few minutes ago.” Jeb pauses, looking like he might be sick. His thumbs rub the edges of the black designs. “They don’t wipe away. And the glitter all over your skin? That’s not salt residue. You’re starting to look like my fairy sketches, for real.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 188)

The theme of insanity was well done and one of my favorite things about the book.  I enjoyed the quotes that came up about sense and logic and how relative those terms really are.  When Alyssa goes to a dinner where they have to hunt down and kill what had, at first, seemed like a dead and roasted bird, I love how Morpheous explains that just because it looks insane, doesn’t mean that it is.

“You understand the logic behind the illogical, Alyssa. It’s in your nature to find tranquility amid the madness. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re giving our food a fighting chance.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 211)

I don’t mind sensuality when it adds something to the story.  When two characters are falling in love, it works.  I felt like there was a lot of pointless sensuality in Splintered.  The vomit inducing sensuality didn’t add anything to the story besides my vomit.

Then she turns to Jeb. “Elfin knight, do you wish for pleasure on your quest? I can provide it, if you so desire.”

– A. G. Howard, Splintered (p. 145)

Gag.

The romance.  Jeb draws pictures of Alyssa all the time but he has a girlfriend. Ok. All Alyssa can think is, “He’s going on a dangerous adventure with me and he almost kissed me. Clearly he likes someone else.” Ok. I just really didn’t get it.  Then they make-out some more.  End romance.

I wished I had liked the ending, but it was even more confusing than the romance.  Stuff happens and Jeb loses his head. Literally.  It was one of those things where it’s so crazy that the only way to fix it is with magic.  Alyssa fixes this problem by going back in time and making it so Jeb doesn’t come this time and therefore doesn’t lost his head.  Weird magical time jumps should not just magically fix things.  But maybe that’s just me.

Then we get to a possessed toy graveyard and by this point I’m just really sad.  I’m really sad for all the toys I’ve ever thrown away and I’m really sad that there are now characters that weren’t in the original Alice in Wonderland.  I don’t really get why these spider/woman things are even in the story other than stopping Alyssa from getting the latest thing.  I think it’s a sword right now.  I’m also really sad that the love I had for the first quarter of the book is gone.  I wish the rest of the book could have been that awesome.

When I finished, I don’t I understand why this book is a series.  The ending seemed pretty wrapped up.  For some reason, Alyssa is a queen in Wonderland but decides to go home.  Seems like a lot of work to go through to become queen if all she gets out of it is going home.  Maybe she couldn’t find the ruby slippers.  I don’t know.  Morpheous got eaten by a pig but I don’t really care that much.  To be honest, there’s nothing that is pulling me into the next book.  I love retellings and while I liked some things about this gothic rendition that was inspired by Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland, it just didn’t click with me liked I hoped it would.

Content Rating: Medium, for sensuality some of which seemed unnecessary and a few make-out scenes that were a little too graphic for my taste.  Mild language.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About A.G. Howard

A G Howard

A.G. Howard was inspired to write SPLINTERED while working at a school library. Her pastimes are reading, rollerblading, gardening, and family vacations which often include impromptu side trips to 18th century graveyards or condemned schoolhouses to appease her overactive muse.

SPLINTERED & UNHINGED, books 1 & 2 of her urbanized /gothic Alice in Wonderland series, are now available from Amulet Books. Book 3, ENSNARED, launches 2015.

Author photo by pamlaryphotography.com

Book Review: Little Knife by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review: Little Knife by Leigh BardugoLittle Knife by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #2.6
Published: June 24, 2014
Format: eBook (32 pages)
Genres: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Novella, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
In this third Ravkan folk tale from Leigh Bardugo, a beautiful girl finds that what her father wants for her and what she wants for herself are two different things.

It is a companion story to the third book of the Grisha Trilogy, Ruin and Rising, and the stories “The Witch of Duva” and “The Too-Clever Fox.”
4 Stars

If all Princess fairy tales had a feminist ending, it would come out exactly like this beautifully written short story.  If you like Princess stories but don’t like the “I have to get married, a guy needs to save me” theme, then you will love this fascinating fairy tale.  Little Knife is about a girl who is so so pretty but no one listens to her.  They really, really should have.

beware-spoilers

This is a story of Yeva, a girl that was so so pretty. And it sucked.  People thought she was a demon.  She couldn’t go outside because it caused a scene.  Instead of passively accepting her fate, Yeva asks why she has to hide.  GOOD QUESTION. Why can’t women be accepted as they are? Why is she expected to change her behavior which is normal (i.e. going outside) while the village doesn’t feel the need to change their abnormal behavior (i.e. freaking out whenever they see her)?

No one ever asks Yeva what she wants.  Her father, the Duke, is the worst.  He is always thinking what he can get out of her instead.  He really, really should have asked her what she wanted.

The tasks that the Duke sets up to find a husband for his Mega Hot Daughter (aka Yeva) are selfish and ridiculous and are what most of the plot is about.  I liked the writing of this fairy tale.  It has a charming repetitive style.  Yeva logically questions the stupid things the Duke has the men do to compete for her hand and he ignores her. Idiot.

If this had been a regular fairy tale, the underdog Semyon would have won her hand.  He’s poor.  No one likes him that much.  He has magic.  But through the story we see how he is no better than the Duke because he blames the river for all his problems.  The freakin’ river who is literally just sitting there minding it’s own business.  For a poor person, he seems awfully rude and entitled.  Luckily, the river obeys Semyon’s magic and helps him with the stupid tasks.  He rewards the river, which he nick-named Little Knife, by being ungrateful and demanding.

“Now slice through the ground and fetch me the coin, Little Knife, or what good are you to me?”

– Leigh Bardugo, Little Knife (Location 181)

The ending rocks.  The river kicks butt, turns into a powerful magical being, and is the first person to ask Yeva what she wants.  Turns out, Yeva wants freedom.  The river and Yeva leave the town, destroying it on their way out.  Yeva lives by the sea and does normal things.  Then she gets old and ugly but she doesn’t bloody care because she’s a free person.  That’s the best ending to a fairy tale ever.

Why do you think it’s common for women to be expected to change to what someone else wants?

This story really highlighted for me the ways in which women are expected to change.  It reminded me of an experience I had. An ex-boyfriend insisted that I change my life to fit better with his.  Newsflash – he wasn’t doing anything with his life.  It would have taken zero effort to change his life.  I was going to school and he wasn’t.  I had a job and he didn’t.  But since I was the girl I was expected to flip my life upside down.  Go to a new school, get a new job so he could stay exactly where he was.  Don’t worry.  I dumped him.  Have you ever experienced that?  Being asked to change to fit someone else’s ideal?

Content Rating: Everyone. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives in Hollywood, where she indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. Occasionally, she can be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.

Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children’s/ Macmillan), is a New York Times Best Seller and the first book in the Grisha Trilogy. Book 2, Siege and Storm, will be published in 2013. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf.

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Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically by  A.J. JacobsThe Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs
Published: October 1, 2007
Format: eBook (388 pages)
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Source: Purchased

 
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.
3 Stars

I read this book on a recommendation from a friend.  When I first saw it, it seemed like it was mocking religion.  The cover kind of says “See how ridiculous religion is? LOL.”  While there is humor, it’s more self-deprecating instead of mocking.  That being said, the humor wasn’t that hilarious.  It was more like amusing.  I was entertained by his writing and I surprisingly learned a few things.  It was a fast, entertaining read but the humor didn’t quite blow me away.

beware-spoilers

I thought The Year of Living Biblically would be more about living primitively.  I kind of expected him to make bricks out of straw or something.  The author, A. J., was more focused on trying religion out in a bizarre way.  I was surprised that he actually got quite a bit out of his experiment.  He grew spiritually.  At the end, he’s not ready to join Judaism or anything but I really felt that he was changed and would think about morals a lot differently after this.  His motivation behind this experiment was his son and how to teach him morals.

I don’t want him to swim in this muddy soup of moral relativism. I don’t trust it. I have such a worldview, and though I have yet to commit a major felony, it seems dangerous. Especially nowadays.

– A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (p. 39).

Seeing him adapt ancient commandments to a modern world was fun.  My favorite interpretation was for the commandment of gleaning which he described like this:

The idea of gleanings is one of my favorites in the Bible. It goes like this: When you harvest your field, don’t reap the entire field. Leave the corners unharvested so that the leftovers— the gleanings— can be gathered by the poor. It’s a beautiful and compassionate rule. Plus, the commandment rewards people for doing a half-assed job, which I think is a nice notion.

– A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (p. 166).

If only we could be rewarded for doing everything half-assed.  A. J. decided to leave money at the ATM to follow this commandment.  He was concerned that the person getting the money was most likely rich and not poor, but it was the best idea he had since he didn’t actually farm.

I learned a lot about the Jewish faith from reading this.  A. J. actually explored a lot of religions during this experiment which I wasn’t expecting.  He had a lot of questions about how to interpret and live certain commandments so he interviewed leaders from a variety of religions.  I was familiar with Jewish kosher laws, but I had no idea where the tradition of them came from.  It’s such a neat story.

But the rabbis have a far more elaborate interpretation: Exodus 23: 19 actually means to separate milk and meat. Which is where you get the kosher rules banning cheeseburgers. Along with the myriad rules about how long you must wait between a meat course and a dairy course (from one hour to six hours, depending on local tradition) and whether you should separate dairy utensils and meat utensils in a dishwasher (yes). Strict Orthodox Jews believe that God gave these amplifications— the “oral laws” —to Moses on the mountaintop. That’s why he was up there for forty days . Moses passed on the oral laws to the Israelites, who told them to their sons, and so on until they were eventually written down.

– A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (p. 69).

A. J.’s self-deprecating humor was great.  It wasn’t in there a ton, but when it was it made me smile.

I’m no handyman. Put it this way: When I watch Bob the Builder with Jasper, I always learn something new (oh, so that’s what a strut is).

– A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (p. 78).

I also thought this quote was hilarious.  We all have an eccentric aunt Marti, right?

My aunt Marti , the vegan and animal rights activist, found out about my honey eating and sent me a rebuking email. The subject header was “The bitter truth about honey.” She listed all the ways the commercial honey industry mistreats bees. I won’t reprint it here, but her description of artificial bee insemination was disturbingly graphic. She signed the note, “Your eccentric aunt Marti.”

– A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (p. 173).

I’m a religious person.  I’ve read the Bible.  So I was pleasantly surprised at some of the insights he found in the Bible that I had never thought about.  A. J. was struggling with infertility.  He talked about how the stories of infertility stood out to him and gave him comfort.

There is an upside to the Bible’s infertility motif: The harder it was for a woman to get pregnant, the greater was the resulting child. Joseph. Isaac. Samuel.

– A. J. Jacobs,  The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (pp. 19-20).

I liked his insight on how religion was a surprising paradox.  Having to make less choices because of all the commandments he was living was actually freeing to him and not confining like he thought it would be. He didn’t gossip and so negative thoughts just stopped occurring to him in the first place.  Religion was also surprisingly grounding to him.  It made him look at life realistically and honestly.

This book inspired me to be more grateful in my life.  I loved these two quotes about gratitude.  They are so true.

The prayers are helpful. They remind me that the food didn’t spontaneously generate in my fridge. They make me feel more connected, more grateful, more grounded, more aware of my place in this complicated hummus cycle.

– A. J. Jacobs,  The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (pp. 95-96).

I’ve never before been so aware of the thousands of little good things, the thousands of things that go right every day.

– A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (p. 269).

So maybe it wasn’t a mind blowing, hilarious, laugh-until-my-sides-ache book.  But I’m still glad I read it.  It’s a nice reminder of the importance of religion and gratitude in my life and I enjoyed seeing someone going through the process of learning that, too.

If you could do anything for one year, what would it be?

This is the second novel I’ve read about doing something for a whole year.  The other book was Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.  I really love the idea of reading a book a day for a year like in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.  A. J. Jacobs has written other books about year-long experiments including reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, and becoming perfectly fit.  What one would you do?

Content Rating: Mild. Very mild language.

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About A.J. Jacobs

AJ Jacobs

Jacobs is the editor at large at Esquire magazine. He has written for The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York magazine and Dental Economics magazine, one of the top five magazines about the financial side of toothcare.

In 2004, Simon & Schuster plublished the Know-It-All. It subsequently spent eight weeks on the New York Times paperback bestseller list. It was praised by Time magazine, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Janet Maslin in the New York Times and AJ’s uncle Henry on Amazon.com.

Jacobs grew up in New York City. His father is a lawyer who holds the world record for the most footnotes in a law review article (4,824). His wife works for a highbrow scavenger hunt called Watson Adventures. He lives in New York. He wonders if he fooled anyone with this third-person thing, or if everyone knows that he wrote this bio himself.