Monday, March 2, 2009

The Good Book

Has anyone ever told you the blurbs written on dust jackets of books are actually written by the authors themselves? Shocking, huh? And here, they led you to believe someone had really read the book, and thoughtfully commented on it for the benefit of the browsers in the bookstore. Nope. The same goes for descriptions of books on publisher's websites. My apologies for the disappointment.

So there's this new book out, titled "The Good Book", and since David Plotz, its author, has so helpfully told us about it on the HarperCollins website, I'll simply cut and paste it in here, before going on to the blog-post part:

Like many Jews and Christians, David Plotz long assumed he knew what was in the Bible. He read parts of it as a child in Hebrew school, then at-tended a Christian high school where he studied the Old and New Testaments. Many of the highlights stuck with him—Adam and Eve, Cain versus Abel, Jacob versus Esau, Jonah versus whale, forty days and nights, ten plagues and commandments, twelve tribes and apostles, Red Sea walked under, Galilee walked on, bush into fire, rock into water, water into wine. And, of course, he absorbed from all around him other bits of the Bible—from stories he heard in churches and synagogues, in movies and on television, from his parents and teachers. But it wasn't until he picked up a Bible at a cousin's bat mitzvah—and became engrossed and horrified by a lesser-known story in Genesis—that he couldn't put it down.

At a time when wars are fought over scriptural interpretation, when the influence of religion on American politics has never been greater, when many Americans still believe in the Bible's literal truth, it has never been more important to get to know the Bible. Good Book is what happens when a regular guy—an average Job—actually reads the book on which his religion, his culture, and his world are based. Along the way, he grapples with the most profound theological questions: How many commandments do we actually need? Does God prefer obedience or good deeds? And the most unexpected ones: Why are so many women in the Bible prostitutes? Why does God love bald men so much? Is Samson really that stupid?

Good Book is an irreverent, enthralling journey through the world's most important work of literature.

Sounds reasonably interesting, doesn't it. Though I admit the thought of someone getting through a chunk of life, well into adulthood, before ever reading the Bible, saddens me. I won't say it astonishes me, because it doesn't, but it saddens me. It's the best book ever written, after all, besides being history's best seller (well ahead of Mao's Little Red Book, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Harry Potter, which follow it on the list so far as I know. The Koran must be on the list, too). Not to mention being the most influential book in history, with no contenders in sight. (Try to imagine Abraham Lincoln without the Bible). And bear in mind that Plotz is the editor of Slate, which means he's a figure of some significance on the American intellectual firmament; he's not some physics professor, recently fired Wall Street broker or a member of Congress.

Shmuel Rosner has posted an e-mail interview with Plotz:

4. You're an editor (and writer) with a political mind. You wrote a lot about politics, you thought a lot about politics. Did you find the Good Book politically relevant?

Yes, in a couple of ways. The Bible is the book that guides tens of millions of my fellow Americans. They make their decisions about gay marriage, economic policy, education, abortion, etc based on the words in the book. If I want to be able to understand them, and to engage with them, I need to know what they believe. Also, the Bible has many episodes analogous to political events. It's much easier to understand Bill Clinton having read about King David.

I'll bet Bill Clinton has read the Bible. Come to think of it, if you've got to choose between Plotz's Good Book and the real Good Book, I recommend the real one.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

according to Michael Oren when the Arabian Nights came out they were, at least in America, for a long time second only to the bible

and strictly regarded by the label of "best book" I vote the Odyssey first, the Old Testament second and the Ilias third (but that is maybe so because those were much more interesting than my other children's books.)

and as to writers writing their own blurbs - at least "The Jewel of Medina" was read by an academic who had been asked for a blurb and sounded the alarm whereupon Random House cancelled publication. So it's maybe only serious authors who get to/must write their own blurbs???
rgds, Silke

D. Smith, Canada said...

I nearly plotzed when I read that.

Womble said...

An "average Job"- or Joe- reading the Bible can tell us a lot about the fellow doing the reading, but it will say little about the Bible itself. Reading the Bible isn't quite the same as reading Harry Potter or, say, the Guardian.

howtoplayalone said...

I don't understand why someone can't or shouldn't write a book about reading the Bible. I understand reading the Bible is important, but what's wrong with writing a book about it after? Or is it just that he should have read it earlier and didn't?

Anyway, he also thinks everyone else should read every word of the Bible, as he writes here today:

http://www.slate.com/id/2212616/

howtoplayalone said...

I don't understand why someone can't or shouldn't write a book about reading the Bible. I understand reading the Bible is important, but what's wrong with writing a book about it after? Or is it just that he should have read it earlier and didn't?

Anyway, he also thinks everyone else should read every word of the Bible, as he writes here today:

http://www.slate.com/id/2212616/

Yaacov said...

Hi Bunbury. I didn't say there's anything wrong with his book, tho I did say if you have to choose between the two his should be second. But if you've got the time for both - by all means.

howtoplayalone said...

Gotcha. I think everyone would agree to read God's book before Plotz'.