One interesting note about the publicity surrounding The Good Book, Slate editor David Plotz’s chronicle of reading the Bible: it’s not very obvious that it only covers half of the Bible — or, at least, what most of America defines as the Bible: which is to say, he’s writing about the Jewish Bible, or, as our Christian neighbors like to call it, the Old Testament.
Like I said, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the title. And you especially woudln’t be able to tell from the cover, which has the words Good Book written out in an old Church Gothic typeface atop a floppy plastic-bound book, the kind made famous by the wandering Gideons and their hotel-room souvenirs, with rays emanating from it like a medieval fresco of Jesus with his halo on fire.
And then we get to the first sentence of the book:
I’ve always been a proud Jews, but never a very observant one.
From there, Plotz discusses his childhood spent not paying attention in Hebrew School, his efforts to evade going to synagogue, and his wandering attention span during his cousin’s bat mitzvah. One might wonder why so many people who know so little about the Bible are so eager to talk about it so often, and at such length. Even more suspect is why we, as a public, love to read about this tripe. Would you buy a travel guide to India from someone who only flew in and stopped at the Taj Mahal for a quick photo?
There’s a new subgenre of memoir that seems to be centered around willful ignorance. Perhaps so many of the most high-profiles entries have been Jewish in content because Jews buy so many books; perhaps it’s because Jews are so proud of their ability to talk about things they don’t know. (Full confession: my memoir, Yom Kippur a Go-Go, is also about not knowing a lot about Judaism — although it’s about becoming Orthodox, which is kind of about making yourself un-ignorant.) A.J. Jacobs was clearly the pioneer in the field; in The Year of Living Biblically, he professes his own ignorance, seemingly to an inordinate degree, but, eventually, mostly in the context of seeking something beyond knowledge, searching for a way to get past his social convictions and skepticism, and enter into a state of simple belief.