This Book Might Be a Bomb: The Mile High Book Club

on Tuesday, April 27, 2010
For a breed of obnoxiously pushy people with a very 'here and now' attitude, Israelis apparently have no sense of urgency. Debbie and I wake up at stupid o' clock and throw on whatever is on top of our suitcases before rushing to the lobby. Not surprisingly, it is empty but for a small cluster of pilots and flight attendants who are busy invading the spectacularly inadequate breakfast bar. Orange juice and butter. No bread. I check out and ask the concierge how long the 'free shuttle' will be. He is coming, I am assured. Five minutes pass. Then another ten. I go back to the concierge. He is on the way. But the concierge will call just to be sure. Unfortunately for my poor frayed nerves I understand the entire Hebrew conversation that follows. "Good morning Udi, where are you? ... Did you maybe forget something this morning? .... Yes, they are waiting in the lobby... Well you will need to send somebody... Yes they missed the plane yesterday and they don't want to miss it again today... Ok, but quickly." He turns to me with a smile. "The driver said he is around the corner."

Another ten minutes pass before the doorbell rings, by which time the speed at which the blood is shooting through my body could probably power a small hydroelectric plant. The concierge smiles obsequiously at me and states the obvious. "He is here". We rush to the airport which, considering it is five in the morning, is already in full swing. As is the norm at Ben Gurion, we wait in a ridiculously long line so that we can be asked personal and silly questions by a far-too-friendly security guard.

Guard - What is the purpose of your trip?

Me - Holidays.

Guard - Do you have family in Israel?

Debbie - My sister.

Guard - What is her name?

Me (in my head... if only I had the guts to really say it) - Aviva. Why, do you know her?

Yadda yadda yadda. Until the famous line that any regular traveler to the region can recite by heart. "I am asking you this because someone might have given you something that to you looks alright but is in fact a bomb."

Somehow we make it through, despite the fact that my bleary eyes, three-day-old stubble and slurry speech make me look like I've spent the last five years working my way up the Al Qaida hierarchy. The rest of the check-in procedure is a relative breeze and we make our way to the departure hall with... get this... two hours to spare. I grab a brekky borekka and head to Steimatsky. It is bigger than the one in the arrivals area but similarly chaotic. There are no top 10 lists to be found, forcing me to do a repeat performance of yesterday's schtick. Again I am met with bemusement and a dismissive finger pointed towards one of the tables. "Any of those could be for you."

That's it. I'm cheating. I'm choosing a book I want to read. In the absence of anything even resembling a ranking system I can pick any book and consider it number 6. Heck, i shouldn't even be back at this stupid airport. So stuff Israel. Stuff Ben Gurion. Stuff Steimatsky. And stuff the technical intricacies of The Mile Book Club. My eye immediately fell on a book I have been meaning to read since I saw it on the counter of a friend's house back in Melbourne. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs.

Only one thing left to say about the Israel trip. Damn it, I know I'll be back! With that in mind I settle into my almost comfortable seat on British Airways and get reading.

A micro-review...

Here's the problem with great ideas. Sometimes they ought just be left laying in a hammock in a person's head. The Year of Living Biblically is a perfect example. In his cute little quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible, Jacobs slaughters the metaphorical horse in the first couple of chapters and then kicks its carcass around for another 300 pages. Not that there aren't a few flashes of what should have been. Some of the gags work. And yes, when followed literally, a lot of the Bible does seem pretty wacky. But as a whole, this quest is played for an odd mix of cheap laughs and cheaper tears. As a lapsed, somewhat returning, Jew, Jacobs makes many of the same mistakes Daniel Mendelsohn made in his equally overrated work of nostalgic pap, The Lost. His basic understanding of both the religion and the customs is so fundamentally flawed that it is almost embarrassing for anyone other than those who know equally little to read. Also, given the enormity of the task, it all seems greatly pared down for mass consumption. He grabs at a law, acts it out and moves on. Pithy comments aside, he gives short shrift to his experience. Which, to be fair, is not unlike the way many of the zealots who Jacobs lampoons approach religion. I get the feeling, however, this was not the point, leaving me to wonder, at the end of the day, if there ever was one.


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