Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another Great Stunt Memoir -- And One I Forgot

I read "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University" by Kevin Roose in one day. I opened my Amazon box in the afternoon, read it while cooking dinner (sorry if it tasted weird, kids), read it while eating dinner (I'll hear about your day some other day, kids), and finished it up while brushing my teeth. I did take a break to put the kids to bed, or they would also have been up until 10:30 and that would not be good. Honestly, that's a little late for me now that I'm almost middle-aged. But it was worth it.
Kevin Roose was a student at Brown University when he decided to take a semester off and study a different culture. Instead of heading for Europe and studying abroad, he found a place much more foreign -- Liberty University, the conservative Baptist college founded by Reverend Jerry Falwell. After learning a few worship songs and watching Veggietales videos, and slapping a Jesus fish on the back of his car, Roose goes undercover as a transfer student at Liberty.
Roose finds his experience confusing and fascinating. The rules are strict, the tests are difficult, and some of the classes (like the one about Creation science) are just weird. The students are both very different from his classmates at Brown (lots of praying together) and very similar (lots of talking about girls).
If you are not an Evangelical Christian, this book give you a very interesting peek at that world. If you are an Evangelical Christian, I think you might still like this book. As a liberal Quaker, Roose is horrified by the casual homosexual slurs and the biblical literalism, but he also recognizes many positive aspects of the Liberty experience, and appreciates the friendships he develops there. There is a lot of humor in the book (for instance, his mission trip to Daytona Beach during spring break) but also a lot of respect. Roose successfully walks the fine line of finding the ridiculous aspects of his experience without mocking it. I liked this book a lot.

I was recently reminded of another fun stunt memoir that I forgot to blog about -- "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany" by Bill Buford. Buford is an editor at the New Yorker who gets so into an article he is writing about Mario Batali that he quits his writing job and starts working in Mario's restaurant kitchen. This then leads him to other food-related adventures, and many funny, crazy learning experiences/nightmares. The book is full of crazy characters and it will either make you want to quit your job and be a chef or thank the lord that you are not sweating your life away in a restaurant kitchen. It's a very funny, interesting book.