Finding Humor in Serious Books

As I age, my reading seems to become more eclectic. I’m not just talking about flipping through 101 Scariest Animals before chasing it down with a shot of Dooby Dooby Moo or Parker Picks.

Somedays I read books that won literary prizes; other days I flip through fluff. I also read weird nonfiction, including books about obituaries (reading death notices is a macabre hobby of mine).

One of the weird nonfiction books I finished recently is A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The author, Rachel Held Evans, has been all over American media lately (The View, The Today Show) discussing her book and the controversy in the Christian bookstore community about whether or not to display a book that has the word vagina in it. Seriously.

The reason I classify A Year of Biblical Womanhood as “weird nonfiction” is that Evans, a feminist and a Christian who was raised in a fundamentalist household, dove headfirst into the Bible’s controversies and tried to live as a Biblical woman. Each month, she focused on a virtue and made a to-do list of how to live, what to wear, what to do. Perhaps the book’s subtitle describes it best: “How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master.” It’s a bit like A. A. Jacobs ran into Malcolm Gladwell in a seminary hallway and went for a coffee . . . or something stronger.

One of the best things about A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in my opinion, is that it’s funny. If you can make a book about the Bible and feminism (or any controversy) funny, you can make anything funny.

To show you how Rachel Held Evans does this, here are a few funny snippets from the chapter on Modesty, where Evans spends the month of March focusing on this virtue, which means dressing in peasant skirts, wearing no jewelry or makeup, and covering her head.

On wearing peasant skirts:

I love peasant skirts; they’re like wearing air. The only problem is that skirts are a bit cool for early March. [ . . . ] Also, someone who loves the Cracker Barrel as much as I do generally requires a more constrictive waistband material than elastic for the purposes of self-control in the face of breakfast-all-day specials. I must have gained five pounds during the month of March.

On going out dressed modestly:

“I look like a religious freak,” I wailed. “I can’t go out like this. People will think I’m—I don’t know—homeschooled.”

[My husband] sighed. (Have I mentioned that he was homeschooled until college?)

On Amish dressing:

Plump and grandmotherly, [Mary] spoke with a charming ‘Dutchy’ accent and wore all the traditional acoutrements of Amish life—a black apron pulled over a muted purple blouse, a simple black skirt, a heart-shaped bonnet, wool sweater, and black Crocs. (Yes, Crocs are all the rage in Amish country right now, along with Transitions lenses).

So, in addition to the controversial blog posts which bash the book (and Evans) for being too liberal, and in addition to the contemporary Christian blog posts which praise Evans for her stance, I wanted to offer another angle.

To conclude, Rachel Held Evans can write “the funny.”

Here’s to finding humor all around us . . . even when we’re covering our heads.

(Here’s one of my wedding photos…taken at the end of the night.)

Your turn:
What weird or funny books have you read lately?
Where do you find humor?
(Alternatively, feel free to caption the photo.)


    • says

      I think it was the end of the evening. My students in Bahrain had gone abaya shopping with me (because I had wanted to get one before I left the island for good). And…I still remembered the proper way to wrap a hijab, even though I’d never worn one in Bahrain.

      So glad you were at the wedding!

  1. says

    I actually was going to ask you for books on how to write funny. Craft books. I haven’t read anything funny in a while, but I intend to read The Blogess’ (Jenny Dawson’s) book as soon as I finish the book for book club.

    But I seriously don’t know or even go to humor when looking for a book. That’s a problem.

    • says

      No, it’s not a problem. My favorite fiction book of the year is actually funny (and touching). It’s Young Adult: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I recommend it. And I’ll be teaching a humor writing course for KL in the New Year. Come support me, Renzay!

  2. says

    Ever sisnce I signed up for your blog I look forward to reading it. I really liked your post on this book. I have not read it but it seems pretty interesting to me. Makes me want to read it. I belong to a book club and I will probably recommend it to be read. Is there anything over the top in it? meaning nudity, extreme cursing, etc…

  3. Jo Mc says

    Funny and weird is good. Not something I would usually consider reading but after your post I really want to read A Year of Biblical Womanhood! I love the subtle humor in kid’s picture books. One of my favourites to snigger over is Click Clack Moo, the prequel to Dooby Dooby Moo.

    By the way, I will only buy Don’t Lick The Minivan if it has the word vagina in it.


    • says

      Ha. I think that one’s a guarantee. Penis is in there. I just did a “Control Find” in my manuscript, and “vagina” is in there 9x. Sheesh. Colin Firth only made it in there 6x. Now there’s an IYKWIM.

      I think I need to come to Singapore to promote my book. :)

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