My rating: 3 of 5 stars
First, I'd like to give this a 3.5 out of 5, but Goodreads still only allows whole integers for reviews.
Moving on: I picked up God is Disappointed in You at Comic Con this past July from one of my favorite publishers of non-superhero based comics, Top Shelf. I like most of what Top Shelf puts out, and often buy new books blindly from the publisher because I can trust that their choices are sound.
This book, like most of their catalog, was pretty good, and I was not surprised to see it on their self (despite the presence of single panel, often tangential cartoons instead of an entire narrative told via comics). It does what a lot of Top Shelf books do: sheds light on a serious (sacred, even) subject with a deft and witty hand.
The premise of the book is simple: retell the Bible, chapter by chapter, with no chapter being very long. It was the concentrated, boiled down version of the book. Mark Russell takes a nuanced approach to the job, breaking down the chapters, focusing on the important, central aspects of each chapter and presenting it in a clear, plain, often funny language.
Russell has a good voice, too. I often and literally laughed out loud while reading the book, particularly during the early chapters of the Old Testament where things were really strange. My favorite chapters also altered the delivery of the chapter from just a straight narrative to something more modern. I think Leviticus was turned into an emailed memo.
The condensed and plain-spoken narrative helped to show the connections and shifts that happen between Genesis and Revelations. I learned a lot about the Bible, and any claims of sacrilegiousness are really unfounded; Russell knows his Bible, but he is not afraid to laugh at some of the more absurd moments.
All of this said, I felt like the book became repetitive, especially towards the New Testament, where the narrative gets longer and more disjointed. The premise of the narrative felt like a good trick that I kept seeing over and over again. Eventually, I stopped being impressed by it. And finally, I became numb to how expertly he was disseminating the text.
It might be a text that is better read in short bursts, like the Bible itself, rather than in a few prolonged sittings. I often found myself thinking that this would have been one of the most shared blogs had he published it electronically first.
Another issue I had was with Shannon Wheeler's cartoons. There were times the cartoons seemed to link up nicely with the narrative, and I then it seemed like the two were working in harmony. Other times, especially in the New Testament, the cartoons seemed to try to be offensive, which is not the point of the book. One cartoon in particular, where Jesus on the cross takes a phone call, was so incongruous that I found it distracting. Several times I wondered what was the purpose of the cartoons? The book stood alone without them, and rarely did they add anything to the text.
This is not to say that Wheeler was unfunny. In fact, some of the cartoons were genuinely hilarious. However, none of them were particularly necessary.
All in all, God is Disappointed in You is a good book and worth the cost. It's funny, and I learned some about the Bible (which is nice). However, I find that it works better as a book that is read in short, disconnected bursts, like Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.
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