Review: The Unlikely Disciple, Kevin Roose

Kevin Roose, son of liberal Quakers, decided to leave Brown University and spend a semester at Jerry Falwell’s “Bible Boot Camp”, Liberty University.  There he attended classes on biblical history and evangelism, participated in a mission trip to Daytona Beach during spring break, and joined a support group for chronic masturbators.  When he announced his intention to spend a semester at Liberty, his family and friends expected him to find a group of intolerant arch-conservatives marching in lockstep, but the reality (of course) was far more complicated.

I could not put this book down.  I must read thousands of books that are exactly like this book.  I am fascinated, fascinated, by fundamentalist Christian culture because although it is officially the same religion as mine (Christianity), it is so massively unlike the religious culture in which I was raised.  As a Catholic girl, I grew up completely unaware of the fact that there were churches in which people would stand up not on script because there was no script.  Do you know, people in some churches wave their hands during songs?  (I wrote “snogs” just there, an amusing mental image.)  Because the Holy Spirit moves them?  Catholics do not do that.  We only wave our hands when they have palms in them because it is Palm Sunday and we are doing a procession.

Roose writes with affection and respect of his friends at Liberty, his teachers and spiritual advisors, and even Falwell himself (not, as you may imagine, the favorite person in the liberal Roose household).  His friends are people who believe passionately in their religion, who struggle to overcome what they perceive as failings, and who are surprisingly kind and accepting of Roose even after he confesses his subterfuge to them.  (I would be sort of angry.)

MORE.  I MUST HAVE MORE.  I am full of ’satiable curiosity.  I am so interested in what it is like to be all sorts of things that I am not.  What is it like to be a nun, what is it like to be a talk therapist for adolescents, what is it like being a cop?  I am obsessed with what things are like, day to day; which is to say, I am not so much curious about the theology behind the Rapture, as I am interested in how the belief in it affects people and changes how they live their lives.

Other reviews:

At Home with Books
My Friend Amy
Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books
Open Mind, Insert Book
Reading Rants
A Patchwork of Books
Should Be Reading
Book Nook Club
The Printed Page

Tell me if I missed yours!

May I now address the other thing that has occupied me this weekend?  It is the BBC miniseries State of Play, on which the 2009 American film was based.  I have not yet found a way to describe it that gets it to sound anything like as good as it is.  Political thriller! (But I do not like political thrillers.)  Brilliant cast of actors! (But only Bill Nighy and James McAvoy are well-known in America, and they’re not the leads.)  You know that Russell Crowe film?  (That’s plainly a non-starter.  I can’t stand Russell Crowe.)

Whatever.  If you’ve not seen it, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  State of Play is about journalists tracking down sources and taking care of each other and having integrity.  David Morrissey plays a politician called Stephen Collins, whose mistress goes under a train in an apparent suicide*.  John Simm plays Cal McCaffrey, Collins’s former campaign manager and current writer for the fictional newspaper The Recorder, working with fellow reporter Della Smith (the always lovely Kelly MacDonald) to find out what led to Collins’s mistress’s death.

*Americans don’t say “goes under a train” or “goes under a bus”.  Wonder why.  Seems like a reasonable turn of phrase to me.  And am I mistaken in thinking that we also do not say “non-starter” much on this side of the pond?

Whether you are a political thriller sort of person or not, I swear to you, this miniseries is well worth watching.  The relationship between Collins and McCaffrey is the linchpin of the series, and the two actors play off each other gorgeously.  Writer Paul Abbott manages to keep the tension up throughout the six episodes, so if you ever feel like the story’s winding down, and you are safe to relax, I WOULD RECONSIDER.

Would anyone care to recommend me some more good British television to watch?  My library has a fair selection of BBC dramas, but I just don’t know what ones to get.

43 thoughts on “Review: The Unlikely Disciple, Kevin Roose

  1. This will go on my list. You might be interested Crazy for God by Francis Schaeffer. I liked it and hated it both, as it gave me the squirms. (But I only squirmed my way halfway through because there was a waiting list and I had to take it back to the library before I was finished)

    I went to a fairly liberal Christian college, which still left me with mucho scars. I remember a couple of girls showed up halfway through freshman semester. Everyone just called them “The Twins.” They had started the year at Liberty and been given the boot due to some kind of unspecified-but-hinted-as-involving-something-sexy misconduct. After living on the same floor with them, I thought it was pretty possible they had planned the whole thing. They were maniacs.

    • I am interested in Crazy for God. Thanks for the recommendation! I picked it up when I was at the library yesterday, and I shall read it straightaway as soon as I finish the violent, depressing German book I’m reading.

      They both got kicked out of Liberty at the same time? For naughty sexual behavior? Sounds like the plot of a really stupid and misogynistic film, doesn’t it?

      • Yes, it does! I was trying to come up with a title, but I’m not that clever.

        (Both of them, or else one got kicked out and the other twin went along because they wanted to go to the same school.)

        Wow. A violent, depressing German book. My least favorite kind. I admire your resolve.

      • I got sent it from an agency, so I felt guilty not finishing it. My review is forthcoming sometime after I manage to disentangle my intense dislike of violence from my fondness for the narrator. 😛

  2. Oh, and I meant to say. I’ve been getting into some older BBC just recently. Brideshead Revisted, Duchess of Duke Street (the early episodes), and the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries from the late 80’s, with Wimsey and Harriet Vane–this from a non-mystery-lover. Have His Carcase is by far the best, but you’d want to watch them in order.

    • I’ve seen the Sayers ones! I liked them. But the others you mention I’ve not seen at all, and I bet my library has got Brideshead Revisited at least. Aren’t there several adaptations? What one is good?

      • I saw the first one, with Jeremy Irons, whom I don’t usually like. He was just an itty-bitty baby actor back then. The settings were the best part. And it was absurdly long, which somehow made it even better. I read a review of the more recent feature film that said it made everyone all conniving and Freudian, so I didn’t bother with it, besides not being able to imagine them getting through the story in a couple of hours. But it could be good.

  3. “I am so interested in what it is like to be all sorts of things that I am not. ”

    This pretty much sumps up why I read so much.

    Also: *ears perk up at Lord Peter & Harriet comment above* I wonder if I should watch those. I want to, but I worry that I’m too attached to the characters to accept any version of them that doesn’t match the one in my head.

    Sorry for the slightly out of topic comment 😛

    • Yes, Ana, you do want to watch them! Maybe not immediately, but someday. (At least watch the ones with Edward Petherbridge. The Ian Carmichael ones are only tolerable. I watched one and was done.)

    • I didn’t want to marry the TV adaptations, but I thought they were pretty good, actually. The Edward Petherbridge ones were the ones I saw, and my main problem was that Gaudy Night was too compressed to do justice to the story. But I think that was inevitable really. Apparently the TV people wanted to change the story in a lot of different ways, and have Harriet agree to marry Peter sort of off-handedly in the middle of something else. Happily Edward Petherbridge said he wouldn’t do it that way, and they had to cede the point. 🙂

      • The dramatization of Gawdy Night was just awful. Terrible timing. Wasting long scenes on all the wrong things, and stinting where they really needed to let you savor the scenario.

        I had firmly decided not to mention this on the internet, but apparently I *did* want to marry the TV adaptation. I dreamed I had just got married to Peter Wimsey, and it was so great! Only it wasn’t so great, because there were earthquakes and refugees and wars and having to shelter in caves.

      • Oh, and good for Edward Petherbridge! I can believe he cared enough about Wimsey and Vane to put his foot down; he was part of Laurence Olivier’s troupe, and his own marriage is of very long standing. (I checked.)

      • *cracks up* Don’t be embarrassed. I have dreamed of marrying William Shakespeare more than once. I also once dreamed that everyone thought I was engaged to Oscar Wilde, and I went round explaining that I wasn’t, because he was gay, and then he sued me for libel. Part of me was crushed that Oscar Wilde now hated me, and part of me was thinking, Well, goody, I’ll just argue my case really feebly, get convicted, and he won’t have to have his tragic downfall.

      • I can just see you on the witness stand in a lilac gown and a hat with a little black veil to hide the tears. You sweet, sacrificial lamb!

        So, that could be a plot for a Thursday Next novel, yeah? Saving Oscar Wilde? If it’s allowed to branch out from going into books, to just plain literary time travel…

      • Yup, and my only case for the defense would be, “Well, he wears poufy clothes and writes indecent literature,” and Oscar Wilde would decimate me with his wits.

        …Actually kind of loving this idea.

  4. Is it too obvious to suggest the Inspector Lewis series? Lewis’s sidekick Hathaway is sooooo dreamy!! There’s even a Christian angle to his backstory, but I won’t give too much away.

  5. First, I lived not far from Liberty University for several years and went to many concerts there were there was much hand-waving and such. I have no desire to read this book, because I think I lived it a little–I was sort of inside that culture in that I was an evangelical Christian but I never quite bought into a lot of it, so I ended up looking at a lot of it with that sort of detached outsider’s point of view. (I am now two weeks away from becoming officially Episcopalian, so I too can now only wave my hands if there are palms in them.)

    I think all my favorite British TV series are the obvious ones: Jeeves and Wooster, Upstairs Downstairs. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m drawing a blank.

    And also, I’ve never seen the British version of State of Play but I have a strange affection for the Russell Crowe movie because they showed parts of DC and Virginia that are not the National Mall. They actually showed them driving to a real motel in Arlington to question a guy, and they drove there exactly the way I would go. This made me ridiculously happy.

    • Congratulations on your soon-to-be-official faith! 🙂

      I can so sympathize with your happiness over the Virginia settings! My family is obsessed with finding the One Best Way to get to everywhere in town, and if they ever set a film here, we’d be sure to criticize the routes the characters were taking to get from place to place. I’ve got a hold on the Crowe film at the library but haven’t seen it yet. Can’t speak to how it compares to the British one, but the British one is amazing, and I don’t like this genre, in general. Amazing. Seriously. If you can rent it you should. *must recruit*

    • Ditto congrats! Our backgrounds sound very similar, Teresa. I would probably belong to the Episcopal church if I belonged to any. Instead I have spent years flirting scandalously with both the Episcopal and the Lutheran church. Anything liturgical in pants.

  6. Thanks for linking to my review! The Unlikely Disciple was definitely one of my favorites last year. Even having grown up in fundamentalist churches, it was really interesting getting to see the author’s point of view (especially since I went to a state college).

    • Did it bother you, the things he said, with you having grown up in a similar sort of environment? Or did it all seem familiar, or some mix of the two? I am always afraid I’m being offensive when I talk about religious traditions about which I don’t know very much about them!

  7. You should read Karen Armstrong’s two-book memoir – it’s all about her becoming a nun! And she’s an amazing writer. The books are called The Spiral Staircase and Through the Narrow Gate. Can’t remember which one comes first.

      • I read The Spiral Staircase, and I thought of it also while reading this review – did not know it was a two-parter, however. I found it very disturbing; Armstrong talks a lot about why they call it “formation,” something I had not really thought about, despite my ongoing fascination with Catholicism. I have known a couple of ex-nuns, and I have to say – you don’t ever leave the formation behind.

  8. The Liberty book sounds really interesting! I go to school not too far from there, so it would be interesting to read about what actually goes on. 😀

    • NO KISSING, that’s what goes on there. At least officially. And no hugs with members of the opposite sex that last longer than three seconds. The rules seemed very very draconian to public-school-educated-lapsed-Catholic me. 😛

  9. Another book you might try (I have not read) is In the Land of Believers by Gena Welch. I myself prefer to read that book about a lady how couldn’t find a job in her field so she drove a cab in NYC. How fun would that be? I would HAVE to read about it because I would NEVER do it.

    • Haha, actually, both of those sound amazing. A book about being a cab driver is exactly the sort of thing I like, because like, you, I’d never ever ever do it. (I’m far too chicken.) Do you by any chance know what the title is? (she said hopefully)

      • Of course, “Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab” by Melissa Plaut. It’s been on my list forever but I think of it on days when I wonder if I should grow up and find a real career.

  10. This book gave me lots of happy memories about college. Am I a naval gazer that I enjoyed this even though it’s somewhat similar to my upbringing? I read In the Land of Believers recently as well and it’s quite similar.

    but I know what you mean. I wanted more books like this as well.

    • Doesn’t sound navel-gaze-y to me! I’d love to read a book that reminded me of my bringing-up, except it would have to be so wholesome and cuddly nobody else would want to read it. 😛

  11. I HEART Unlikely Disciple so much. I read it about a year ago, and am not quite sure why I never wrote a review about it. Thanks for reminding me of how fantastic it was….time for a re-read:)

    • I heart it too! I’m now on a rampage to find as many books about fundamentalist Christian culture as I can possibly find! I wonder what Kevin Roose will write next…

    • I’ve heard of that! I even feel like I had it on my TBR list too, but I just went and checked and didn’t see it there. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun. 🙂

  12. I really want to read this book. I went to a Christian college but not as conservative as Liberty.

    Also, I also love reading about people who are or do all sorts of things I’m not – Marine officer, elementary school teacher, what have you.

    As far as BBC which I love very much, have you seen the spy show MI-5? Also have you seen the ShakespeaRetold movies which reimagine Shakespeare plays in present day situations? There’s Taming of the Shrew that I really liked with Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell. Also, the Much Ado About Nothing one was a lot of fun. I didn’t care for the one they did on Midsummers Nights Dream. The only one I didn’t see was the Macbeth one which had James McAvoy in it.

    • I have heard of MI-5 but not watched it. Is it super-violent? I get scared easily! And yes! I saw the ShakespeaRetold films, all but Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Macbeth one was good, with James McAvoy. It’s been ages since I read Macbeth, and watching that film just reminded me how unbelievably tense that play is. Brrrr.

    • No! I haven’t! And now I must! The Unlikely Disciple did touch on the Quiverfull movement, though, so I know a little bit about it. I just finished reading an unsatisfactory book about Christian culture and need something better now. 🙂

      (Added your link!)

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