In 2004, London artist Neva Elliott produced a work of art called "The Elliott Condensed Bible": It was a Gideon's Bible, condensed into four easy-to-use, imperative chapters: "Do," "Do Not," "Shall," and "Shall Not." Following the common reading of the Bible as a book of literal, holy commands, Elliott made it simple for readers and did away with all the "begats" and fairy tale elements.

In The Year of Living Biblically, author A.J. Jacobs goes one (huge) step further: For the duration of a year, he lived out every biblical rule, no matter how tough or arcane, to the best of his ability. This memoir of Jacobs' skeptically holy experiment is one of the most enjoyable and funny books I've read all year.

That Jacobs—who penned the mildly annoying book The Know-it-All, about reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica start to finish—is an agnostic Jew is one reason his book works so well; the other is that he approaches his material with an open-minded curiosity that leads him to live out some of the Bible's most bizarre dictates.

Over the course of his biblical year, Jacobs wears olive oil in his hair, doesn't touch his wife during her period, wears only white, paints his doorframe with blood, eats insects, strikes his child with a (Nerf) rod, and stones an adulterer in Central Park. This is in addition to the more well-known commandments about praising god and all that: Jacobs earnestly tries prayer and strives for a spiritual experience throughout his adherence to the Bible's "sillier" rules.

Blame cognitive dissonance or blame spiritual thirst, but over the course of the book, Jacobs—to his surprise—begins to have what most would describe as religious awakenings. He prays constantly; he looks for evidence of God's compassion; he begins to appreciate the wisdom of biblical teachings. He never makes peace with the Bible's homophobia, but he does take away one valuable lesson after another upon completing almost every seemingly bizarre biblical order.

The Year of Living Biblically could have been shaved down by a quarter without losing its effect, but Jacobs' dedication to his project, combined with his own ambivalence to the Bible, make this book one of the surprise hits of the fall.