I am going to start this review a bit differently than I normally would with a word about who should NOT read this book. If you consider the Bible to be the absolute word of truth, a title not to be made fun of, then this is not the book for you. If you read the title, God Is Disappointed in You, and immediately thought, “How dare they?!”, then this is not the book for you. This is an irreverent book and the same holds true for the review, so go forward with that note of caution.
God is Disappointed in You is written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Shannon Wheeler, who is best known for his comic, Too Much Coffee Man, and for his art in the New Yorker magazine. Imagine that the cast of the Saturday Night Live show, including Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, wrote the Bible. You won’t find lines like “Esau, on the other hand, was much more butch. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman, and as hairy as Burt Reynolds” anywhere else.
Russell does a noteworthy job at taking each chapter of the Bible and condensing it into an accessible format for today’s readers. Gone are the long genealogies that often confused even Biblical historians and the long-winded archaic terms that I am sure most of the people from that time period never even spoke. Instead, we get short passages that are filled with humoring conversation to help the reader comprehend the chapter. Russell also varies the approach that he uses in recreating the chapters. For example, he presents Hebrews in a Q&A format, which I must say does make it more interesting to read. Where it does falter is that this is an interminable work, over 200 pages long. I know that it takes a lot to condense the Bible, but I had trouble getting through this edition.
A final note: like any translation of the Bible, it is Russell’s own interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, he has left out passages that some readers may have truly enjoyed and rephrased others in a different context that some people might be familiar with. This is not to say that it detracts from the work, but it is a fact of adapting a work like the Bible.
Most disappointing is that this book does not make full use of Wheeler’s artistic talents. It is not really a graphic novel or even really an illustrated book. Instead, it is as if each chapter were an issue of the New Yorker with one or two illustrations per chapter. While the illustrations are often funny and fit well with the story, there just are not enough of them for my taste. I also wish that Wheeler had used some of the same style of art that he did with the Too Much Coffee Man, with more depth to the drawings. Instead, the illustrations mimic what Wheeler does for the New Yorker, with ink pen drawings and ink washes to give the illustration some depth. While the illustrations fit with the story, the styles makes me feel like I’m supposed to be sitting in a nice parlour room, drinking tea, and saying, “Hmmm… quite right, dear fellow” versus being in a more comfortable setting and seeing the Bible in a new light.
The overall humor and modern language that Russell brings to Biblical stories will make Sundays with the Bible reading group much more interesting. While there are not nearly enough of Wheeler’s illustrations, the ones that are present will create a lively Biblical discussion on whether or not Ms. God asked God to create the Earth somewhere other than in their living room. In short, Bible discussions and studies will never be the same again.