I just finished The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose, and feel like I am probably the last book blogger to have read this book. In fact, even though I heard about this book when Barnes and Noble selected it as one of its Discover New Writers books, I postponed reading it until finally, after reading positive review after positive review, I decided I needed to read it for myself. After all, it is a memoir, and we all know how much I enjoy a good memoir.
To give a brief synopsis: Kevin Roose decides that he will spend a semester at Liberty University, the largest Christian fundamentalist college in the United States, founded by Jerry Falwell, the leader of the Moral Majority. Roose transfers from Brown University, Liberty's polar opposite, ready to note the vast differences in the students and lifestyles. Quickly Kevin realizes that while he may not have the same religious beliefs as his new friends, he genuinely likes the people at Liberty University. Yes, they are a conservative bunch, which Roose is not, but over the months he spends there, he is able to understand (even if he doesn't agree) with this new way of thinking. And, Roose gains a greater understanding of faith and the different religious beliefs and practices that he was unfamiliar with. Roose only intended on spending a semester at Liberty, and as his time there nears an end, two important things occur. First, Roose is able to interview Jerry Falwell, meeting the famed founder of Liberty. The second event, coming closely after Roose's interview with Falwell, is Jerry Falwell's death at the age of seventy three from a heart attack. This tragedy was a monumental event at Liberty that Kevin just happened to be present for.
Roose's writing is entertaining and interesting. He mentions early on that he worked as A.J. Jacobs' assistant (Jacobs penned the memoir The Year of Living Biblically along with two other memoirs), something I enjoyed knowing because it put things in perspective for me. Jacobs spent a year trying to live according to all Old Testament laws, writing a humorous memoir about this feat. The fact that Roose then found a way in which to write a memoir about a religious experience is not all that surprising.
My feelings about this book seem to mirror the other reviews I have read. First of all, I appreciated that Roose does not make fun of or demean the students at Liberty University and their beliefs. Despite the fact that Roose knew that his beliefs would not mesh with those of most Liberty students, he doesn't try to present his views as "right" and theirs as "wrong." Instead, I felt that Roose writes about his experience in an open-minded way, and genuinely realizes that people are complex- with more to them than the beliefs that caused them to choose an education at a fundamentalist college.
While I can understand why Roose didn't share his real reason for attending Liberty University with his peers, it does make it seem as though he was being somewhat deceptive. True, the knowledge of Roose's intent to write about them would have changed how people presented themselves, but I would have had a hard time with my own guilt about this if I had been Roose. And if I had been the subjects of this book, I may not have been as quick to forgive as Roose's Liberty friends.
All in all, this book was entertaining - at times I did wish it could have moved faster - and interesting. I have no doubt we will be seeing more of Roose's work in the future.
Check out these two reviews: