The Good Book: Checking in on Walter Kirn’s Bible Study

Mr. Kirn

What’s with all the literary Bible thumping this month?

First, The New York Times Book Review put the Christ back in Christmas with a cover essay on the Bible’s effect on literature, “The Book of Books,” by Marilynne Robinson.

The Transom didn’t need to read it to see the Old Testament’s influence in this week’s New Yorker. Shouts and Murmurs of all things. Simon Rich rewrote the Book of Genesis with a self-involved twenty-something guy playing the role of God.

“On the third day, God’s girlfriend came over and said that He’d been acting distant lately,” he wrote.

And then there’s Walter Kirn. He once wrote a book about not doing the assigned reading (Lost in the Meritocracy), but is now catching up in a public Bible study conducted on his blog.

“I guess like most people I was under the impression I’d read the Bible just because I’d slept near it in hotels,” Mr. Kirn told The Transom from his home in Livingston, Mont. He said the city is  snowbound and among the windiest in the country.

“I’m watching grit blow down the street at 50 miles per hour and sand blast my face and my car,” he said.

Mr. Kirn has holed up with a King James Bible that once belonged to his mother, Millie, who passed away a few months ago. It’s an enormous study edition containing copious footnotes and all of her autodidactic marginalia and doodles.

“Of all the things of hers that I have been, you know, touching and trying up to conjure up her presence with, it seems like it might be the most capable of delivering some posthumous intimacy,” Mr. Kirn said.

He converted to Mormonism as a teenager but is no longer religious beyond the “generic spiritual beliefs that all Californians have,” he said.

So far, in his interpretation: Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden in a drug bust; Cain and Abel were slaves on a plantation ruled by an “ill-tempered master”; Abraham and Sarah high-fived after deceiving the Pharaoh.

“Operation Egyptian Honey Trap complete!” he wrote.

When he’s not untangling Jacob’s patrilineage, Mr. Kirn is working on a memoir of a ten-year period when he was duped by the grifter and murder suspect Christian Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller. Their relationship began when Mr. Kirn delivered a rescued Gordon Setter to Mr. Gerhartsreiter in New York. He had to drive it out from Montana in a truck because the dog was in a wheelchair and couldn’t fly on a plane.

“What could be a more useful prop than a crippled dog to walk around the streets of New York?” Mr. Kirn said. “I’m sure he talked to all sorts of girls.”

“Even when he was unmasked he seemed like a sympathetic guy,” Mr. Kirn said, “I was kind of his confidant.”

In the mean time, the Bible blog has drawn a small congregation of earnest readers who are either conventionally devout or seeking and skeptical. Most of them fall outside the target demos of Mr. Kirn’s novels, Up in the Air and Thumbsucker.

“I found a lot of real believers saying ‘Hey you’re cynical but you’re gonna be saved by the end of this thing,’” Mr. Kirn said, “and, hey, I’m perfectly willing to be the first online conversion to take place in real time.

“I don’t know how it ends, come to think of it! I thought I did,” he said. “I’m just hoping I finish the Bible before the Mayan calendar takes its revenge on all of us.” 

The Good Book: Checking in on Walter Kirn’s Bible Study