Thursday, October 26, 2006

Two Books in Search of Meaning

Two Books in Search of Meaning

In my last post I discussed three films about humankind’s search for meaning.  In today’s post I wish to discuss two books about the same subject.  These books are Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) and The Five People You meet in Heaven (2003) by Mitch Albom.  Tuesdays featured prominently in Oprah’s Bookclub which did much for its popularity.  In fact Oprah Winfrey went on to produce a television movie adaptation for ABC starring Jack Lemmon. (It was the most watched tv movie of 1999). Of this same book Albom’s own website states the following (address of site at end of this post):

Mitch Albom began visiting his old college professor Morrie Schwartz after seeing him on ABC’s “Nightline” talking about his fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease. One Tuesday visit turned into another, resulting in a “final class” between professor and student in what you learn about life once you truly prepare to die. The book, hailed as “wise,” “moving” “heart rendering” and “life-changing” was written with the sole intent of paying Schwartz’s medical bills, and was turned down by many of the most prestigious publishers in the country. Doubleday finally agreed to publish it with an initial print run of just 25,000 copies. Today, the book has sold more than 12 million copies in more than 50 editions around the globe.

My attention to both was drawn by a good friend and former student of mine, Colin McElroy, who had been recently bereaved by the loss of both parents to cancer.  These books had provided no little comfort for Colin in his coming to grips with the situation in which he found himself.

Both books are indeed easily read, and do provide much sound advice, much needed comfort and consolation and not a little wisdom.  They will be of great use to many a bereaved parent or child, and to all others who are interested in the human quest for meaning.  However, one major flaw I find with both books is that they smack too much of having all the answers.  The formula for making sense of life is a little too pat, a little too precise and a little too easy.  They don’t leave too much room for that sheer emptiness, the horrible depression, the often deeply felt experience of the meaninglessness of life that hit us from time to time.  While Mitch Albom presents us with much useful Wisdom, we cannot help feeling that his words at times are not so much shallow as maybe not quite as deep and understanding as they could be.  In short his depth of wisdom does not match the depth of the private suffering.

You will be comforted greatly by these two books if you are ready as it were for comforting, if you are already open to being comforted, if you are some distance on the road to recovery.  I have my doubts if either of these books could lift a desperately despairing person or a profoundly grief-stricken person from their own private hell.  I feel that such troubled souls, of course, would need professional help from the medical world, from psychologists or psychotherapists or counsellors before these two books would be of any help to them as suffering persons.

However, they are both easily read and both make superb light bedtime reading.  I read each in a couple of hours – actually they are both very short books.  Mitch Albom is mainly a sports journalist and general columnist in the USA and has won many awards for his writing.  You will love these books if you are a fellow pilgrim with me on the journey of life – I refer here to the quest for meaning which for most of us life is.  If you are a positive individual you will be strengthened by Albom’s sheer abundance of this very commodity.  If you are a little negative you, in all likelihood, will be convinced by the man’s positive interest in others and in his staunch belief in the overall positive purpose of the enterprise we call life.  However, if you are a cynical person, you will not even have picked up either of these books – you will have dismissed their message out of hand before arriving at the shelf in the book shop.  Indeed you will have purposely avoided the shelf in the first place anyway if you are such a person.

I believe that both books are good, but certainly not very good or excellent.  On a scale from 1 to 10, I would give each book 6. They are both also useful tools if you are a meditator because they will provide much grist to the meditative enterprise.  On this level as a tool for meditation I might be persuaded to say they are very good, but I still hesitate to say excellent.

Mitch has an excellent website which may be accessed by clicking here - . Above I have placed a view of my attic study.

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