Jan 252013

Other than the realization that personal space is a very relative thing, when I was on the subway in New York this past September I realized that I’m kind of nosy. I would try desperately to figure out what people were reading. I’d try to catch a sentence or two over the shoulder of the person standing zero millimeters from my left elbow, or I’d notice a man with his nose buried in a book and I’d try to glimpse the title (without looking creepy). I’d try read the look on their faces to determine if the book was boring or exciting, challenging or trivial. I love finding out what people are reading! So anyway, if you’re like me, I’ll make it easy for you. I’ll hold my book up so you can see the title, and I won’t make you guess at my thoughts about it.

(Disclaimer: I don’t go into great detail, but I do talk about the story a bit. Just a bit. Just so you know. You know, if you don’t want to know.)

Our December book club selection was The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I looked all over the house because I would have bet $20 that I had a copy of it somewhere. I knew I hadn’t read it, but thought maybe someone had given me a copy or something. It turns out I didn’t have it, so I had to buy it. I must have been remembering seeing it on the shelves at the bookstore, since it spent 95 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list.

I really thought I’d like this book. Mitch Albom is known for writing short inspirational, thought-provoking books. I like being inspired and I love anything thought-provoking. The back of the dust jacket boasts applause from several well-known authors. James McBride, the author of The Color of Water, said he found the book, “Deep, profound, superbly imaginative, written with the quiet eloquence of a storyteller who dares to leap into the most magical of places.” He goes on to say, “This poetic book is full of lessons and hope.”

I found the book so shallow and unimaginative that I had to wonder if James McBride had actually read it. Which affirms the famous saying that, “No two persons ever read the same book.” So if you liked the book, you’re in good company, and I hope not to offend you. And if you’re in the minority of folks who didn’t like it you can join me in scratching your head in wonderment. 95 weeks on the bestsellers list? Really?

The book starts out with the death of Eddie, an amusement park maintenance man. We learn that a tragic accident involving one of the rides killed Eddie. Then throughout the book we get flashbacks to various birthdays during Eddie’s years on earth intermixed with the meeting of the five people in heaven and the lessons he is to take away from the meetings.

I’ll try not to completely spoil the book for you, but here are some of the inspiring things we discover while tagging along with Eddie in heaven. The deaths of persons #1, #2, #4, and #5 are all either directly or indirectly Eddie’s fault. Seriously inspiring stuff! As for person #3 we watch as Eddie “lets it all go” in an incredibly unrealistic scene of closure and forgiveness.

There’s nothing wrong with the ultimate lesson: we touch other lives all the time, and we all have a purpose, but this wasn’t news to me. (Gosh, I hope I didn’t just ruin the story for you. Sorry!) The uninspiring (welcome to heaven. I’m dead because of you! Oh, and don’t feel bad that I’ve just been in a holding pattern waiting for you to die to tell you this), drab (grey skies, sticky and dirty carnival rides, maintenance grease, abusive fathers), and inconsistent and unconnected (persons #1-4 have no idea what’s happened on earth since they got to heaven, but person #5 knows what’s happened on earth, and has knowledge of what would have happened on earth if…) way in which the story unfolds is what bothered me.

This small book is less than 200 pages, but it took me a month to get through it; I just kept picking up other books.

I give it a “meh — take it or leave it” rating.

Am I the only one who was underwhelmed?

I was going to tell you about all the books I’ve read in the last couple months, but that right there is probably more than you want to know about what I thought about any book in one sitting. Plus, I have to go make dinner. The other books will have to wait.

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