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Friday, February 28, 2014

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Book Review: Tuesdays With Morrie

This is the first Mitch Albom book I have read. It was given to me by a friend who I now suspect may have had an ulterior motive in wanting me to read it. It’s entire purpose is to pass on the teachings of the author’s beloved teacher. And it’s not subtle.

What does an seventy-eight year old retired college professor have left to teach his successful former student?

Learn How To Die.

The memoir begins when Mitch discovers that his favorite college professor, Morrie, is fatally ill with ALS, an incurable disease. After feeling ashamed for not having kept in touch all these years, he musters up the courage to visit. To his surprise, Morrie not only remembers him, but also welcomes him into his home and into his heart once more. Mitch resolves to visit him every Tuesday from thereon out. Thus begins their final thesis together. Mitch has a list of things he wants to talk about, and as Morrie has accepted his fate, he is able to talk freely about his past, his faith, his fears, his regrets, and other general feel-good meaning of life stuff.

I’ve heard a lot of people describe this book as sad or depressing, which is what you’d expect for a book about about a wonderful man slowly dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. But in fact, I found it to be exactly the opposite. And to Albom’s credit, I think that’s hard to do. The reader doesn’t pity Morrie, who has lived a full life. Rather, like Mitch, we are captivated by his life stories, amused by his love of dancing, and inspired by his radiant spirit. And as one man slowly succumbs to death, the other slowly succumbs to life.

For someone with the predisposition to contemplate the meaning of life, this book might be a tad bit on the nose. It’s certainly nothing we haven’t heard before. But I think it’s probably helpful to be reminded every once in a while that life is, indeed, short. Mitch has chased money instead of his dreams, and with Morrie’s help, he comes to find that “you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.”

One chapter that really interested me was one in which Morrie addresses emotions and how to deal with them. He is not afraid to show his feelings—something that Mitch struggles with. Essentially, he makes the point that to feel something is to rid yourself of the fear of actually feeling it. After we fully let ourselves feel and recognize the emotion, only then can we detach from it, not the other away around.  

I noticed that Mitch has trouble accepting that people are actually dying throughout his life, even when he knows the inevitable. He’s is uncomfortable that Morrie can refer to it so casually. “You never know,” he keeps suggesting. To which Morrie laughs. And there’s something comforting about that. Morrie considers himself lucky that he has time to prepare for death unlike other people--an inspiring perspective coming from a real-life character.

Spoiler alert—Morrie dies at the end. But not before teaching Mitch one final lesson.

“Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”

To be perfectly honest, this book didn’t exactly hit home for me, but I appreciate it's overall message. There are a few engaging instances of narrative, but at other times, I found myself slightly cringing at the tawdry aphorisms. There's nothing extraordinary about Albom's writing style, and I could tell when a passage or exchange between the men was meant to make me cry, (rendering it ineffective). I can't help but think of it as the less accomplished little brother of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which sets the bar for philosophical non-fiction.  But to be fair, I think I might be a little late to the game. It was first published 17 years ago, after all, and I’m sure it has resonated with a lot of people since.

As for me, I think I'm going be reading more fiction in the near future, because somehow, I find that it more-so has the ability to cover complex themes without sounding like a Tim McGraw song.

You should read this book if you are coping with death or simply coping with life.

Title: Tuesdays with Morrie

Author: Mitch Albom

Genre: Memoir, Philosophical Non-fiction

Recommendation: Yes, if you're in THAT kind of mood. 

Best Reader Audience: People coping with death

Final Rating: Two out of Five somethings.

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