The Five People You Meet in Heaven for our June book club meeting. For me, it was a re-read and one I was perfectly happy to indulge in. At one point, I had even listed this book as a must-read when I was interviewed by a fellow blogger many years ago. I appreciate Albom's ability to weave stories of inspiration and meaning. For me, his stories give me something to reflect upon and take away from about life in general.
My book club's reaction was not entirely there. Most of them didn't like the book. They found it to be too syrupy saccharine, too full of Hallmarkesque sentimentality. Several mentioned that this wasn't consistent with their own views of heaven and didn't like how heaven was presented in such a person-centric way. They felt it was full of murky spirituality. While it was a quick and easy read, and a nice change from the deeper, more difficult reads we had been indulging in for the club, it was, for them, too shallow. For me, I enjoyed the book and took encouragement from it. I guess I simply overlooked the syrupy sentimentality and considered the presentation of heaven to be a hypothetical one for the purpose of life-reflection. The story evolves slowly to reveal a composite whole perspective on life and death. The reader is sucked in immediately and walks the road of discovery with the main character, pulling in all the wisdom the main character gleans.
Mitch Albom's opening paragraph is a fine example of the perfect hook for a story:
"This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time."
Eddie is a maintenance man at an amusement park (glad I read this after our visit to Cedar Point instead of before). When he dies attempting to save a girl from a dislodged cart crashing to the ground from above, he enters a form of heaven where there are five individuals waiting to meet with him and reveal some important truth about his life and life in general. Each individual he encounters is a bit of a surprise and full of wisdom for Eddie to digest.
I felt the book lifted me out of myself and into a higher plane. I felt it had a message I needed to hear in this very moment. Like Eddie, lately I've been feeling that my life (all 50 years of it) simply hasn't counted for enough. I fully embraced Eddie's sentiments when he said, "I was sad because I didn't do anything with my life. I was nothing. I accomplished nothing. I was lost. I felt like I wasn't supposed to be there." But, with Eddie, I took a moment to reconsider and think about the lessons the five people in heaven shared. Every life is significant and touches others. We all have a story and that story's meaning is universal to all men. This book couldn't have come into my hands at a better moment in time. It was an encouragement to my heart and soul.
I recently read an article in The New Yorker about how reading can make you happier. It told of two women who have what for me would be the dream-job, a role as bibliotherapist, selecting books to feed a particular need within individual clients. If I were a bibliotherapist, I would suggest this book to people who are struggling with finding purpose and meaning in their life. It would be a good choice for someone who is questioning whether their own inconsequential story matters in the grand scheme of things. It would also be healing to someone who is several years out from the loss of a loved one (as mentioned in our book club discussion, it might be too painful a reassurance if the loss is fresh), reminding them that lost love is simply love in a different form. The loved one is no longer with you, but you carry them and continue to love despite the absence of the object of adoration.
While this book won't be for everyone and some readers might find it too sentimental, it's answers to life too pat, I believe the author's purpose in writing the book was fulfilled. He managed to convey several thoughts about life and death within the story of one man's life story. Moreover, he reminded readers that "each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one."