Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I will confess it: I’m not a big fan of author Mitch Albom, the sports journalist and writer who hit the big time in 1997 with his inspirational best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie. I could tell you that this is due to my native cynicism, which causes me to eschew the mawkish and sentimental... but that’d be mostly bullshit, as I am the type who gets a lump in his throat at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Really.

More likely, it’s because Albom writes warmhearted books that touch upon themes of life, death, and life after death... themes that practically cry out for a few big-eyed puppies or sad-faced clowns by way of illustration. There’s nothing wrong with all of that; it’s just not what you’ll generally find in the ever-growing pile on my nightstand. Give me a book about murderous Nazi dwarves, or slavering insectile aliens who quote Ogden Nash while they drain the Earth’s oceans of salt, or a collection of David Sedaris stories about oversized turds and sneering Parisians any day.

Here’s the kind of stuff Mitch Albom writes:

Tuesdays with Morrie
A reporter - Albom - reconnects with a dying college professor, with whom he has a weekly series of conversations about big-eyed puppies Life and Death. Nonfiction.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Eddie, a lonely 83-year-old wounded war veteran, makes his living repairing rides at an amusement park. He is killed while trying to save a little girl from a falling ride. Upon awakening in the afterlife, he learns that heaven is not a land of fluffy clouds, but a place in which your life is explained to you by five people who were in, who affected, or were affected by, your life. (What happens after you hear the explanation is left to the reader’s imagination.)

For One More Day
What would you do if you could spend just one more day with someone you’ve lost? Charley “Chick” Benetto is a retired baseball player... and a divorced alcoholic who is estranged from his adult daughter. He returns to his childhood home where the burdens of his unfulfilled dreams and miserable life compel him to attempt suicide, whereupon he he meets his mother, who despite having died eight years prior, welcomes him as if nothing ever happened. “You never call, you never write, you never put a rock on my headstone...”

Have a Little Faith
The story begins with an eighty-two-year-old rabbi from the author’s old hometown asking him for a favor: to deliver his eulogy. Two interwoven stories of two different men of faith - one an ex-convict and former drug dealer turned minister, the other the aforementioned rabbi - from whom Albom learns the difference faith can make in people’s lives. Nonfiction.

Not an oversized turd or insectile alien in the lot... but mawkish platitudes warm sentiment aplenty.

I read Tuesdays with Morrie back in 1998, about a year after it came out. Gawd only knows what I was thinking. Touching, heartfelt... pfui. It made me imagine a motivational poster... something with big-eyed puppies or sad-faced clowns. Something like this:

Tuesdays with Morrie
“Hey, kid - want some advice? Don’t buy any green bananas.” [Click to embiggen.]

After that, I took a break from Albom. I didn’t read either of his novels, and I normally would not have read his latest nonfiction opus, Have a Little Faith... except for the fact that the eighty-two-year-old rabbi profiled in the book - one Albert Lewis - is someone I had actually met. As it happens, he was my rabbi’s father.

So I read the book. How could I not? Having a personal connection to the subject of a best-seller is not something that happens every day. The Missus and I had only met our rabbi’s Av (daddy) a few times, yet along with many other members of our congregation we felt a certain kinship with the man, the subject of many a d’rash (sermon). And the book wasn’t too bad, despite its expected surfeit of Albomian sentimentality. The cover design was also a nice touch, intentionally evoking the appearance of Albert Lewis’s old prayerbook, crammed with handwritten notes and held together with rubber bands.

Now the book has been adapted for the small screen, a Hallmark Hall of Fame Teevee Movie that will be aired Sunday, November 27 - Thanksgiving weekend. This means that our rabbi will have the unique experience of seeing his very own father portrayed by Academy Award-winning character actor Martin Landau. How cool is that? Take a look:

I can’t look at Martin Landau without thinking of one of his great roles, that of a washed up Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. At one point in the film, recreating Lugosi’s “Scientist” character from Glen or Glenda, he intones, “Pull the string! Pull the string!” in a hilarious Hungarian accent. In synagogue, when I am functioning as gabbai (a sort of choreographer, go-getter, and general Man About Shul), I often find myself instructing the person who is to draw the Ark curtain to pull the string! in that same dopey accent.

Here’s our Rabbi Lewis - Rabbi Shalom Lewis - holding a sign bearing his father’s name - a prop from the Hallmark production.

Lewis Prop

At the end of the day, I’ve gotta hand it to Mitch Albom. Sentimental? Sure - even a bit mushy, perhaps. I may not be his biggest fan, but even cynics like me can appreciate a little warmheartedness, especially when it touches - however peripherally - our own lives.


Richmond said...

And as you know, I loved that book. :) I will look forward to seeing the movie as well!

K-nine said...

Sorry... All I could think of was this as soon as you said big eyes and puppies.