I must not be a Tuesday person. Today is Sunday, but since I hadn’t read the book, it didn’t occur to me to wait yet another two days to read Tuesdays with Morrie.
When the book was first published nine years ago, I cynically thought it couldn’t possibly live up to all the hype, but was also deterred by the fact that my feelings about that name were on the cool side, and who wants to read about a dying old man? These less than admirable facts I neglected to confess. I’ve been asked dozens of times if I’ve read it and always mumbled something about it being on my list. It finally got pushed to the top of the list, and I think at just the right time. I’m certain I would not have appreciated it as much nine years ago.
The fact that I was not ready to read this book until now carries a lesson for lifestory and memoir writers. I always remind people that we should write for ourselves first, because there are no guarantees that family will ever be interested, and even if they are, your words may mean more to them later. That’s especially likely to be true of younger family members.
Back to Tuesdays. I’ve since learned that books getting rave reviews usually do live up to the hype, but even more than the message, the structure of this book means way more to me today than it would have back then. I’ve learned how to read — like a writer, that is. The first writerly thing I noticed was Albom’s superb use of words. A couple of years ago I began keeping a list of what Sheila Bender refers to as “Velcro Phrases,” so named because they stick in mind. I described this process in a previous post, “Hang onto Inspiration.” I made many new entries as I read today. Some similes I especially enjoyed include:
. . . he waved his arms like a conductor on amphetamines . . .
. . . the sagging cheeks gathered up like curtains.
ALS is like a lit candle: it melts your nerves and leaves your body a pile of wax.
I noticed that Albom uses a unique dialog convention. He puts Morrie’s words in quotation marks. His own remarks lack them. The reason isn’t entirely clear, but it appears that he mixes the drift of his remarks in with reflection and summaries of the conversation rather than using them as an integral part of an ordinary conversation. Whatever the case, it works well, and the average reader would probably not notice.
His structure also appeals to me. He uses the metaphor of a final class with a beloved professor as the basis of the book and uses the metaphor to compile the parts: background history, synopsis of characters, and class session summaries. In reality, I strongly suspect that at least in the beginning, the conversation each visit covered more than the topic of the day, and some topics may have spanned several visits. But who would want to read a transcript? The way Albom spotlights each of the thirteen themes with a session of its own highlights and clarifies each in turn.
His use of “intersession notes” prepares the reader for each visit with flashbacks and other relevant material without distracting from the discussion during the visit.
Albom has accomplished what I dream of doing. He has written a concise volume filled with timeless wisdom that slips straight through the eyes into the heart, and created a literary masterpiece in the process.
My final thought regarding this book is that he celebrates one teacher who touched his life in such an all-encompassing way. In a very real sense, books like this one are my teachers, both for the content and as an example of fine writing. I honor and celebrate my teachers by mentioning the books.
Write now: if you don’t already have a list of Velcro Phrases, use the instructions in “Hang onto Inspiration” to start one. When your list is set up, read a book and begin making entries. Add a section at the end for other notes about writing style and structure for each book you read.