Discussion location: The Rope Walk,St Paul’s Square (was to be the Rectory but food was too pricy!)

Chosen by: Sue Atkins

Reason for choice: Sister raved about it so was excited to read it, but didn’t find it as good as expected, so wanted other people’s opinions on it.

Cry count: 8/10 of the group cried

Best quote: “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Review:

Tuesday’s With Morrie, a real-life recollection of Mitch Albom’s meetings with his college Sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, is undoubtedly moving.  From his early meetings with Morrie as a hopeful student full of potential, the Mitch we meet sixteen years later has descended into a materialistic, career-obsessed man.  Immersed in the world of television and newspapers, Mitch happens to see a Nightline feature about his old professor Morrie, who has developed the terminal illness,ALS (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).  During their subsequent series of Tuesday meetings, Mitch and his old professor discuss ‘big issues’, such as love, death and emotion.

Through their discussions, Mitch reflects on his own character, and realises that he has become selfish and uncaring; and here lies the real strength of the novel – Morrie forces the reader to assess themselves, whether they are living a good life and what they need to change about themselves to become better people.  For many readers, the novel forces them to reflect on themselves, leading them to, or reinforcing the positive values that apply to their own life.  The novel becomes almost a moral guide, a narrative version of a ‘do one good thing every day’ calendar.

In particular, the novel encourages a positive acceptance of death. As Morrie documents the human uneasiness at the thought of one’s own decline, and indeed, his own physical decline, he reinforces his belief that death is not to be feared. In one of the novel’s many aphorisms, he states that accepting your own death will enable you to live a better life, and that that the ageing process is almost a reversal to the original state of being a baby.

These aphorisms, along with the easy writing style of the novel serve to emphasize Morrie’s teachings and incredible lightness of being, despite the circumstances in which the novel occurs. This positivity when facing death is admirable to the reader, who is compelled to wish we could all be more like Morrie, who instead of encouraging the misery that surrounds an imminent death, uses his illness to promote his almost Buddhist-like approach of living in the present.

However, the recurrent aphorisms, the most obvious being “bed is dead”, did at times become laborious as Morrie attempted to emphasise his point to Mitch. In general, Albom may have benefited from less self reflection, and more in depth documentation of the meetings, as the conversations were often too short, and seemed overly focussed on Mitch’s interpretation of Morrie’s teachings and transformation, rather than on Morrie himself. As the novel, which is presented as a final thesis, focuses on two central characters, it would lend itself well to a play adaptation, which might allow for more Morrie and less Mitch.

One slight criticism of the novel is its treatment of the female characters. In particular, Mitch’s attitude towards his then-partner begins negatively, and even following his transformation, is still unflattering and unemotional. Moreover, Morrie’s wife, who seems to be ever devoted to caring for her husband, is barely recognised as an influencing factor in Morrie’s wellbeing.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the novel is Morrie’s beliefs about society, in which he claims that we should create our own culture, and condemns the obsession with wealth and material possessions. Although these can be, agreeably unhealthy, and many people could benefit from reconsidering their priorities, Morrie suggests that having career aspirations is a negative thing. In this, the novel seems to neglect the practical aspect that we cannot all live as Morrie suggests, that inevitably we need to work to earn money to survive, that we are cogs in society’s wheel.

Overall rating: 7/10

Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s With Morrie is undeniably thought-provoking, compelling us to consider whether we are good people, and imploring us to be accepting of our own inevitable deaths. Despite some overstated proclamations and somewhat naïve views on society, the novel provides a good way of looking at life, and most readers will gain a lot from reading it.

 

Plot synopsis 

Based on a true story, a popular American sports columnist, Mitch Albom documents his meetings with his college professor of Sociology atBrandeisUniversity, Morrie Schwartz. Mitch records two sets of meetings, the majority of the book depicting a fairly recent series of meetings, interspersed with his recollections of Morrie from Mitch’s college years.  As a student, Mitch had much potential, and a good relationship with his professor, however, 16 years later, Mitch has become a materialistic, narcissistic and uncaring individual, who has not spoken to his college professor since graduating.

Mitch discovers, by chance, that his now 78 year old professor has developed Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) as a TV documentary has become interested in his unusually accepting and positive outlook towards his own impending death.  Following the TV documentary, Mitch requests to meet Morrie, and Morrie accepts as he recalls the good relationship they had previously.

Through a series of fourteen meetings, that take place on Tuesdays, Mitch and Morrie discuss a wide range of issues, including; the world, self pity, regret, death, family, emotion, fear of ageing, money, love, marriage, culture and forgiveness (these become chapter titles), amongst other things.  Through these meetings, Morrie teaches Mitch the idea of creating your own culture to transcend popular culture, and promotes values of love and inclusion. He also emphasises the importance of accepting the decline of the human body and inevitable death.

Through their conversations, Mitch becomes inspired by Morrie and begins to question the person he has become.  As the meetings progress, Mitch becomes more comfortable with Morrie’s illness, assisting his professor with tasks he previously found awkward. Mitch discusses his difficult relationship with his brother, Peter, who has HIV, and through his meetings with Morrie, he realises the importance of family and regains contact with his brother.  Towards the end of the novel, Mitch and Morrie meet a final time to say goodbye.  Morrie is very accepting of his death, and Mitch has been transformed by their meetings.

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