Have a Little Faith
In his first non-fiction novel, "Tuesdays With Morrie," published in 1997, Mitch Albom tells the story of former sociology professor Morrie Schwartz and of Schwartz's unique lessons on living and dying.
This time, in his first non-fiction work since "Tuesdays With Morrie," Albom gives a similarly thoughtful and inspiring narration, weaving together the stories of two men from two different religions in "Have a Little Faith."
Albom is first asked by his childhood rabbi from New Jersey, Albert Lewis, to deliver his eulogy when the time comes. Albom later meets Pastor Henry Covington, a Protestant minister and ex-convict, in a poor Detroit neighborhood.
Through the two men's stories, Albom shows that faith is not so much different from religion to religion. Perhaps the most fascinating thing, however, is that the reader unravels the meaning of hope and faith as Albom does, over a period of eight years.
Albom begins with the request from his rabbi and the idea that any time he's approached by a person of faith in his life, his tendency is to shrink away from it, not unlike many of us.
Writes Albom of the eulogy: "As is often the case with faith, I thought I was being asked a favor, when in fact I was being given one."
Albom meets many times with his rabbi, scouring his colorful sermons, which include songs from Sinatra and the occasional quotation from Dr. Seuss, thinking what he might say when the time comes to deliver Lewis' eulogy.
As it turns out, this is less a research project and more of a life lesson for Albom, who remains a skeptic until he is transformed by the rabbi and then by Covington's approach to preaching to the homeless as a way to "give back" for all the prior transgressions in his life.
Albom closes with the eulogy, then an epilogue, where he summarizes what he has learned:
"In the end, God sings, we hum along, and there are many melodies, but it's all one song - one same, wonderful, human song."
A Nostalgic Trek
The Whistling Season
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
If nothing else, you'd imagine that a novel written by "a former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor" must tell a good story.
For the most part, Ivan Doig does that in "The Whistling Season," given that several of its main characters are in love with language and words, the novel's sense of place - in rural Montana - is strong and vivid, and the characters are well developed.
The novel's narrator is Paul Milliron, who takes us on a nostalgic trek back through 1909 when he was a 13-year-old boy riding a horse to his one-room schoolhouse each morning with his two brothers. Milliron's narration takes place in 1957, when he is a seasoned educator and school board member faced with the decision of whether to shutter Montana's one-room schoolhouses.
The year 1909 was particularly eventful for the Milliron family, which had lost its matriarch the previous year. The novel begins when the father, Oliver Milliron, decides to hire a cook after seeing a job wanted ad with the headline, "Can't Cook But Doesn't Bite."
And with that, a seeming city slicker - she is from Minneapolis, 1,000 miles away - Rose Llewellyn sweeps into the little town of Marias Coulee, bringing her brother Morrie with her. Llewellyn, like Oliver Milliron, is recently widowed, and the book owes its title to Llewellyn's tendency to whistle while doing her chores.
Rose and Morrie are two of the characters that Doig brings vividly to life in this novel, along with many of the students in the one-room schoolhouse and, above all, the scenery and rhythm of rural Montana at the turn of the 20th century. The storytelling is straightforward and the writing is at once descriptive and without airs.