Sunday September 16, 2012
Tinkering with time
By HUANG LIJIE
Mitch Albom’s latest book is a reality check on how we can choose to live.
BEST-selling author Mitch Albom has kept his latest novel, The Time Keeper, short and sweet like his inspirational books, so that it can be read quickly and easily.
The American writer says over the telephone from Detroit, Michigan, where he lives: “Everybody’s attention span is so short now that you’re lucky to hold them for one page, let alone 200.
“I’m very happy to have people say about The Time Keeper – ‘I finished the whole thing in two, three hours.’ The part that stays with me is that you finished it. That’s what you want as a writer, to make it easy for the reader to finish the book.”
The 230-page book is a fable about Father Time who, in order to save himself, has to help a rich, old businessman and a despairing teenager girl understand the real meaning of time. It hit the stores in Singapore on Tuesday.
Albom’s bestsellers such as the non-fiction Tuesdays With Morrie (1997), which recounts time spent with his late college professor who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his first novel, The Five People You Meet In Heaven (2003), are each 200 pages on average.
Albom, who began his writing career as a sports journalist and is now a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, adds that he pens short books because he is confident of completing them. He churns out a book about once every three years.
Writing in spare prose, however, is “deceptively simple”, he says. He has to be more rigorous and disciplined in his writing to convey everything he wants, in as few words as possible.
Albom tackles the serious topic of time in his latest work of fiction because he feels it is an important issue with wide resonance. Everyone – from a child who finds time passing too slowly to an adult on his deathbed – thinks about time, albeit from different perspectives.
The issue also strikes a chord with the 54-year-old, as he is getting on in age and has seen more people around him fall ill and die.
As he researched the topic, however, he found that there was no authoritative legend on the character of Father Time.
“There’s a little bit of Greek mythology on it but no real story of Father Time. That was what led me to the concept for the book.”
He also chose to write about time through a magical fable as, in his experience, a simple story is the best way to deal with a big topic. The Five People You Meet In Heaven, for example, is a fable on the profound theme of heaven. The book has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.
The message Albom hopes readers will take away from his latest book is that there is a reason why one’s days are limited – to make each day precious.
“The beautiful design is that we don’t live forever, so that forces you to make a choice of how you are going to live and to appreciate each day that you have,” says Albom, who is married to singer Janine Sabino, 58. They wed in 1995 and do not have children.
In the process of writing The Time Keeper, the author internalised the message and has made changes to his life too.
For one thing, he avoids wearing his watch all the time. He also makes an effort to not check and reply non-urgent email.
He has spent more time on the seven charities he founded in Detroit and Haiti. Among them is S.A.Y. Detroit, an umbrella group set up in 2006 for charities that try to improve the lives of the neediest in Detroit, such as through a free medical clinic for homeless children and women.
Albom is also involved in Faith Haiti Mission, which is committed to the health, safety, education and spiritual development of impoverished children and orphans in Haiti. It most recently built a school for children aged three to eight.
As to whether he expects The Time Keeper to become a bestseller like his other books, he says: “Every writer hopes his book will find a big audience, but I don’t ever take that for granted and never have.
“I just write something that matters to me and that I think is important.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network