What's the deal with books these days? Just take a look: the ones written for kids get longer and longer (and more expensive), while the ones written for adults get shorter (and more expensive). Don't believe me? Try comparing the heft of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to Life's Little Instruction Book some time.
Kids find chapter books the size of concrete blocks under the Christmas tree, while grownup books are on some form of the South Beach Diet. Besides that ...Instruction Book, there's the entire Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series, and I'll bet it’ll get worse before it gets better. Mark my words: any day now, somebody will trot out The Three Habits of Highly Effective People.
I think I know why. Attention spans have been getting shorter for the last two generations, for whatever reason - mostly the effects of more and more frequent commercial breaks on the boob tube, I guess.
These days, the majority of people express their entire philosophy on bumper stickers. You see their thoughts every time you hit the road. Politics, religion, politics, scholarship, politics, humor, politics -- complex subjects are distilled to “thoughts” that can be expressed in a twelve-by-three space. Needless to say, there's little room for depth. Just as there's not much room for depth in a 196-page book that's printed on 4x8 stock. Yep, I'm talking about the five people you meet in heaven.
Who's meeting five people in heaven? Eddie the maintenance guy at aging amusement park Ruby Pier, that's who. Don't be sad about his death, though -- he lived a long life, dying on his 83rd birthday. And who knows? Eddie just might have died a hero, trying to save a little girl from a runaway ride at the park where he'd spent most of his life. Whatever the case, Eddie woke up in Heaven: nice reward.
So who did Eddie meet in Heaven? That's not important: his five people aren't the same five people you’d meet, after all. They're people he knew, or didn't know, or just barely met, or only interacted with for an instant. He had a profound effect on some of their lives and almost none on others.
The point is that all of 'em had at one time or another crossed paths with Eddie the living, and the interaction changed the two lives forever. Now, each has a little snippet of wisdom to impart to Eddie while he talks to them on a circuitous journey to his own version of heaven.
One explains how every life is forever changed by our interactions with others, whether we know it or not. Another tells him about the importance of sacrifice. The others talk to him about love or loss or silence. And when all is said and done, Eddie realizes that the boring and useless life he thought he was living was actually full of meaning. Cool, huh?
Will you feel better after you've read the five people you meet in heaven? Why is the five people you meet in heaven so wildly popular? That's easy: Mitch Albom distilled "the meaning of life" to sentiments that fit on an average bumper sticker. Readers don't have to struggle through massive volumes by the likes of Sartre, Nietszche, or Descartes, instead, they just spend a couple of hours with the quite small book, the five people you meet in heaven.
And the truth is, you probably will feel better when you're done reading. After all, it's comforting to believe that someday we'll learn why existence seems so pointless. That, and it's pleasant to get such a big dollop of philosophical thought in an easily digestible form; one only slightly more complex than the sentiment “Dog is my Copilot.” Perhaps that's why no one (who doesn't have to) reads Nietszche and everybody on the face of the earth seems to have read the five people you meet in heaven.