Stateside: Mitch Albom tackles 'time' in new book

Sep 6, 2012

As you hurry through your day, checking your watch, checking the clock, trying to squeeze more and more into your waking hours, did you ever stop and wonder...

What would it be like to live without an awareness of time?

How does that constant awareness of time passing, time running out, affect our very existence?

Mitch Albom got to wondering about these very questions.

The result is his latest novel, The Time Keeper.

 Cyndy spoke with Mitch and asked him how he would describe his book.

Albom said it's a fable.

"[It's] kind of a magical novel that follows the story of an invented 'Father Time' as he tries to teach the world of what the real value of time is," said Albom.

Albom said the idea was a natural evolution from his other books and pretty much came from his experience of aging. The spark for the book came one day at his house.

"I looked outside the window and I saw a deer run across the backyard... And I said to myself, 'that deer has no idea if today is Tuesday or Thursday. No idea how long it's supposed to live... It's just existing,’” said Albom.

“And that's the big difference between us and every other creature on the planet.

"We count time. And because we count time, we're the only creatures that worry about time running out."

So Albom decided to write a book about the first guy who began counting, and "how we'd all like to kill that guy."

The book has three major characters.

Cyndy told Albom she most identified with the character 'Sarah.’ Cyndy wondered how Albom, a sportswriter, captured the heart of a struggling teenage girl so well.

Albom said it came from observing his 17 nieces and nephews. He watched as they struggled through their teen years in world connected by technology and social media.

"It was a lot of fun writing a teenage girl. I've never done it before. All my books seem to be about old men and middle aged guys," said Albom.

Cyndy asked Albom to compare the difficulty between writing as a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press, and writing a novel.

Albom said making up a completely new world in a novel is much more difficult for him than reporting.

He says he still feels like a relatively green novelist. In comparison, he’s been a sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press for 30 years.

Albom said some friends who are novelists say the characters they create in their books help guide them through the writing process.

“I don’t understand that. My characters, they look up from the page and they go, ‘what do you mean? You tell us where to go. You don’t know where we’re going?! You expect us to do this?!’

“So they must have a whole different set of characters than me. I have to have an ending. If I don’t have a north star of sorts to sail towards, my boat will crash,” said Albom.

Albom said his books teach him lessons, whether it’s about faith, family relationships, or time.

“You reach a certain age when you realize you aren’t going to live forever,” said Albom.

Both of his parents have had strokes in the last year and are dependent on aides to help them.

And Albom said he’s reaching those years himself, and he’s learned an important lesson about the limits of time in our lives.

"I have learned that I'm not going to be able to do everything in my life. You know? I'm just not. So what am I going to do with the time I have left?"

“And how am I going to spend it? And that’s probably the overall lesson of the The Timekeeper,” said Albom.

“If we could live forever, like everybody wants to, nothing would be important. It’s the fact that time is limited, and you don’t get a million years, and you might not even get tomorrow, that forces you to make choices… and the choices you make become the quality of your life whether it’s 20 years long or 120 years long. And that’s sort of the whole essence of the book, and that’s really what I needed to teach myself.”

Mitch Albom is involved in several charities.

Cyndy asked Albom about which charities are have gotten good support, and which ones “need a little more love.”

Albom said the charity in Haiti has gotten a lot of support, but not as much support has been given to the charities in and around Detroit.

“Sometimes it’s easy to care for somebody a world away than it is in your own backyard. I don’t know why that is… I try not to look at it that way. To me, people in need are people in need.”

Albom said, despite hard economic times, people in Michigan have been continuing to give, which is inspiring to him.

You can find out more about Albom’s charities and his books on his website – MitchAlbom.com.

WEB EXTRA: Listen below to the story Albom tells about a plumber from Dearborn, who helped out with the Have Faith Haiti Mission.

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