This note of distress arrived in my AOL inbox last Saturday at the o-dark-thirty hour of 4:01 a.m. Read it carefully:
Dear Lucy Adams,
As a member of the UGA Alumni Association, I receive frequent e-mail announcements, the most recent of which had a recommended reading list, with that controversial Todd Burpo "heaven" book apparently recommended by you. Although most Amazon.com reviewers have rated the book highly, there has also been a very large number of highly critical comments. My suspicion is that this was a well-planned scheme to make money -- nothing more -- and it concerns me that the book is being recommended. I will end by saying that I am a Christian and I definitely believe in heaven, but this book seems to offer many clues that things did not happen as portrayed in the book. In fact, I would bet that everything stated in the book relating to heaven was made up.
Tom R--- (PhD, 1977)
Several hours after sunrise and two cups of fortifying coffee and a bagel, I clicked REPLY and composed:
I never expected an e-mail regarding my suggestion for the UGA Alumni Summer Reading List. I'm flattered that you took the time to respond.
That Todd Burpo book, Heaven is for Real , OBVIOUSLY was suggested by me. The newsletter credited me for it.
A writer, I read a wide range of literature, from memoirs, like The Liars Club, to mysteries, like Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, to historical fiction, like Sarah's Key, to chick lit, like Men and Dogs , to classics, like Fahrenheit 451. I enjoy studying other authors' writing styles and content.
As for Heaven is for Real, the writing itself leaves a lot to be desired. The content, however, is intriguing. It generated a healthy discussion in my household amongst my four children, ages 10-15, my husband and me. The best way to become a critical reader is to read a wide range of material and analyze it. I strongly encourage this intellectual activity.
Also, the number and mixture of Amazon.com reviews indicates to me that this book has people thinking. Isn't that what we want, for people to think?
And, of course the authors wrote it to make money. That motivation doesn't make the book any less valid. Money is not bad. It's how we buy food, pay for vacations and send our children to college. I very much hope the authors profit from their efforts.
Furthermore, recommended does not mean required. This Summer Reading List went out to UGA alumni. The recipients of it are educated enough to choose material that suits their tastes and read it with a critical mind.
I cannot say whether Heaven is for Real was made up or not. Certainly, the accuracy of the content depends on the accuracy of the authors' memories. Memories of events generally evolve over time, with some details added and others forgotten. As a writer of creative nonfiction, I can attest that I work hard to make it entertaining; otherwise, it would read like a monotone police report of facts and bore my audience to death. The authors of Heaven is for Real probably did the same. Writing to entertain doesn't necessarily mean they fabricated their message. But ultimately, the reader must decide for him or herself which parts, if any, to believe and of which parts to remain skeptical.
Most importantly, why were you up at 4 a.m. worrying about the Alumni Summer Reading List?
Before I even hit SEND, I knew the answer to my question: The devil made him do it.
Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.