Paradise Lost: ‘I Did Not Die. I Did Not Go to Heaven’

Photo: AJ Mangoba
Photo: AJ Mangoba

Alex Malarkey was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident when he was six years old. The young boy claimed to have visited heaven, seen his stillborn sister and talked with Jesus. Years later, he began to recant the story touted in his bestselling book, but no one would listen–until now. Michelle Dean reports at The Guardian:

“I did not die. I did not go to heaven. When I made the claims, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough,” Alex wrote.

Jokes playing on his surname have been made far and wide, but Alex Malarkey is not James Frey for the evangelical set. He was not, and still is not, an adult. He is dependent on the care of others. Contesting this book would mean discrediting his own father as his co-author. It would also pit Alex against an evangelical publishing industry that has made huge profits off too-good-to-be-true memoirs that demand readers take them, quite literally, on faith.

At a time when publishing is under pressure from Amazon and e-books, near-death experience books are reliable, even phenomenon-level business: the story of [Colton] Burpo – which includes visions of Jesus on a horse and his miscarried baby sister during an emergency appendectomy – has reportedly sold more than 10m books, and The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven moved over 1m copies before its publisher pulled the book from shelves on Friday.

The publisher, Tyndale House, said in a statement it was “saddened to learn” that its co-author “is now saying that he made up the story of dying and going to heaven.” Since the scandal broke, the Malarkeys have not spoken publicly. According to family members, Kevin Malarkey seems to be standing by the book. The agent who sold Alex’s story to Tyndale House – who reassured them by telling them how the book money could help, his mother wrote on her blog – has also remained silent.

But a closer look at family correspondence and social media postings in the years in between reveals how a push for sales can obscure the truth when it’s easier not to listen. Since at least 2011, Alex and Beth Malarkey have been telling people, on her blog, that the memoir had substantial inaccuracies. Emails obtained by the Guardian from Phil Johnson make clear they have been telling the publisher directly since at least 2012.

When pressed to acknowledge the prior correspondence, Tyndale House admitted in a statement that: “For the past couple of years we have known that Beth Malarkey … was unhappy with the book, and believed it contained inaccuracies.”

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Finding Stories in Familiar Territory: An Interview With Miranda July

Photo: Todd Cole
Photo: Todd Cole

Jessica Gross | Longreads | January 2015 | 14 minutes (3,540 words)

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Miranda July’s films, sculptures, books, and performance art pieces share not only a very particular, off-kilter aesthetic, but also a deep concern with human connection. An example of this can be found in her 2011 film, The Future, in which a couple navigates their relationships with each other, with their soon-to-be-adopted cat, and with their individual selves. July procrastinated on writing the film by visiting and interviewing people who’d listed items in the Pennysaver. That detour facilitated the screenwriting process—The Future ended up featuring one of the sellers she’d met—and formed the basis of another project, the book It Chooses You. July’s new app, Somebody, approaches human connection from a different angle: It delivers text messages to their intended recipients via the nearest Somebody-using stranger.

July’s debut novel, The First Bad Man, centers on Cheryl, a forty-something woman hampered by compulsive thoughts and behaviors, a psychosomatic throat condition, and loneliness. She lusts after a man she’s met through work, and is constantly visited by the soul of a baby she had a strong connection with in childhood. Cheryl lives alone—until Clee, her boss’s blond, curvy daughter, comes to stay. Their relationship enters violent and erotic terrain, and rearranges Cheryl’s literal and internal worlds. We spoke recently by phone about her relationship with her characters, the evolution of her work, and where her novel came from. Read more…

Really Old Stuff: A Reading List About Our Prehistoric Past

Image: Lisa Weichel
Image: Lisa Weichel

Even with digital archives and electronic records keeping track of our lives, we often find it a challenge to piece together our own pasts, to say nothing of our parents’ or grandparents’. What, then, of the lives of humans and organisms whose only traces are already thousands of years old?

From an aspen colony that has been cloning itself for over 80,000 years to a coral reef fossilized eons ago, these stories bring to life irretrievable worlds and challenge our notions of time and durability.

1. “First Artists” (Chip Walter, National Geographic Magazine, January 2015)

Admiring intricate cave paintings in France, Germany, and South Africa, Walter explores how humans laid the foundation to visual art in “sporadic flare-ups of creativity” some 30,000-60,000 years ago.

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How Ordinary Americans End Up in the State of the Union Address

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of Ronald Reagan’s greatest gifts to us was the inclusion of Lenny Skutnik in his 1982 State of the Union, the hero who rescued plane crash survivors from the sub-zero Potomac. Since then, every president has had the privilege of publicly recognizing such inspiration throughout his address.

This was my favorite part of working on the State of the Union. I would smile from my office as Laura Dean, our assistant speechwriter and expert researcher, called the bewildered people who made it into the speech. “Yes, that’s right, the President of the United States. No, this isn’t a prank.”

This is President Obama’s favorite part, too—particularly the story that’s often told to conclude the speech. My old boss is a sucker for good endings, and he would send us far and wide to find just the right anecdote. In 2011, a worker from a Pennsylvania firm whose drilling technology helped save the Chilean miners said, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.” The President loved the quote, and turned it into an entire ending about American greatness and aspiration. In 2012, I remember the tears in his eyes as he told us that his proudest possession was the American flag that the SEAL team took with them on the Osama bin Laden mission, and later gave to the president as a gift. He turned that story into an ending about the unity and teamwork that defines America at its best.

Undoubtedly, the President and Cody are hard at work on another such ending for this year’s speech, and I can’t wait to hear it live. There will always be people who mock these stories as overly sappy and trite, but I think that our politics and the media give us enough reasons to be cynical every other day of the year. For one hour tonight, we get the chance to be inspired together. To me, that makes all the fuss worthwhile.

Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau writing last year in The Daily Beast about how the President prepares for the State of the Union address.

The Danger of Playing Favorites

Photo: Michael 1952

“Professor?” he said.

I was sitting at my desk. He was still in the doorway. He probably wanted me to ask him to sit, but I didn’t want to. I wanted him to leave so I could finish making the copies and then have a cup of coffee with my husband, whose office is down the hall.

“You should know something,” he said.

I didn’t make eye contact — not because I’m shy but because I was hoping to indicate benevolent annoyance. “What’s that?” I said.

“People are talking,” he said.

“People are talking?”

“About your favorites.”

“My favorites?”

“Who your favorite students are.”

– At The Millions, author Hannah Pittard is equal parts fascinated and repulsed by favoritism. As a child, Pittard wanted to be the family favorite. Now an adult, Pittard must face her childhood desire to be loved and decide how she wants to translate her love for her nieces and her dedication to her students.

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Seven Stories for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Photo: Center for Jewish History

Below are seven stories about (or by) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., exploring different facets of his life and legacy.

“Alex Haley Interviews Martin Luther King, Jr.” (Alex Haley, Playboy Magazine, January 1965)

King sat down for a series of interviews with the author Alex Haley shortly after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. They were edited and compiled into one interview that ran in the magazine the next year, which—according to The Daily Beast—was the longest interview King ever gave any publication. Read more…

Committed: Stories About Stays in Psychiatric Facilities

Photo: Tom Blackwell

In this week’s list, I wanted to share the experiences of those committed—voluntarily or not—to a psychiatric facility. From One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Nellie Bly’s 19th century expose to American Horror Story: Asylum, the “madhouse” occupies a weird space in America’s psyche, equal parts fascinating and feared. But the experiences of the patients and their caretakers are, obviously, very different than sensationalized cinematic accounts.

1. “Something More Wrong.” (Katherine B. Olson, The Big Roundtable, July 2013)

In this well-wrought essay, Katherine B. Olson profiles Alice Trovato, a woman and patient who mothers her unofficial charges and strives to make the most of her stay at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in the greens of Queens. Read more…