Rob Bell’s newest book, “Drops Like Stars,” is a coffee-table-book-sized illustrative collection of “thoughts on the suffering and creativity.” It is a short yet expansive work of sleek design layout and evocative imagery. Most of the pages have a few words on them, punctuated by powerful images.
One of my friends picked up the book, leafed through and said, “This is trendy as frick.” But the lustrous, minimalist design certainly works. It is filled with beautiful images of soap carvings, to colorful Times Square, to a squirrel. The images back up Bell’s power-packed words. Bell’s previous books, “Sex God,” “Velvet Elvis” and “Jesus Wants to Save Christians,” have all had similar designs: strong colors and sharp shapes, and straight lines. The space keeps you focused on the few words that are on the page.
Bell’s “thoughts on creativity and suffering” are divided into six “arts.” These arts are observations on the nature of suffering or its side effects. The first art, disruption, is when our plans don’t go right, or they get completely disrupted, and we have “to imagine a totally new tomorrow.” Honesty, the next art, happens when people suffer and they have to express that suffering. Everyone feels “the ache” when they hear a story about human suffering. “Suffering unites,” which spells out solidarity, the fourth art. Bell talks about how we can all relate to Christ because he became flesh and suffered, just like the rest of us. We have solidarity with Christ. Elimination causes us to trim down to only what is necessary. This art coheres with the economic situation: Americans have had to eliminate extra things from their lives. The art of failure resides in the human ability to bounce back, evolve and learn from mistakes.
In a recent interview with the Burnside Writer’s Collective, Bell said, “Great rhetoric has never been about how many words one can fill the air with, it’s always been about how clean and uncluttered and lean an idea can be articulated. It’s always been the short, crisp parable that has infinite layers of meaning that knocks around your head for days.” “Drops Like Stars” is just that. Bell doesn’t blab on and on for one-hundred and sixty pages. He puts a few strong words on each page and leaves space for readers to knock his ideas around.
Bell also said in the interview, “I’m endlessly interested in content—how to make something shorter, denser, get to it faster.” “Drops Like Stars” is a dense, short, thought-provoking exploration of a question that most never ask about suffering.
Bell says that most people ask “why?” when it comes to suffering, but nobody really has the answer, and even though there are volumes of explanations, they all fall short. So he asks a more practical, fresher question: what now?