Wednesday, September 06, 2006


You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it is better to listen to what it has to say.

- Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho first came into my life ten years ago when I met a man whose name I don't remember. I remember that he was short. I remember that he was a sound mixer. I remember that he thought a lot of himself and the celebrity names he liked to drop. I remember that our first date was also our last. All in all, it would not have been a memorable encounter at all had this pretentious, little man not recommended a wonderful book to me - Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

Despite the dubious character of the recommender, the book turned out to be a great recommendation. I like to think that this just supports the old adage that the right things come to us at the right time no matter what their mode of travel. Over time The Alchemist has become one of my favorite stories in no small part due to the deceptive simplicity of Coelho's language and narrative style. Considering that the novel has sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into 56 languages, I am apparently not the only one who admires Mr. Coelho's craft. Also, he has a fascinating life story, which is well worth the trip to read his biography on his website or for the jucier details his Wikipedia entry, even if you don't choose to read his novel. For these reasons, The Alchemist seemed like a natural choice when it came to selecting a first volume for my reading group this summer.

We are a diverse group that includes a grad student, a social worker, a retired teacher, a former Methodist minister, and a couple of corporate types. Some of us are straight. Some of us are gay. Some are American, some German, and some Filipino. We come from different backgrounds, but share that we are all open minded and wanting to learn from each other. That makes for fertile ground for captivating discussions.

What made our discussion of The Alchemist so interesting was the the lessons the book held for each of us were so diverse. What for me was a story about the nature of dreams and their pursuit was for others a statement about love or The Universe. Of course, it is all those things and more.

This is, in my mind, one of the hallmarks of a great novel. A well crafted novel has layers and delves into its themes deeply enough that one can read it again and again and keep coming away with something different each time. I read a wide variety of books - some more serious than others. The ones I keep turning back to are the ones that grow with me.

For me, The Alchemist has always been one of those books. It is one of those works that I turn to at those times when the Wheel of Fortune is spinning out of control and I can't seem to find my way back to the relative safety of its hub. At those moments, The Alchemist's message that the universe will conspire to help us, if we just follow the our has never failed me as a dependable source of comfort.

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