“This,” I said, holding up the book with two fingers by the corner end, as if to distance myself from it, “can go back to the library….IMMEDIATELY.”
The book in question, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, became a candidate for the corner of the blog where I review bad literature just as IMMEDIATELY.
The short novella, written at a 5th grade reading level, is mind-numblingly childish. Not child-like–that is a quality I actually enjoy in books. Childish. Because childishness, in this case that of the main character and (ostensibly) the author himself, is really just selfishness masquerading as “living one’s life to the fullest.”
Which is perhaps my biggest criticism of this book: the idea that pursuing your own dreams not only is the most important thing you’ll ever do, it’s exactly what God intends for you. Coelho even attempts to back this up with some poorly researched references to major world religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism). I say poorly referenced because he misses the fact that those religions all promote self-sacrifice to follow the will of God. Any dream fulfillment is a by-product of a life of devotion.
But not to Coelho, whose main character impacts the lives of others merely by seeking his own fortunes. But their lives are so much better for his interaction. It’s just like that in real life, right? You know, like how when big companies improve the lives of the impoverished working class by making the bottom line the most important thing. That certainly doesn’t end with multiple chemical spills and unsafe drinking water. They’re helping those people. Just like the boy helped a glassware merchant in Tangiers.
A glassware merchant who, frankly, isn’t to be pitied for his lot in life because he doesn’t worship travel. To be clear, I love to travel. And I love stories of traveling. And I find it difficult as a well traveled person to understand those who don’t wish to leave home. I have never successfully seen the grass on my side of the fence as greener, and it would be disrespectful of me to assume that the people who do are just poor schmucks who will never realize their Personal Legend like I will. However, if I were like the boy in the story, I’d leave them behind, even when they ask me to stay, and I won’t say goodbye, either, because after all, I am CLEARLY the hero of this story. Here’s hoping none of you who love me get in my way or bother me.
You know, this Personal Legend idea – my dreams are what God wants so I should pursue them at all cost to anybody around me no matter what – I can get behind that. Sure. Because everything anybody has ever been passionate about has been worthwhile. Since I am the most important person in the universe and my Personal Legend is more important than any of the people around me, I’m going to hunt red-heads. Lookout! It’s Kill a Ginger Day!
This book is a novel version of that Elizabeth Gilbert nonsense, a book which a friend recently dubbed “Eat, Pray, White Privilege.” And aptly so.
Coelho’s world-wide success with this work is shocking, given that there really aren’t that many upper class white women on the planet. To Coelho, I give the Pure Drivel Award of 2014. Don’t get too excited, Paulo, it’s just a note on my blog saying that yours is quite seriously the worst book I’ve read this year. Considering that the last book I reviewed was 50 Shades of Grey, a book I didn’t even finish, but gave up on after about six pages, your book being worse is worthy of some pained and ironic applause.
The author makes a lot of nausea-inducing comments in the book, but this was the worst: “No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.” To this one statement, I give a special award from me and every other person I know working in the arts: two giant middle fingers, with both hands, in your direction. (Sorry, Mom, I know that is crass.)
Suck on that Personal Legend, Coelho.
If you’re looking for an actually good read at a 5th grade reading level, I suggest Adam Gidwitz’s fairy tale retellings: A Tale Dark and Grimm, In a Glass Grimly, and The Grimm Conclusion. Fun kids books with very realistic (and gory) death scenes in an unhappy and quinteGerman fashion. Much like real life. No Personal Legend crap or delusions of grandeur here.