Tonawanda News

December 8, 2011

BOOK NOOK CLASSICS: Feel a little upbeat after reading ‘The Alchemist’

By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News

— There are a lot of self-help books on the shelves these days, but browse through any number of them and it’s easy to see that most tend to recycle the same vague messages — messages that are encouraging when read, but more or less forgettable a few weeks after the book is put down.

That’s not the case with “The Alchemist.”

Then again, “The Alchemist” isn’t really a self-help book either. At it’s heart, Paulo Coelho’s most famous work is really a fable, one meant to help readers follow their heart and guide themselves in the direction their lives were meant to go.

Sure, we’ve all been told to “follow your dreams” countless times. However, in the repetitive nature of the message, most of our brains have calloused over against its meaning, allowing the message to frequently go in one ear and breeze through the other.

In “The Alchemist,” Coelho tries to remove that callus and remind us again why it’s so important to listen to your heart.

“The Alchemist” follows the story of a young shepherd named Santiago, who, when traveling through Arabian towns with his flock of sheep, runs into a strange man that grants him an even stranger prophecy. He urges the boy to sell his sheep and go in search of a treasure near the Egyptian pyramids. The old man tells him it’s his destiny to do so.

Santiago would have brushed the old man’s message off, except he has recently been having reoccurring dreams detailing the exact same things the old man speaks of. As if reading his mind, the old man mentions the dreams and speaks of it as one of a number of omens the boy should keep his eye out for.

After lengthy contemplation, the boy sells off his sheep and sets off on a journey that will end up full of adventure, pain, wonder and love.

It should be noted, however, that it’s not really the story that is the important part of “The Alchemist,” but rather the messages that the story is trying to relate to the reader. Like most fables, “The Alchemist” sets out to teach us more about ourselves rather than simply entertaining readers with a story.

While the lessons that Coelho tries to teach us may seem cliche on the surface, it’s Coelho’s storytelling that pushes readers beyond this rut. Coelho’s stripped-down writing style, which eliminates fluff and description, allows readers to do the same with the messages the author is conveying. Rather than getting caught up in “I’ve heard this before,” “The Alchemist” grants us a new angle on old words of advice.

It’s that new angle that allows “The Alchemist” to succeed. With a fresh perspective to keep a reader’s interest, what may seem like boring cliches are granted new life, and our ears are more open to listening to them. Don’t be surprised if after reading, you find yourself listening to your heart a little bit more, just like Santiago.

Another bonus of “The Alchemist” is it’s brevity. At less than 200 small pages (with relatively large margins,) the book can be read easily in a lazy weekend. Your following work week will benefit from it too. It’s tough not to look at life with a more upbeat attitude, at least for a little while, after finishing the last page of this one.

“The Alchemist” may not change your life forever, but it does a superb job at reminding us to take all of life with a little less stress and a bit more vigor. If you’re feeling like your life could use a nice boost of positive energy, check this one out.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at, and can be reached through twitter at unleashingwords.