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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Started 1/26, finished 1/28.

This is a beautiful little story about a big idea: that every person in the world has their own Personal Legend. The thing that people would write about if you achieved all you ever dreamed of achieving. I remember having lunch with my father about ten years ago, where we sat at KFC and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. He told me to look around.

"You see that chair? The cheap upholstry on it? The paper cups on the table here? The salt packets?"


"Well, every single thing you see in this place, or in any place, really, came from the same thing. Someone decided that "something" would be Their Thing. It takes a lot of engineering, wrangling, and sweat just to make a sugar packet, and you can bet that the good part of someone's life went into making sure it sat on this table right now. It's the same with everything in here."

It's something you know instinctually, but until you look at it in the right way, you just don't grok it. That's the Personal Legend. And that day, I realized that I would be a novelist. My guidance counselor told me that in the 11th grade, and I had been sitting on it long enough. I sat on it for 7 more years after that, but you get the idea.

The Alchemist brought this memory back to me, and the moment I put it down I wrote 1,400 words in 45 minutes. It was pretty good, because I shouldn't have waited as long as I did to turn my thoughts into a coherent narrative. It was a good feeling, and, if Mr. Coelho's reading, I have you to thank. I have 2 more books of his to read before the year is out, so here's hoping they help drive me toward my own Personal Legend, the thing "the universe will conspire to help [me] achieve".

Now, on another note:Our own Pamela once told me that my writing style (specifically in "The Calligrapher") reminded her of Coelho, and that the story reminded her of the Alchemist.

Holy crap.

If I had just read The Alchemist, then went and read "The Calligrapher", I would think that I was just about plagiarising. Sure, the boy in Coelho's work has a name, and mine doesn't, but then I analyzed the situation a bit more: the shepherd's name, Santiago, is only mentioned once. In the entire book.

In the first sentence.

That's not where the similarity ends, either. The Alchemist is a fable, where people don't talk like they talk in real life: the characters talk as though every one of them consults a poet before they open their mouths. That was one of my goals as well. When I wrote "The Calligrapher" I wanted it to feel as though it had been translated from a story that was written a thousand years ago, and The Alchemist has a very similar feel.

It's spooky.

Enough about that. I wrote mine never having heard of Coelho, and, well, if the comparison is made, I honestly don't have much to complain about. I could only be so lucky (as long as I'm not being called unoriginal).

Book #5 will be Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk




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