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  1. After having finished "Voices from Chernobyl," I had a two-week gap without anything to read, so I decided to fill it with something short - "The Alchemist," a 1988 novel by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, had been left at my house by a friend, and was just about the perfect length and level of difficulty (based on a quick perusal). This book is a phenomenon - it has been translated into 80 languages, and Coelho has sold over 200-million books, making him the all-time best-selling Portuguese-language author. For whatever reason, I had thought "The Alchemist" was an important, Nobel-level work of literature, but in retrospect, I think I confused Pablo Coelho with the names Camilo José Cela and Pablo Neruda, both of whom I've read in the past: Make sure you know what you're getting into when you pick up this book. For me to trash "The Alchemist" would be too easy - like trashing Forest Gump, for example. The book is low-hanging fruit for any literature snob, and is absolutely a book for the masses. It is self-consciously written in "parable" format, and well-suited to teenagers in a way that Shakespeare is not - why 8th graders are assigned "Romeo and Juliet," I will never understand; they should be reading "The Alchemist" instead - something they can understand and learn from: At just over 150 pages, and with very few words greater than 2-3 syllables, this book is really written at a teenage level, and I don't mean that as an insult. The last time I read a bestseller, it was "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold - it was given to me as a thoughtful gift by someone I used to know, and I have a personal rule that if a friend gives me a book, I read it - out of respect and courtesy. The book was absolute pablum, and is very similar to The Alchemist in terms of difficulty and mass appeal. While I'm not going to say this is a great work of literature, it's something like "The Wizard of Oz," in that an entire generation (maybe two, since adults seem to enjoy it as much as teenagers) will have fond memories of The Alchemist. Coelho seems to have found a sweet spot among the average reader, and I'd be lying if I said I hated this book. It's saccharine, and it's somewhat predictable, but it also deals with simple, universal truths, so for those of you who don't want to spent the eight-hours-or-so it takes to read, here's my rendition: "The Alchemist (Abridged Edition)" Translated by Don Rockwell It's better to be a happy Park Ranger than a sad Neurosurgeon. The End.
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