Browsing Archives for Book Talk

The Alchemist, A Review

May 8th, 2009

My book club recently met to discuss The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  This small and unassuming book has sold over 65 MILLION copies and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for being translated into more languages than any other book by a living author.  I did not know any of these facts about the book when I was reading it and I am glad.  If I had known, I am sure it would have colored my perception of the book. Instead, I read the book completely unaware that I was holding a cultural phenomena in my hands.

 

 

The book was met with mixed reviews by the members of my book club, however the spicy, roasted red pepper hummus that Dina served alongside our book club discussion was met with hearty approval all around.  I hope she sends me that recipe soon!   Oh!… and that pretty blond with the glasses is one of the three blonds of Three Blonds and the Law.

 

 


I liked the book for the most part…

Until I began to grow weary of a few certain phrases…

But first a brief synopsis.

 

The Alchemist is the story of an adolescent shepherd boy who chooses to become a shepherd over entering the priesthood like his parents had hoped.  One night while sleeping in an abandoned church on his ‘sheep route’, he has a dream.  That dream eventually leads him to an old man called Melchizidek.   Anyone familiar with Bible history will realize that this is probably a metaphor for God.  Melchizidek equips the boy with a few items for his journey, requests payment for his wares and his sage counsel in sheep, and sends the boy off on a quest to find his treasure.  

I enjoyed the boy’s journey.  I was completely swept up in the story of his travels and his adventures until about two thirds of the way through the book.  At which point I began to grow weary of a few phrases that seemed to jump out of every corner of the book.  I started to feel as if I were being beaten over the head with these phrases.  I began to attempt to avoid these phrases at all costs.  I found myself ducking into the frozen food aisle of our small town grocery, to avoid being seen by these phrases.  I began wearing dark sunglasses and a wig whenever I went out so that the phrases would not recognize me.  

I refused to leave my house.  

I put black paper on the windows.

I spoke in whispers 

I hid out in the basement.

 

The phrases that I began to find very disturbing were…

 

The Soul of The World

The Language of The World

The Philosopher’s Stone

The Elixir of Life

and…

Personal Legend

 

These phrases appear in Coelho’s book something like a million times…

They are always capitalized to set them off.

I read these heavy handed phrases over and over and over again.

I eventually began to find the phrases absurd.  

AND THEN… I started to feel like the book was a parody of itself.

AND THEN… I started to feel like the book was a Saturday Night Live skit.

AND THEN… I started to think that I was on Saturday Night Live and had to give the cute little speech that starts out the show.

AND THEN… I started to obsess about what I would wear when I was on Saturday Night Live giving the cute little speech.

AND THEN… I started to wonder about the last time I really saw a good Saturday Night Live…

AND THEN… I started to wonder about the last time I actually SAW Saturday Night Live…

 

tina_fey-1-baby_mama

I stopped watching it during the era of this particular actress…

 

Because I have never found her to be funny.

Not one single time.

Not even a teensy bit.

I just don’t get her.

Am I alone in this thinking?

 

Thus ends my review of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

And also of the actress/comedienne, Tina Fey.

 

P.S.

Did you know that Paulo Coelho has a blog?!?!

Check it out and you can tell him what you think about forgiving and forgetting.  He wants to know!

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

September 28th, 2008


Upon the passing of the great American actor, Paul Newman, I can’t help but think back to two great novels both written by Evan S. Connell, the first being Mrs. Bridge and the second being Mr. Bridge. In 1990, these two novels were knitted together to create a major motion picture starring Paul Newman as the ever reticent Mr. Bridge and his wife Joanne Woodward as the ever disappointed, yet guileless Mrs. Bridge.


I first encountered Mr and Mrs. Bridge while the Country Doctor and I were entrenched in the romantic poverty of medical school and babies. The movie was filmed in Kansas City, in the Mission Hills district, which is a neighborhood full of stately homes built in the early 1900s. Mission Hills was not far from KU Med nor the tiny bungalow we ourselves inhabited, so we often found ourselves loading up a baby or two, scraping a few coins together for a Coke and taking a drive through the tree lined streets trying to decide where George Brett lived and which house we would have for ourselves, if we ever had the chance.

By the time we moved to Kansas City, several years had passed since the movie was filmed, but the nine weeks that Newman and his wife Joanne spent in Kansas City was still much talked about and the movie maintained a prominent spot on the shelves in every movie rental house in town.


At some point, even though I was unfamiliar with the story, it’s relentless display and intriguing cover art, forced me to take it home and watch it. I spent two hours intrigued yet mystified by the story of the Bridge Family. I liked the movie, but didn’t really understand it. It wasn’t until I read the book, Mrs. Bridge many years later, that I came to more fully comprehend and appreciate the story. In fact, I became a devoted fan of the book and later forced it upon my book club, where I then proceeded to dominate the subsequent discussion and exclaim over all the details in the life of Mrs. Bridge to a room full of women who really didn’t think it the book was all that great.

Mrs. Bridge has that kind of effect on people, especially women. In fact, all the reviews I found on line today were written by men. I think Mrs Bridge scares the holy-ever-loving-crap out of a lot of women. I can understand this to a degree. Mrs. Bridge or India – is a woman whose entire life is wrapped up in her family and the tight, social mores of her upper middle class community. She can’t seem to find a way to define herself outside of her own home, family or social strata in any way. Yet, it is not Mrs. Bridge’s inability to step outside the safety of her very small world that is so provocative, but rather how the author, Evan S. Connell, makes this constricted, blase’ life so insanely interesting. It’s all that pent up emotion that lurks just beneath the surface of the two main characters that keeps one wondering when they are going to explode.

But of course…

they never do…

So this funny little fragile balloon-like world keeps right on spinning for them. It keeps right on spinning even as their three children adopt Bohemian lifestyles and marry unsavory characters. It keeps right on spinning as their neighborhood begins to crack open a tiny bit to non-wasp folks. And it keeps right on spinning as the rest of the world heaves with social unrest.

Even when the world does sort of inadvertently brush against one of them in the far more dramatic lives of their servants or their employees, to an extent that they have no choice but to respond, they are hardly up to the task. They simply cannot react… they simply cannot respond. For to respond is to admit something… it is to grasp something… it is to see something… that Mr and Mrs Bridge just don’t want to see. So they react by not reacting… they respond by not responding. And this emotionless existence is what makes their lives so strangely riveting.


Here is a picture of Mr and Mrs Bridge sitting closer together than they probably ever allowed themselves to do in real life. I put them on my porch, because I think they would have liked my porch. It is too warm and too breezy and the furniture is not very comfortable. This discomfort would have given them a chance to be stoically resigned and mildly disappointed. I don’t think they would have approved of my bright red and blue cushions, but neither of them would ever have dreamed of mentioning this… even when they were completely alone… just the two of them… on the long car ride home.

So if you are feeling a bit unkempt… a bit untidy… a bit frazzled and out of control… I would have to highly recommend a heavy dose of Mrs. Bridge followed by a Mr. Bridge chaser. They should neaten everything up for you..

…or make you run like a madman towards the nearest can of spray paint and cover your entire neighborhood in psychedelic colors… just because you can. 

Due to a recent article I wrote about Phillip Pullman and The Golden Compass, I had a request to mention some of my favorite children’s books. There is only one author that I begin this series of posts with – one of my very favorite children’s authors of all time – Arnold Lobel.

Arnold started out as an illustrator during the “Dick see Jane…run Spot run era of children’s literature.” Soon after Dr. Seuss swept onto the scene and introduced a drastically new approach to children’s books and how they are written, Arnold Lobel was encouraged, by his agent, to write an “easy reader”. The resulting book Frog and Toad are Friends left a deep impression on the children’s literary market with Lobel’s dry wit and quirky sense of humor.

Since he was trying to write an “easy reader” Arnold used short sentences and oft repeated words and phrases in the first book. This style of writing made his characters, Frog and Toad, seem almost neurotic or maybe they just are neurotic, either way, it became a stylistic part of their charm creating a book that was funny and warm and was named a Caldecott Honor book.

The Frog and Toad books are classics. We read these books to all of our boys, but also found that one of the few ways we could get our oldest son to sleep at night without hours of drama, was to play the Frog and Toad tapes in his room after the lights were out. Lobel’s deep warm voice somehow comforted our son and miraculously soothed him to sleep.

Frog and Toad are so recognizable, funny and endearing that you will find yourself laughing out loud as you read them and comparing them to people you know or to yourself and your spouse which is what we inevitably did. The Country Doctor is sooooo Frog and I am sooooo Toad. I still love to read these books and I have read these books literally hundreds of times.

A series of books that is somewhat similar to the Frog and Toad series are the George and Martha Books by James Marshall. Also an illustrator, James created two hippos to share stories of silliness and demonstrate how to be a good friend. These stories are told in a more traditional picture book format, while Frog and Toad are easy readers, but kids of all ages will enjoy them.

So if you are looking for a good set of books to check out from your local library, buy at your local bookstore or HEY – even purchase RIGHT HERE on my site! I would have to recommend Arnold Lobel and James Marshall. I can almost guarantee that you will not be disappointed.