In June, my birthday month, I sent out metaphorical cream cakes in the shape of my favourite self-help books to 5 followers. I also vowed to share my choices with you here and so, here I am sitting down to tell you all about my love/obsession with one of my favourite books of all time, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
But first, and before I delve into my reasons for loving it, I want to let you in on a little secret…and that secret is this: I have just spent a good two minutes hesitating and hovering over the keyboard in resistance to writing ‘self-help’, and it’s made me realise that it’s not a phrase I generally use, and one that even makes me cringe a little!
The impact of not wanting to use the phrase even had me googling ‘alternative words for self-help’ and yet, none of the suggestions (Personal development, Non-fiction, Psychology texts) quite do the same job. I’m not sure what the aversion to this phrase is (it could be the mockery I sometimes hear people make of it) but I’m swaying towards the conclusion that it’s the ‘self’ part that is causing me problems, and to which, part of me has still not adjusted to believing is a positive word.
I think there might be a whole separate blog post on this so watch this space. Anyway, yay to me because despite a small inner battle, I’ve used it! Small victories!
Oh yes, The Alchemist… The mystical, magical, fantastical Alchemist.
Out of all the books that I sent out, this is the only fictional one. It’s a story I come back to again and again, particularly when I need to breathe comfort, hope and a little bit of magic back into my life. In fact, it’s so special to me, my hard back copy has it’s very own place on a shelf in my home.
I can’t recall whether someone recommended it to me or whether I found it myself (if you know me personally, you will know that not knowing this frustrates the hell out of me) but really, it doesn’t really matter, not as much as the effect that the story has had, and continues to have, on me.
They say that things (books, songs, pets, people) arrive in your life just when you need them, and in order to receive them, you must be open to their arrival. Well, during a particularly closed period of my life, around 5 years ago, when I was battling with my mental health, this powerful little story broken through. At the time, I was going through a silent breakdown and on reflection, there were a whole bunch of coincidences and saviours that entered my life to help me to turn it around. This book is one of them.
It’s a seemingly simple story about a shepherd in Spain. The synopsis reads:
‘The Alchemist charts the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy in the hills of Andalucia who believes that there is more to life than his humble home and flock. One day he finds the courage to follow his heart into distant lands, spurred on by the knowledge that he is following the right path: his own. The lessons he learns along the way are life-changing.
This beautiful parable not only has the power to uncover long-buried dreams, it also inspires us to reach for them and live the life we have imagined.’
It’s magic. And I mean that in the most sincere way. The whole book is a metaphor for living the life you want and at times, it was like the author was talking directly to me. You see, when it arrived, I wasn’t living the life I wanted, in fact I was doing the opposite and so this book, along with many others, was part of the catalyst for changing direction and becoming better.
I fell in love after the first read but don’t just take my word for it. According to the www.huffingtonpost.com, ‘The Alchemist has sold 65 million copies and been on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 315 weeks. It’s also been translated into 80 different languages, setting the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by any living author.’
My taste in books isn’t always popular but when it comes to this book, a lot of people agree. It’s a short read, my little hardback copy is just 226 smaller-than-A5 pages, but its impact is huge. I regularly devour it for its wisdom, hidden meanings and simple storytelling.
I am not going to divulge the plot here; what I loved most about the first read was that I didn’t know much about it beforehand and I hope to offer that experience to anyone who feels compelled to read it after reading this.
I can’t end this post without telling you all about the one true bit of magic it brought into my life. You see, when I say it is magic, I am not just using flowery language, I am telling it as it is.
In the summer of 2014, I was invited to walk the Camino De Santiago in Spain and for many reasons, mostly financial, I declined. That was until the person who invited me called me up and asked me one more time and I said I’d think about it.
After ending the call, I sat back on my bed, looked up at the ceiling and silently wished that someone would decide for me. I looked across at my makeshift bookshelf on the window sill and absent-mindedly pulled out my copy of ‘The Alchemist.’ I flicked to the first page, read the first line and put the book down. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Without hesitation, I messaged the person I’d just come off the phone with, ‘What did you say the pilgrimage was called again?’
‘The Camino De Santiago.’
‘I’m coming.’ I wrote back.
What was the first line? That’s for you to find out once you’ve ordered your very own copy but I am telling you, it was magic!
Keep shining xx
P.s That pilgrimage became a game changer and I am currently pulling the many events of that summer together as a blog post (or possibly a series of 10!). It’s an emotional retelling for me but I vow to share it here one day. Until then, watch out for my next book recommendation, love me x