I’m not the only one who does this, right? When someone’s looking through my bookshelf and they point out a classic book and ask if I liked it, assuming I’ve read it, and I just go along with it and discuss the book knowing full-well that I’ve never read it? I assume everyone does that and it’s not lying if you know that future-you will love that book. Once they get around to reading it.
This trio of books falls into the above category . They were: book #31, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; book #32, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; and book #33, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. And I must be a psychic, because I did love them all! You know me so well, past self.
The Alchemist was wonderful and uplifting and heartwarming and earnest and I really loved it. Part of its appeal is that crazy backstory; apparently in its first year after publication in South America, this book sold only three copies. Total. That’s so sad, but also lends itself to an incredible underdog story now that it’s gone on to sell over 100 million copies.
It’s hard to condense because every section (and page, it seems like) was packed with deeper meaning and lessons. Basically, it’s about a shepherd boy who embarks on a journey to find treasure after meeting a king who encourages him to fulfill his Personal Legend. It spans several years and takes Santiago (the shepherd) to several different places where he meets and learns from a lot of different people.
It was a beautiful little book and I can see why it has such an impact on those who read it. I was a little over halfway through this one and reading it on the crowded subway after work one day, and I noticed a girl who also got on at my stop was reading the same edition. We briefly bonded over it, and that’s what this book ended up being for me: something that links unlikely people together.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was my favorite of this threesome and I regret not reading it way back when I was lying to people about having read it. It’s a story told from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks.
It was heartbreaking but still hopeful. The narrator, Oskar Schell, is so endearing and lost and I just wanted to hug him and help him and tell him it was okay. He’s a bit scattered and aimless, not in a nervous way but more in an 11-year-old-boy’s-wandering-attention-span way.
He spends the story pursuing a sort of scavenger hunt that he had left off with his dad before he died. As he traipses around the city, he too meets an abundance of people who are doing their own coping and healing. Scattered throughout the book are chapters of letters from Oskar’s grandma – who is involved in his life – and his grandpa, whom he’s never met.
While I never want to stop talking about this book, I also don’t want to ruin anything. It’s really beautiful and sad and paints a beautiful picture of human’s connecting, coping, mourning, and soldiering on with their lives. I will not soon forget Oskar Schell and his beautiful way of processing the world.
And last but not least, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. This was a weird one, but I really enjoyed it. This is only the second book I’ve read by Milan Kundera, but he’s an interesting character and I plan on reading more. This particular book was about a lot of things. It also addresses the reader directly, which I love, and was split up into seven parts with seven completely different story lines, which I also kind of love.
It was as much about the history of Prague/Czechoslovakia/The Czech Republic as it was about love and growing old as it was about being young and reverting to childhood as it was about loss and loneliness and, as the title suggests, laughter. It was interesting, and hard to sum up so I’m not going to attempt to.
But I would recommend it. It’s more abstract, so if you’re craving a really great story maybe hold off on this one. But if you’re craving some general human truths and a shifted and refreshing perspective, then go for it. I almost felt like I was reading a collection of short stories rather than a novel, but either way I enjoyed it.
There will definitely be a part II (and probably part III and IV…) to this post. There are so many books I’ve claimed to read, so please forgive my half-truths. At least I’m getting around to them eventually. ◊