The Alchemist goes down in round two of Rossland Reads

Yolanda Ridge
By Yolanda Ridge
November 10th, 2014

Now that The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (defended by Aerin Guy) has been voted off Rossland Reads, it comes down a battle between two non-fiction titles. To memoir or not to memoir. That is the question that will decide which book all Rosslanders should read in 2014.

Remaining in contention is Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon (defended by Liz Anderson) and Endurance by Alfred Lansing (defended by Mark Jeffery). Riding the Bus is a memoir, told by a journalist, that chronicles the time the author took out of her busy life to ride the bus with her intellectually disabled sister. Endurance is a non-fiction account of Ernest Shackleton‘s Antarctic exploration told in part through snippets of journal entries from the crew on board his ship.

The only fiction book in the running, the genre all four panelists claim to favour reading, took a beating during the second round of debates held on Wednesday, November 5th.

Criticized for its weak female characters, Anderson described feeling very marginalized and left out while reading The Alchemist. Jeffery also expressed frustration that the only prominent women in the book basically said to the main character, “go for as long as you need to and I will be here waiting for you.” Kate Harrison-Whiteside, whose book Out of Africa was voted out in the first debate, went as far as saying that the book seemed to hate women, since all were portrayed as weak and non-consequential.

Guy, “a full fledged women”, did not feel the book took aim at her gender and pointed out that in Endurance there were no women. Period. To which Jeffrey argued that the book took place in a different era than The Alchemist.

Back on attack, Jeffery stated that he did not believe in the morals, omens, or concept of a soul mate described in The Alchemist. Anderson agreed and took issue with the idea that if you didn’t find your personal legend you are a failure.

Fiery on defense, Guy pointed out that the book is a source of inspiration. “It’s the only book that actually makes you want to travel,” she said in reference to this year’s theme. Unlike the remaining two titles, which made her feel cold and turned her off of ever taking the bus anywhere ever again.

But even the style of The Alchemist came under criticism after moderator Jennifer Ellis asked the panelist to read sample sentences from page 103 of their books. Through her excerpt, Guy pointed out that the short, simple sentence style makes for powerful reading and easy translation.

“Yah, but does he (the author) have to repeat everything four times?” Anderson shot back. Jeffrey agreed, “The prose is simplistic. Like it was written for a child.”

Again quick to defend her book, which she reread six times over the week in preparation for the second round of debates, Guy quoted directly from author Paulo Coelho, “The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

Guy is not alone in her affection for The Alchemist which has been translated in 68 languages and sold over 65 million since its publication in 1988. But it will not be the title that wins Rossland Reads 2014. That honour will go to either Endurance or Riding the Bus with my Sister.

To be part of the decision, join the final debate on Wednesday, November 12th at the Gallery. Doors open at 6:30 and the debate starts at 7:00. Three more prizes will be given away thanks to Mountain Nugget Chocolate, Rossland Beer Company, and Rossland Mountain Roasting.




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