What are some good reasons for and against reading The Alchemist by Coelho?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One very good reason for reading this book is that simply so many others have read it and obviously found it useful and helpful to read. This book concerns a number of key themes that are all based around the self-improvement of humans and character development, and as a result it is worth reading in terms of the reader's own development and the lessons that can be learnt from this book. One example is the theme of fear. Santiago experiences fear in many different guises on his journey: a fear of loss of wealth by going to Tangier, a childish fear of having his dream interpreted, and the fear of being killed in the battle at Al-Fayoum. However, the various mentors that Santiago has are stridently opposed to fear, comparing it to materliasm, and also arguing that it prevents people from achieving their Personal Legend, or their goal in life. Consider the following quotation from the camel driver as he speaks to Santiago:

We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions or our property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.

Fear, it is suggested, should disappear if humans pursue their Personal Legend with all of their might. Stronger characters are able to face their fears and conquer them, whereas weaker characters such as the crystal merchant are dominated by their fears. This is shown through his reluctance to go to Mecca and make the pilgrimage. As a result he lives a deeply unhappy and dissatisfied life.

Although there is much to learn from this book it is also possible to argue that it fits too easily into the "self-help" genre, and as a result some readers have found it very annoying and unhelpful. Quotes such as the above one on fear ignore the messy reality of day-to-day living, such critics argue, and present an ideal that real life hardly ever is able to meet up with.