Paulo Coelho Is Overrated – Op-Ed Piece


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Paulo Coelho Is Overrated – Op-Ed Piece

As I searched Amazon for a possible book deal for the readers of this blog, for a book that is at a reasonable price and good in quality, I came across The Alchemist, a book I read and one heralded as a classic. It is by Paulo Coelho. The title is a metaphor that the main character learns of the secrets of alchemy by understanding more of life. His “alchemy” is understanding, not actual science. Basically, the story is about a guy who travels around Egypt and the Middle East, learning lessons and meeting various people. That is my simple summary of it, like when people say that The Odyssey is about a guy going home. Like many books, the basic overview is not the reason you read the book.


On the amazon page were words that stood out to me, “loved by generations.”

I then saw it was the 25th anniversary of the book. It should be noted that this year was not the book’s actual anniversary but a few earlier. The book was published in 1988.

Generations? I thought. How many generations can be in 25 years? Three, I guess? That would be eight years a generation. Is that right? I don’t know. My knowledge of generational time is limited.


I then got the idea for this post and a useful link for you readers.

You know what? I thought. Paulo Coelho is overrated.

Now, before you say anything about my opinion with this, how wrong I am with it, hear me out first.

First off, 25 years ago, the book was written, and Paulo Coelho is not a name that I hear many, if any, say today. I am talking the general audience here. You know the ones that left literature for binge-watching. I have never heard anyone talk openly of him. His word of mouth is not very good in that it is silent. And you can’t tell me it is because of the time period. That 25 years was so long ago, The internet didn’t exist, so life then didn’t even matter. There are people from 25 years ago that I have heard spoken of many times. Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, mostly regarding his television show from the ’90s. People quote his show usually with the line “this is like a Seinfeld episode,” meaning that it focuses on the mundane and pointless. Michael Jordan, the basketball player, regarding his status as a world-class basketball player. People talk of his reputation as the greatest ever to play, and there are still debates on this claim. (among other things) Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur, for their respective music careers. People mention how both are lost talents gone too young and were high points in their respective genres. Cobain brought alternative to the mainstream. Shakur brought rap to the masses. Critics in both fields wonder if those genres will ever see that amount of fame again. Rock enthusiasts have been saying that they need “another Smells Like Teens Spirit”, the trademark song of Cobain’s group that made him a household name. Rap enthusiasts compare modern rappers to Tupac, wondering if their approach is agreeable with his career. Literature puts Paulo Coelho in that category. Like you are dumb if you don’t know who he is.; which I am sure there is one of you out there that believes I don’t need that in order to establish my lack of intelligence. They even go as far as to put him next to another author from that time, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, the most influential book series of our day, and I am not sure I agree with that placement.

My friends and family like to play games whenever we get together for a holiday or birthday. We play games like Pictionary, Taboo, stuff like that. If one of us has a new game, which is just an adaption of another, we try that one out. We ignore the rules of the game because who the hell actually reads them? We agree on our own rules that include our own way of playing. We make the teams which are either Guys vs. girls. Old vs. young. Or some variation to seat arrangement. And then there is a general made-up rule we all agree on. “If you don’t get the answer correctly, the other team can steal.”

Nobody ever asks if that rule is official because only one of us even looks at the instructions. During the games, there are pop culture references that one must know in order to succeed, so there would be a card with words of television shows, movies, and books. Names would appear like Edgar Allan Poe, vehicle, or Pandora. You get a point if you get the reference that your teammate is trying to describe to you. If you live in a vacuum and are a complete hipster, you will do very poor in these games, for the answers are for the masses, not your preferred selection. If the name Paulo Coelho came up and someone had to draw him or describe him, no one would know who he was. I am the only one in the room that would have any idea of his identity. I’d briefly say, “Yeah, he wrote The Alchemist.” No one would know what I meant, so we would move on to the next round. Everyone would assume that I know him because I write, and that would be the most we’d mention him.

Now you can view this as one of two ways.


The first is fairly obvious. My group is not educated enough to know the works of one of the best writers of all time. We are not well-read, we don't read a popular writing site, and we should be embarrassed not to know his name.(But then tell me why they know Seinfeld, Jordan, and Cobain)

The second is my proposal; Many would agree with us on our confusion about his identity. When asked who he was, not that many would know him.

That game night example is not the only reason that I feel the way about Coelho.

There is a second reason I think he is overrated, and this one is probably more important.

Not one writer I know ever spoke of him. Not one. I’ve gone to my fair share of writing classes with writers who write 15 page stories to read to the class and have a hard time admitting their skills are adequate, at best. There is the one writer who is there because he had nothing better to do. Everyone knows that he will not show up to a class after the first one. There is a group of friends, one of which is good enough to get published but is held back because she is not there to improve as a writer but to hang out with her average friends. I’ve attended writing meetings that act as therapy sessions for the lost souls who feel their genius is lost upon the world and cover that sadness with overly personal stories and wine. There is the one writer who says nothing all night, reads their work which is good, but nobody in the group has much to say about it, so the piece is forgotten by the end of the night. There is the writer who likes my style and is very interested in reading more of it, and I am never prepared to tell him anything about me, like a website or blog I run. There is the writer who writes a piece so personal that everyone in the room feels awkward to criticize the piece since the dramatic events told may have actually happened. I’ve even been to poetry nights with poetry hacks who pretend like anybody likes poetry. These are the losers who would watch the Super Bowl for the poetry. There is the one who gives their heart and soul in their long poem, and for a second, I think that the writer is pretty good, only to learn that it spent her years to compose the piece, and she has nothing else written. There is the charismatic poet who overdoes it with their emotions and sounds to hide her elementary wordplay. I’ve even gone to other various writing-related events where people just want to talk about books, and not one of these people, not the potential published author, the memoir writer, or the heartfelt poet, cited Paulo Coelho as an inspiration for their career. He is not why they are there.

People have mentioned classic writers at these places. They all have their people: some like Fitzgerald, Some like Hemingway. Many have Rowling. There is always one that mentions a real old writer that I didn’t realize people besides me know, like Longfellow or Emerson, but not Coelho. If he inspires a bunch of writers with his messages and themes, then clearly, I never met any of them.

Literature presents him as if he is one of “those” writers. The special writers that everyone knows. In baseball terminology, they would say he is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but I just don’t see it. I mean, literally, I don’t see people talking about him.

I have no idea why he is promoted as such a writer. And it is unfortunate because he is good. The Alchemist was a good book. It wasn’t life-changing for me. I didn’t read the book and think, boy; this is one of the greatest books I ever read. It was a good book by a good author. I guess I am wrong on this take (it wouldn’t be the first time)

One of the best writers of all-time is not known when I hang with my friends on game night; is never spoken of by any writer I know when we speak about literature. He is not known by anyone I’ve ever met, yet is constantly on the list as one of the best. Every reader knows him, yet no one knows his name. That is quite an impressive feat.

Nobody knows who he is, but everybody pretends to know him.


He wrote a classic, which means we all want to have read it, but none of us have.










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Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.

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