Being an avid reader and collector of knickknacks since I was a kid, the room I loved second-most to my bedroom in our house was the “front” room with the built-in bookshelves. Growing up in the countryside of eastern North Carolina, I couldn’t easily walk to my town’s library. So, to me, that room served as mine – and, a library it surely was because my mom had those shelves filled with all sorts of books! Of course, we had the World Encyclopedia set my parents bought sometime before or after I started elementary school. In addition to that, there were tons of National Geographic magazine issues, a bound collection of Reader’s Digest stories, a kids’ craft book series, and an assortment of classics and good reads to her liking.
And, because of that little home library, I have always wanted to own the books I read and build a collection of my own. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t checked out a book or two for research or to pass the time. But, me and booksellers have this relationship, see…
So, it’s only fitting that I debut a new and improved writing series around this love – and it’s aptly named Ms. Lu’s Library, where on any given Tuesday I spotlight a treasured book from my collection or share with you thoughts on a recent find. Now, I did this before through “Book of the Month” posts and most recently with January’s servant leadership post, where I mentioned a few favorite books on that subject. But, to properly kick off this new concept, I couldn’t think of a better book from my library to feature than one that’s been a constant inspiration and go-to graduation gift:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Words can not express this book’s value to me and my life. Rarely does a reader find a piece of fictional work that can be read and reread over again and still provide them with a new understanding of a passage’s message, as well as fresh nuggets of wisdom, each time. Since purchasing my first paperback copy in 2008, I have reread the book on four separate occasions (years apart from each reading – with January 2017 being the latest), gifted at least 10 copies to graduating students of all academic levels, and suggested it as a good read to many more.
Though first published in Portuguese for a Brazilian audience in 1988, The Alchemist is now available in at least 56 languages, with its English version published in 1993. So, how did I come across the book so late in the game? Well, let’s say sometimes you have to be in the right mindset to receive the message written and waiting for your attention.
In 2007, I was working at East Carolina University. The School of Art and Design held an alumni exhibition and symposium on campus, which I attended as much for curiosity as for work purposes. During the symposium, a panel of art alumni were asked what book would they recommend to current students. Multiple panelists named The Alchemist as a favorite book and one every student should read. With so many mentioning the same work, I jotted down the title for future reference.
About a year later, in search of guidance in life and purpose in my new job at another school, I came across the book’s title and decided to give it a try. As clear as day, I remember reading the entire story in one sitting while in a booth by the window at my favorite Starbucks. At the conclusion of every page or chapter, I eagerly flipped to the next in anticipation of learning what happened to the shepherd boy on his journey to find hidden treasure. I only paused from reading whenever I came across a passage that caused me to look up and stare out the window in contemplation of how it related to my own feelings of frustration, hope, and longing at that time.
Since that day, The Alchemist has consistently inspired, reminded, pushed, and even scolded me to pursue my personal legend, follow my dream, look for the omens while on my journey, and most importantly, listen to my heart.
By the way…
If you’re wondering where the nickname in this writing concept came from, here’s the scoop:
When I taught conversational English in South Korea (many moons ago), my students had some difficulty pronouncing my first name. So they – and soon, those I worked with – started calling me, Lu. Or, to be more specific in the “universal language” of teachers and students, Ms. Lu.
Welcome to my library!