Let me get this out of the way: I’m not a Paulo Coelho fan. ‘The Alchemist’, which seems to find its place in almost everyone’s list of favorites, isn’t a book I’m crazy about. But there are some Coelho books, like ‘Veronica Decides to Die’ and ‘Eleven Minutes’, that I must admit I enjoyed. Still, Coelho, whose books have sold 300 million copies in print, isn’t an author I recommend or get excited about.
I bought ‘The Archer’ entirely because it’s a slim book. I’m trying to read a book a day this January just to give myself a pat on the back at the end of the month and feel like my life is headed somewhere as I continue to work from home. Also, flipping through the book at Ekta Bookstore in Thapathali, Kathmandu, I realized I could enjoy the illustrations even if I didn’t particularly like the book (and I didn’t think I would) and could justify spending money on it.
The Archer begins with the arrival of a stranger who says that the local carpenter, Tetsuya, is the best archer in the country. He challenges Tetsuya to a contest. Though Tetsuya hasn’t picked up his bow and arrow for years, he agrees and then goes on to perform better than the stranger. A young boy is witness to all this and wants to learn the ‘way of the bow’. Tetsuya relents on the condition that the boy never reveals his true identity. The rest of the book is basically a series of motivational dictums where archery is used as a metaphor for life lived well.
It took me about 45 minutes to read The Archer and more than half of that time was probably spent gazing at the illustrations. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t like it that much but there are bits and pieces that aren’t bad. The ‘life’ advice was a little too much in-your-face and it did sound repetitive at times. But, I feel, we must embrace whatever ideas we can get on how to live a balanced and harmonious life. Yes, such advice comes our way all too often, from ‘well-meaning’ people, but if it gets you to try and improve your life even a little bit, it’s perhaps worth enduring these not-so-gentle reminders.
However, I would not encourage people to read the absolutely mundane stuff that Coelho seems to come up with. I have met people who believe if Coelho gets non-readers reading, then there’s really no harm in that. I disagree because I think we are dumbing down our senses by consuming words that don’t do anything other than make the author rich.
So, if you must, read The Archer once. Borrow the book. Find a free e-book or the audio version. See what kind of mindset it leaves you in. But please, please don’t let Coelho ever dictate how you think or set the tone of your reading life.