READ: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

My current summer read is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

I first encountered the book when I was visiting my old high school, back when I was attempting a run at city council. I had several conversations about public education policy with the most vocal members of the local teachers’ union in hopes of bringing different perspectives back home with me to Chicago to help build my public schools platform.

One of my favorite teachers (AP English Lit), Dr. Cris Rathyen, retiring after this current school year, invited me to sit in her humanities class. Her students had just finished reading The Alchemist and were to offer group oral presentations using physical props as analogies to various philosophical ideas they’ve absorbed from the novel.

"Class, you’re not going to try to impress me today. Your audience will be Mr. Farinas," Rath explained to her students.

One group brought forward a massive, hand drawn map of their ideas. Another presented a magic hat and a deck of cards. The creativity of other groups were just as intriguing.

I was blown away with the depth of what these students took from such a short piece of literature. And these students that so impressed me, if I may say as a matter of expounding my level of impression, were in this class as an alternative to the regular English class, as a matter of tailoring the environment to meet their level of understanding.

The one word that I kept going back to as each student explained their thoughts was “Genius!”

I don’t know why it took two years for me to finally pick up the book myself. But here I am reading it. And at only 167 pages, I’ve been reading this very slowly. Why? There’s so much to explicate, so much to think about.

I’ve deemed it a great philosophical parable, an awesome work that must be met with thoughtfulness. And when I delve into such pieces, the pen comes out. I have a habit of jotting notes in the margins of my books.

Maybe I’ll offer more thoughts after I’ve finished.

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Ray Bradbury dies at age 91

In Susan Yokota’s sophomore English class (she’s now a librarian) at Moanalua High School, Fahrenheit 451 ended up being one of my main go-to sources for rhetoric. Considering how much I used his words and thoughts to help craft my own expressions, Ray Bradbury’s death touches me. 

Grandson Danny Karapetian quoted The Illustrated Man in his thoughts of Bradbury’s passing in Los Angeles at 91 years old, “My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 a.m. So as not to be dead.”

Some of my favorite, inspiring Bradbury quotes:

  • "I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."
  • "If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."
  • If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.
  • If you don’t like what you’re doing, then don’t do it.
Wisdom for the writer:
  • Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything. If you don’t write stories you love, you’ll never make it. If you don’t write stories that other people love, you’ll never make it.
  • Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.
Tony MerevickChicago Phoenix editor-in-chief, shared his favorite passage from Fahrenheit 451:

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

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