Back when I was manning the ref desk at the library, a young man from one of the county high schools needed help looking for the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coehlo. It was showing available in the catalog, but wasn't on the shelf. I did some digging in the work area and located it for him. The book was an assigned reading piece for a class he was taking. I'd never heard of the title before, but it looked interesting, and I've read my fair share of books with the topic of alchemy in them. As the one I gave the student was our only copy at the time, I didn't have a chance to read it then and promptly forgot about the book until I happened to pull it from the bookstore stocking closet a few weeks back.
I decided to take it home and give it a whirl. I read it yesterday afternoon.
This is a much better book than "The Shack" on so many levels. The writing is better. The storytelling is better. The theology, a much more personal ingredient, appealed to me better. I loved the way the writer tied Islam and Christianity together in a harmonious way and created a middle eastern flavored setting that sang. The author is a Brazilian Catholic and infuses the story with a wonderfully managed mystical quality.
Santiago is a young man who leaves the seminary and becomes a shepherd in order to satisfy his urge to travel. He has a recurring dream of finding a treasure hidden at the pyramids in Egypt. After consulting with a gypsy and receiving advice and encouragement from a king, he sets off on his journey. The journey, of course, is more about discovering the treasure within instead of one buried under the sands.
If you want to drop some money on a new age-ish spiritual book, the dollars would be much better spent on "The Alchemist" than "The Shack."