Fiction as Self-Help – Ishmael

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is profound, mysterious and harrowing reading. It is whimsical and political and spiritual. It will make you think. It will make you angry. It will change your life.

Or maybe not.

How does one describe a book like this?

It was required reading at college… not in an English class… but in Philosophy and Sociology. Both. I bought it in the college bookstore, even though I wasn’t taking Philosophy or Sociology.

“Teacher seeks Pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

It begins with a classified ad. And from there… you must suspend reality and judgement… because your teacher will be nothing like you expect. The student is the narrator, of course, along with you … me… we are all students.

Some will be thrown off by the teacher. I’ve known people to put the book down three pages in… unwilling to suspend reality, as I mentioned above. Others find it silly,  sanctimonious. Preachy. Annoying.

But others, searchers like myself, will be engrossed by the story… that isn’t really fiction at all. Except it is.

It is not like any book you’ve read before. It is a multi-award-winning vision quest. The contents spawned not only a movement… but a cult following. Witness the website Ishmael.org which takes us through a labyrinth of information, courses, conferences, ventures and adventures. And more books… about the before and the after and the after, after that.

Yes, I’m gushing.

It was written in 1992, at a time when things were so much simpler for me. Ah, the looking-back … the revisionist history… because, when I ponder further, I realize that my life was anything-but easy.

And that’s what’s happening in the book, too. Because… it’s a history lesson about the earth…  and people… and the choices we make… have always made. Man, the conquerer. Man, the egotist. Man, who in this case, means all of humanity.

This reminds me of another book… and I am making a note to share it later. It’s another one of those books that isn’t a self-help book at all, but sparks a moment of reflection – if not a full-on lightbulb moment, and so it will be mentioned. But that’s for another day.