As time marches on, I am increasingly convinced that people harbor unrealistic expectations when it comes to books in the field of what I’ve dubbed ‘populogy’ (a term I’ve coined for “popular psychology”… maybe I should trademark it?). Books are literally receiving negative reviews with comments like “nothing new” or “I already know all this”… Well, if you “know” all this already, why don’t you change your life for the better, I ask them. But to that, they simply shake their heads.
Some books simply serve to remind us of what we already know, or the author just had a desire to share some thoughts or experiences with readers, and if someone finds themselves in them, great. And that is that… at least that’s how I experience some books. 🙂
“The Café on the Edge of the World” (akka “The Why Cafe”…hereafter “TCOTEOTW”) by John Strelecky isn’t “The Alchemist for the 21st century”, as some have exaggerated in their praise. I don’t think this book even tries, nor can it be that. “The Alchemist” is a book that… well, has a certain specific effect on a person (those who’ve read and understood it will get me, hopefully 🙂). “TCOTEOTW” is more like a pocket-sized reminder (and it is that size 😁) of some things we already know. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, quite the contrary!
Our main character, John, is a typical unhappy citizen of the world, always rushing somewhere, in a hurry. Rushing to find a better job, to earn more money, which will allow him to buy more things to find a bit of temporary satisfaction in his life… a true Balkan soul. 😅
At one point, everything becomes too much for him, so he takes a break and gets into his car, intending to drive somewhere to rest from it all. At some point, the traffic congestion also gets to him, and he starts to veer onto unknown roads and manages to get lost on some old route. He wanders right into the middle of nowhere. No GPS, no signal, not a gas station in sight, and fuel running low. The perfect moment to get utterly frustrated, start kicking the car, and curse every saint in heaven.
Right at that moment, in the midst of that godforsaken place, John finds a café.
By now, it’s clear this could easily turn into a horror movie, and no one in their right mind would enter. But, hungry and tired, John decides to step into the café.
And what do you know, it’s a charming café, with a pleasant atmosphere, a few patrons, a friendly and charming waitress, and the sound of sizzling food from the kitchen. John takes the menu to grab a bite, and the usual fare awaits him—eggs with bacon, cornmeal mush, flatbread with cream and red pepper spread, kebabs with onions, bean stew, apple pie, tufahis (well, not these dishes, but rather the American versions of them). Also on the menu are three questions.
“Why are you here?”
“Are you afraid of death?”
“Are you fulfilled?”
Questions that you definitely need with a pastry, right? 🙂 Well, in this café, John starts a conversation with the waitress Casey, the chef-owner Mike, and Ann (one of the guests), about these very questions, aiming to find answers for them. It soon becomes clear to John:
* the café definitely has an unusual atmosphere
* the waitress, chef, and guest seem to read his mind
* the waitress, chef, and guest definitely lead a more fulfilled life than John
* their food is ridiculously good
And so, through his conversations with them about the menu questions, John discovers (or rather, reminds himself) that happiness isn’t always rocket science.
I’ve seen that the reviews of the book are mixed (which you could probably guess from my introduction), with comments that:
1) the book can be read in one sitting
2) it doesn’t provide concrete advice
3) all of this is already known
Honestly, points 2) and 3) apply to almost 95% of books in this field… but I also think that’s okay because THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS THAT WORKS 100%! However, it’s interesting that many of us make a mistake with point 1). And you know why?
Something interesting happened to me. Generally, the book is small in size and can be read in two hours. But…
Due to circumstances (i.e. obligations), it took me three days to read this book. Interestingly, I had to stop reading exactly when I finished with one of the three key questions from the book. Then, that question would whirl around in my head all day, along with some of the answers from the mysterious people in the café.
In that moment, I glimpsed (at least for me) one of the points of this book. Moreover, it contains several interesting thoughts worthy of everyone’s reflection.
The writing style is simple, without unnecessary complication. There are no deep philosophical musings, metaphysics, or the like. A few dialogues, the background stories of why Casey, Mike, and Ann are now more satisfied with their lives than before, mixed with a bit of John’s ruminations, and that’s the crux of it. Simple, isn’t it?
And sometimes, isn’t simplicity just what we need?
All in all, “The Café on the Edge of the World” is a charming little book. It may not reveal new horizons, but it will remind us of some simple things we might be overlooking, whether consciously or not. I particularly enjoyed the conversations about fulfillment, as well as the perspectives on work and material possessions.
And what about you, dear readers, have you had a similar, unusual experience like John’s? 🙂
(Originally reviewed: 20/01/2019)