Westword Book Club: Comedian Adrian Mesa on searching for spirituality in literature

Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a new recurring section that celebrates the books that inspire Denver artists.

This week, Adrian Mesa, comedian, gourmand and charming barbecue guest, discusses his favorite book: The Pilgrimage, by Brazillian novelist Paolo Coelho. The Pilgrimage follows its protagonist's spiritual development as he traverses the road to Santiago de Compostela, an important Catholic pilgrimage site in northern Spain.

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Westword: What drew you to this book? Were you a Coehlo fan already?

Adrian Mesa: A theology teacher, who was also kind of a mentor to me, tipped me off to Coelho's The Alchemist. He told me it was a perfect little fable. I checked it out, and he was right. It had a message I wanted to hear -- about following your dreams.

"The Pilgrimage" has deeply spiritual themes. Did that appeal to you? Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

After a decade of Catholic school, I felt I needed to search for something else, spiritually. I started to become more interested in new-age stuff; metaphysics, numerology, astrology, even palm reading. I was like a sponge, taking it all in, hoping something would stick.

Westword:Did you try out any of the mystic rituals outlined in the book?

Adrian Mesa: I tried all of them. I remember one of them freaking me out: the Messenger Ritual. It asks for you to invoke a spirit of sorts, who is neither good nor evil, but he can help you on your quest. That was my introduction to the practice of meditation.

Have you been to Santiago de Compostela? How much did you know about it before reading this book?

Not yet. I lived in Seville for a semester, which only made me fall in love with the beauty and magic of Spain and emboldened me to return one day to complete the pilgrimage myself.

At what point in your life did you read this book? How old you were you?

I was eighteen, right out of high school. I had the whole summer to myself and my "independent" studies.

Do you think the age you are when you read it changes a book's impact?

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Oh, for sure. When you're that age, it's easy to get lost. The book captured my imagination. For me, it was an awakening of self-discovery and self-knowledge. Who knows? An older, more cynical me might have just blown it off as frivolous.

As a comedian, do you think your reading habits are reflected in the comedy you perform?

Absolutely! Whatever you put in your brain is reflected in what you do. Lately, though, I've just been reading a lot of recipes, so all my jokes are about food.

What would you say to people to convince them to read this book?

The book has everything! Travelogue, mystery, magic, a spiritual quest, interactive exercises, a map! (I'm a sucker for maps in storybooks.)

Do you have any other books you'd recommend?

The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer and Marion and Ethan Becker. Also The Philosopher's Diet: How to Lose Weight and Change the World, by Richard Watson. One will teach you how to cook; the other will teach you how to eat.

Adrian Mesa and Eric Henderson host 3 Course Comedy at 8 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month at Deer Pile, where three comedians bring food (now exclusively vegetarian) and food-related humor to this tasty hybrid of comedy show, dinner party and live podcast recording.

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