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10 Books to Read in 2012: The Glass Bead Game - Light One Candle

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April 23rd, 2012

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11:17 am - 10 Books to Read in 2012: The Glass Bead Game
If you've read this book, you know why I'm using my Zen Larry icon. :)

The Glass Bead Game (sometimes called Magister Ludi in earlier English translations) is a book my husband has been pushing me to read for quite a while. It's huge, but it actually didn't take me all that long to get through it. (Although, full disclosure, I am still reading the short stories/poetry that is included at the end of the book.)

I enjoyed this book, but at the same time, I'm not at all sure what to make of it. For one thing, I kept feeling as if the author had his tongue in his cheek, but in a way so subtle that I kept missing it (and thus feeling very stupid). Part of that is due to the overly serious academic style--I'm almost sure that anyone who can do that this well is doing it half in jest.

It's the story of a scholar as he moves up the ranks of an elite intellectual class, learning, teaching, and mastering the nuances of a unifying and almost spiritual exercise called the Glass Bead Game. There's a lot of really meaty philosophy here, along with some startling commentary on the serenity and yet barrenness of solely intellectual pursuits, contrasted with the messy, needless pain of the active life, even though it is more useful to the world at large.

What I most enjoyed was tracing the long tangle of the protagonist's views on these two worlds. I'm a sucker for stuff like that, all the way from Disney's version of The Little Mermaid to Life on Mars to Charles Williams' spiritual thrillers.

If you're likewise interested in the struggle between active life and the intellect, or are an intellectual yourself, you will also enjoy this book. Don't be afraid to take it in small chunks--it's not paced for a direct read-through, and parts of it benefit by contemplation afterwards.

Current Mood: okayokay

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Date:June 9th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)

Ah memories

I read Magister Ludi and most of the other Hesse Bantam paperbacks in the late '60's/early '70's. Still have my copy of ML in the garage somewhere.


I have always intended to do a close rereading of the book and in 40 years
have never gotten past browsing. At 19 I finished it and liked it, but I didn't  assimilate it at any deep level.

I distinctly remember that much of Hesse's passionate readership of the time was uneasy with Magister Ludi.  The cool air of Castalia did not soothe lungs used to the teen angst of Beneath the Wheel , or the rebel searching of Steppenwolf or Siddhartha. 

Yet Joseph Knecht was a very '60's character in his way - like a high level operations researcher who craves hanging with the hippies for awhile.

Myself, I wanted to see him stick with his beads and tell Real Life to go to hell
so I see in retrospect that was out of step with the zeitgeist of 1971.

Here is a review by a long term cyber-friend of mine who sadly, died last week.


And another Hesse review by John:


And a Charles Williams review:


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