It takes two minutes to read 400 words. At the most, five hours of a week are comfortable for reading books. An average book has 300 pages of 400 words each. I can finish one of five books I start to read. Two in five I finish make an impression. At this rate, any good book discovered is an event to celebrate.
There are more than 100 unread books at home. The Indian Institute of World Culture must have 300 times as many, keep five percent for repetitions, half of the rest untouchable because they don’t match the taste, 10 percent of the remaining unreachable when standing still and not worth the effort of dragging the stool-ladder, among another significant part of their collection lie fiction works which are history and textbooks that are part of my history. Luckily, or unluckily, the previously omnipresent book-fairs in Bangalore are not so omnipresent anymore, or maybe I’ve stopped looking for them. Discounting all these, there must still be some 500 good books one can wait to read.
Yet, it has been a long time since an “unputdownable” has come this way. Steve Waugh’s autobiography was certainly one such, but that was last year. Even after scanning recommended lists and scouring the net for vital information, there aren’t many works that can draw you away from television or the movies. In a melee of boredom and disinterest, sometimes, you get hold of an old master, whose stories can engross you.
R.K. Narayan was of course the first such with the eternally-fresh, Swami and Friends. But having taken a sheer chance with Narcissus and Goldmund at the World Culture, I had discovered Hermann Hesse, only a few decades after he had won the Noble for the Glass Bead Game. Narcissus and Goldmund is his most easy on the reader, while Journey to the East is a magnificent, even if excruciatingly taxing, book. Demian, Roshalde and his ticket-to-popularity Siddhartha are engaging. A book with the collection of short stories he wrote over five decades are a worthy read, especially interesting is the sublimely weird, Field Devil.
To understand his writing entirely, it is going to be terribly important to read the Glass Bead Game. Apparently a convoluted synthesis through which philosophy, art and many things illegible beyond its text are appreciated, the Glass Bead Game is more intricate than even chess. Not so difficult is the magnificently patterned Narcissus and Goldmund. A tale of two people who are friends, but whose lives are as different as the two poles, N&G is in some ways autobiographical as Hesse himself was torn between being the wanderer and the man of spirit.
Also a discovery at the World Culture was Knut Hamsun. His Wanderers is a brilliant achievement. His Growth of the Soil won him the Nobel, but it can be a pain at times. Like in Hesse’s case, his collection of short stories is excellent.