Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: Magister Ludi, by Hermann Hesse

Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game
Hermann Hesse
(Richard & Clara Winston, translators)
Mass Market Paperback, 520 pages
Bantam, October, 1970
(Originally published as Das Glasperlenspiel,
1943, by Fretz & Warmuth Verlag AG,
Zurich, Switzerland)
Classics, Literary Fiction,
Philosophy, Science Fantasy, Utopian Literature

AWARDS: Nobel Prize in Literature, 1946

My Review

The great, German-born writer, Hermann Hesse, had a very profound impact on me during my college years. I am now trying to re-read the books that so fascinated me back then, although I don't expect I'll ever really be able to plumb their depths.  Hesse was much influenced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, so his novels are full of symbolism and the hidden workings of the human psyche.  They also portray the workings of the archetypes -- those universal denizens of Jung's collective unconscious, which is shared by the entire human race.  Adding to this is Hesse's luminous, lyrical prose, which extends itself into long, descriptive passages of great literary beauty.

In other words, this is not an easy read.  It is, however, a rewarding one, if one is willing to invest the time necessary to savor the book, since it obviously does not lend itself to fast reading.  This is by no means the type of book that one "can't put down".  In fact, one must indeed put it down, and often, so as to ponder the things Hesse is saying.  Then one is inevitably drawn back to it.  At least, this is what happened with me. 

I would call this a rather unique hybrid of novel and philosophical treatise.  In that respect, it reminds me of the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, a book that, among others, was very influential in the development of the American counter-culture several years ago, and which I also intend to re-read.   Another book that comes to mind is Sophie's World: A Novel About The History Of Philosophy, by Jostein Gaarder, which I have yet to read.

These are books that use the format of a novel to present philosophical ideas.  Therefore, the plot, if any, is driven by such ideas.  Obviously, this is not the typical novel that contains the basic elements of fiction writing as we have come to expect them.   There's no heart-pounding suspense, no fast action, little to no character conflict.  At the risk of sounding repetitious, I must again state that we are instead presented with a banquet of intellectual concepts to be pondered and enjoyed for the sheer enjoyment of doing so.   So this is literary pleasure of quite a different order. 

Through the fictional character named Joseph Knecht (whose last name in German means "servant"), Hesse presents the theme that dominates all of his books -- the intellectual life as contrasted with the active life.  Knecht undergoes an evolution in this novel, coming to the point of accepting that the intellectual life alone cannot satisfy completely, if entirely divorced from life in the sensory world.   In the process, the reader is given an intimate look into Knecht's -- and therefore, Hesse's -- inner world.  

The novel's predominant metaphor is the Glass Bead Game, invented by Hesse.  He never provides a clear picture of it, however, although he does say that, in its beginnings, the game was, indeed, played with glass beads.  Eventually, it evolved into a complex interrelationship of ideas, taken from certain fields of human knowledge, such as music, mathematics, languages, and science.   The purpose of each game is to find ways to link core concepts in these fields into one grand, symphonic whole.

There are at least two important sources of conflict in the novel, although said conflict is on a strictly intellectual level.  It's not of the action-oriented variety.  Instead, it's a clash of ideologies.  Knecht has two opponents here -- Plinio Designori, a guest student in the fictional province of Castalia, where the Glass Bead Game was developed, and Father Jacobus, a member of the Benedictine Order, whom Knecht meets when he is assigned to tutor monks in the basics of the Game.   Designori, who eventually returns to the outside world, represents the active life; he later becomes involved in politics.  Jacobus, on the other hand, represents the life of the spirit.  He is concerned about the fact that Castalia has no religion or belief in a Supreme Power.  Both of these men have a great influence on Knecht, who will eventually make the decision to fully integrate his intellectual life with that of the senses, of action.  This is despite the fact that he had been chosen to be the Magister Ludi -- the Master of the Glass Bead Game, at the age of 40.  As Magister Ludi, one of his duties includes leading the annual celebration of the game, an occasion of great ceremony in Castalia, attended by heads of state and other influential people in Hesse's futuristic world.

The novel also includes several poems "written" by Knecht in his student years, as well as three fictional lives he was required to complete as part of his studies.  These further demonstrate Hesse's power as a lyrical writer.  I only wish I knew German, so I could read this book in the original, thus getting the true "feel" of the work!

The perfect culmination to Hesse's literary work, this novel will repay the reader with some very interesting, profound concepts that will indelibly imprint themselves in his/her mind.  I would especially recommend it for those times when one does crave something to really engage the intellect.  Not that there's anything wrong with reading less challenging works, however.  It all depends on what the mind and the emotions are open to at any given point in time.  At least, this has been my experience, although I'm sure I'm not unique in this respect.

About The Author

(From Goodreads)

Hermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. His best known works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game (also known as Magister Ludi) which explore an individual's search for spirituality outside society.

In his time, Hesse was a popular and influential author in the German-speaking world; worldwide fame only came later. Hesse's first great novel, Peter Camenzind, was received enthusiastically by young Germans desiring a different and more "natural" way of life at the time of great economic and technological progress in the country.

Throughout Germany, many schools are named after him. In 1964, the Calwer Hermann-Hesse-Preis was founded, which is awarded every two years, alternately to a German-language literary journal or to the translator of Hesse's work to a foreign language. There is also a Hermann Hesse prize associated with the city of Karlsruhe,Germany.

Online Links

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Cozy Book Corner No. 9: The Differences Between My Two Blogs

Welcome to my Monday 
bookish feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.


Back in 2010, I first began to think about the possibility of starting a book blog. Actually, it was a co-worker, in a job I had at the time, who suggested it to me, and, the more I thought about it, the more interested I became. So, in September of that year, my first blog, A Night's Dream of Books, was born.

At first, my new blog was an eclectic one. I love several genres of fiction, including popular ones, and I also love nonfiction. However, I began reviewing fiction exclusively at first, later on expanding to include some nonfiction. 

I noticed right away that, since I was reviewing Young Adult Fiction on that blog, my readers didn't seem to be interested in any other genres. I got more comments on my YA reviews than I did on those that weren't in this category. Also, whenever I reviewed nonfiction, I got very few to no comments.

Therefore, I decided to start MindSpirit Book Journeys in 2012, in order to accommodate my other literary loves -- adult fantasy and science fiction, literary fiction, Christian fiction, and, of course, nonfiction. At the same time, I decided to restrict the reviews on my other blog to YA fiction, with perhaps an adult review every so often

In addition to book reviews, A Night's Dream of Books eventually included other kinds of posts, such as blog tours, giveaways, blog hop book memes, and author interviews. When I first started out, I also participated in blog awards and book tags. Eventually, however, I had to stop doing so, as these became much too time-consuming. Needless to say, MindSpirit Book Journeys is not the type of blog that would lend itself to these activities. I now have statements to this effect in the sidebars of both blogs, as well as in the comments form for posts.

It's been a rocky road since then, as life and work have frequently gotten in the way of my blogging. This blog, MindSpirit Book Journeys, went through a three-year hiatus, and I began to post on it again in 2015. I still don't post on it as often as I do on my other blog, though. This is a situation I would definitely love to improve!

There are obviously some differences between the two blogs. First of all, I consider my second blog to be a more 'serious' one. I have dedicated it to genres that require more intellectual analysis, as they deal with more profound topics. This is especially true of the nonfiction topics I'm particularly interested in. 

The purpose of each of my blogs is entirely different, and I do want them to remain totally distinct from each other. Therefore, I will continue to post on serious subject matter on this blog. This also means that I will not be doing giveaways or blog tours here, at any time now or in the future. Nor will I be posting author interviews. Obviously, I have nothing against these events, since they are part of my other blog. However, certain obligations come with such posts that I feel actually detract from a blog with a more profound type  of approach. Because of this fact, I also feel that these types of posts take away some of my freedom to publish what I consider to be important, and to my liking.

Unfortunately, I have actually felt forced to participate in the above activities on my other blog for the sake of giving it more exposure, and getting some recognition for it. Sometimes I feel that I've compromised my 'blogging values' to some extent. This is why I don't want to include the same types of posts on my second blog, which, to be quite honest, I would really prefer to make my priority.

Blog hops and reading challenges are not a problem for MindSpirit Book Journeys, though. In fact, I've already participated in one weekly blog hop, "First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros", which is hosted by Diane @ Bibliophile By The Sea. This was an enjoyable hop for a while, but eventually, I came to the conclusion that there was too much of a discrepancy between the books I like to read, and those the other blog participants like to read. So I decided to stop participating. I will join another blog hop, though, if I find one that includes books that are more compatible with my literary tastes. This might sound like a rather elitist, snobbish statement to make, but surely every blogger has the right to express their own opinions, and have their own particular literary tastes. For instance, what could either of my blogs possibly have in common with book blogs that review the genres of erotica and horror? I detest both, so I would not be at all interested in interacting with bloggers who love them.

Reading challenges are very interesting, and I feel they are perfect for both of my blogs. At A Night's Dream of Books, I'm currently participating in The 2016 Reading Challenge, hosted by Evie @ Bookish Lifestyle. At my second blog, I intend to participate in The Women's Classic Literature Event, which is hosted by The Classic Club

These challenges do not require any 'compromise' of my blogging values and standards. I am totally free to post about the books I enjoy reading, with no pressure to publish posts by any required deadline, as happens with blog tours, for instance. Of course, these challenges do cover the present year, but still, there's no pressure to publish posts at any given time. Participants are entirely free to choose the number of books they want to read, too.

It would be great if I could get more follows and comments on my second blog, but, since I don't include the 'crowd-pleasing' posts that I publish on my other blog, the likelihood of this happening is rather slim. Unfortunately, not every blog reader is interested in reading more serious posts such as the ones I publish here. 

There's another good reason for my lack of followers and comments on this blog. I have discovered other, similarly serious blogs that do have more comments and follows. These blogs employ a more conventional type of blog design, with white backgrounds and black type in their posts. In contrast, MindSpirit Book Journeys has a more 'ornate' type of design, so this might put off blog readers who are looking for more serious content. 

Again, I feel this blog allows me to be truly myself, to do things in complete freedom. I happen to be a very visual person, so I prefer to have bold images on both of my blogs, as well as more colorful blog designs. In the case of my second blog, if this puts off readers who might otherwise be interested in my posts, then that's a sad fact I will just have to live with. I simply do not feel that having a more conventional, staid type of design reflects my personality at all. My second blog might come off as too 'flamboyant' to some readers, but this is the type of design I like. I don't feel it detracts from my serious posts at all, either. 

In short, there are distinct differences between my two blogs, as each of them reflects a different side of my bookish personality. Both, however, do have one thing in common, and that is being 'uncommon'. I don't want my two blogs to look like other blogs, nor do I want them to look visually conventional. Not at all!

I will continue to keep both of my blogs distinct from one another. MindSpirit Book Journeys may never get the interaction I have on A Night's Dream of Books (although I don't get as many comments on that blog as other bloggers I know do on theirs), but that's just the way things are. I need to keep blogging away, hoping that my second blog will eventually reach a larger audience. But if it never does, I have to be content with that. After all, I'm blogging primarily for my own enjoyment. If others of like mind discover that they enjoy reading the posts at MindSpirit Book Journeys, they will be welcome, even if there aren't that many of them! 

I would like to acknowledge and thank those of you out there who are reading and commenting on this blog. I greatly appreciate you guys! 

What are your thoughts 
on this topic?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Cozy Book Corner No. 8: The Woes of an SF Book Collector

Welcome to my Monday 
bookish feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

I got entirely bogged down  with
my other blog for a while,
and neglected this one for much
too long! I'm trying to catch up now.

The Annual World's Best SF collection,
proudly sitting on my bookshelves, right 
next to The Science Fiction Century,
an anthology edited by David G. Hartwell.

Science fiction has always been one of my favorite reading genres, but I am sad to say that I haven't been reading  such books on a steady basis for the past few years. I have kept right on collecting them, too, hoping against hope that I would someday return to devouring novels set on alien planets, or in a parallel universe, with plenty of action and great human and ET characters!

To be honest, I have reviewed a few SF books on my other blog, A Night's Dream of Books, but, some time ago, I decided to dedicate that blog to YA fiction, pretty much exclusively. Most YA readers are not interested in reading SF, unless it happens to also belong to the Young Adult Fiction genre. Therefore, I will be reviewing SF books (those written for adults, that is) on this blog.

Some time back, I was very excited to discover The Annual World's Best SF collection, edited and published by the late Donald Wollheim. Arthur W. Saha was his co-editor. Even better, I also found out that the Science Fiction Book Club had published this collection in beautiful hardcover editions!

The collection was actually a continuation of a previous anthology series, titled World's Best Science Fiction, which Wollheim co-edited with Terry Carr. This previous collection was published by Ace Books from 1965 to 1971. I have acquired the last two volumes in this series (1970 and 1971), mistakenly believing that they were part of the later one.  

Although The Annual World's Best SF collection was first published in mass-market paperback editions by DAW Books, I was most interested in the SF Book Club hardcover editions, with their beautiful dust jacket covers. So I gleefully began to collect them!

The first of these books was published in 1972, and the last one was released in 1990. Sadly, that was the year Wollheim passed away.

I purchased most of these books on eBay, although a couple of them came from Amazon. Of course, they're no longer available in retail bookstores, except perhaps in those that sell used books.

As I collected them, I felt justifiably proud and happy to see year after year go up on my shelves. These covers are SO well done, the art of such high quality (although a few do seem to hark back to the pulp fiction days), that I even wished I could have some of the covers as posters to frame.

I got to the point where my collection was almost complete; the only year left was 1979. And that was when my happy little space bubble burst....

No matter which online site I went to, I simply could not find the SF Book Club edition. I tried Amazon and eBay. I also went to Alibris and Abebooks. Then I tried a general Google search. No all.

The mass-market paperback, published by DAW, was easily available. All of the above-mentioned sites had that one. Now, I have nothing against paperbacks, but when I do buy them, I much prefer the trade paperbacks. Mass-markets have a rather annoying problem: their pages tan very easily, and early on, too. So I prefer to avoid them if at all possible. And my overwhelming favorite? Hardcovers, of course! Since these can be a bit pricey (many recently-published hardcovers retail for an average of $24.95), then sometimes I do have to settle for paperbacks -- trade paperbacks, that is. I can only buy used hardcovers, and that's when I can get them for a good price.

Alas, those last four words, "if at all possible", became utterly unavoidable in this particular case.....I had to end up settling for the oh-so-readily-available mass-market paperback edition...... I was SO disappointed! The thing is, I wanted all the covers to match, which unfortunately isn't the case now.

The 1979 Annual World's Best SF,
mass-market paperback edition.

I had gone as far as to order a book I thought was a hardcover edition of the 1979 anthology. I found it through Abebooks, and it was being sold by a bookstore in the UK. The price was pretty stiff, too, for me -- around $44.00, with S/H included. However, the book was listed as having been published in 1979. It had an entirely different cover, one that didn't match the ones published by the SF club, but I was happy that I was at least getting a hardcover. So, after a VERY intense inner debate, I ended up ordering the book.

Since it was coming from abroad, the book took a while to arrive, but, when it finally did, I tore open the package with eager anticipation. I did like the cover, although it wasn't as nice as the others in the SF Book Club collection. And then....

My heart sank when I took a look at the copyright page, which stated that this book had originally been published in the USA, in 1977, and was then published in the UK, in 1979..... I raced to my bookshelves, pulling out the 1977 SF Book Club edition. I put both books side by side, and opened both of them to the Table of Contents..... Yes, there they were, in black and white.....the very same contents! I felt like a complete and utter idiot. WHY hadn't I first contacted the UK seller, to make sure his book was indeed an alternate edition of the SF Book Club 1979 book? WHY didn't this even occur to me? But then, how the heck was I to even suspect that the Abebooks seller was purveying the very same book?! The thing is, the British edition is titled: The World's Best SF 4. So there really was no way for me to know, without contacting the seller, which I never thought of doing....

American and British editions of The 1977
Annual World's Best SF. The British
edition was published in 1979. 

As a small consolation, I did notice that the British edition does not have any foxing on its pages, which my American edition does have. So maybe I will now have to buy another copy of the American edition, as I am a perfectionist where collecting books is concerned. I want the newest-looking copies I can possibly acquire. I refuse to accept dog-eared copies, no matter how cheap and easily obtainable. And, in the case of paperbacks (whether trade or mass-market), I utterly detest spine creases and bent corners! Well, we'll see...perhaps later on down the line, I will purchase another hardcover copy of the American edition, and donate the one I have now to Goodwill. looks like, for some strange reason, the 1979 book was never published in hardcover by the Science Fiction Book Club! I find this very hard to believe, though, because these editions are available for each subsequent year, from 1980 to 1990. I don't understand why the year 1979 should be any different. Maybe it's just extremely hard to find.... 

I have found out, while preparing this post, that the 1979 mass-market paperback edition was reissued by DAW in 1984 with the title: Wollheim's World's Best SF: Series Eight. This one is currently unavailable on Amazon, but, as it's yet another mass-market edition, I'm not interested in the least.

I have Googled this topic, to no avail. No other SF aficionado/collector seems to be aware of this problem, to my knowledge. On the other hand, I don't know that many SF aficionados online or in person, lol. And I'm talking about hardcore SF aficionados, too -- the kind who go to every SF convention imaginable, watch endless reruns of "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", and have collected all the great SF movies and books, or are in the process of doing so, and even play SF video games. I consider myself practically an ant, or maybe even a gnat, among such giants. 

I suppose I must resign myself to suffering in silence.... Could it be that there's some sinister plot by secret ET visitors to make sure that we earthlings are unjustifiably deprived of that 1979 SF Book Club hardcover edition? Inquiring Terran minds want to know!

If anyone reading this post is aware of the location of a hardcover copy of this amazingly elusive book -- published by the SF Book Club, of course -- I sure would love to know! Just go to my Contact page, where you can get my email address, and please, please, please send me an email with the relevant information!!  I would be ever so grateful!!  

Meanwhile, peace and long life! And may the Force be with you!!

 Online Links

What are your thoughts 
on my book collecting woes?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!