The Glass Bead Game

Last night I woke up around 3:30 AM, and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I went downstairs and read for a while. I happened to be near the end of the book I was reading by Hermann Hesse called “The Glass Bead Game,” or sometimes, “Magister Ludi.” This book was a bit of a slog sometimes. In fact I often looked over at the book Alice was reading as I was making my way through this book, and envied her for the light nature of her books. Of course, she reads 10 books to my one.

Anyway, my habit is to always read the preface and introduction in every book. It is tempting to skip the preface especially since they often seem to be written so poorly. It bugs me that the writer of the preface often seems to think I’ve read everything by this author already, including the book I’ve just started. They sometimes go on and on about the characters, plot, and nuances that mean nothing to me since I haven’t even gotten to page one of the darn thing yet.

This book had a preface like that, but I read through it, and in this case, I believe I got something out of it. The preface suggested that Hesse intended this book to be a parody. I doubt I would have approached the book the way I did if I hadn’t gleaned at least that much from the preface.

Last night’s sleeplessness may have had something to do with a headache going away. Sometimes when it happens, I get a gush of energy. So riding that wave of energy I finished this book around 4:30 AM, and it really affected me. I had several questions about the book once I’d finished it, so decided on a whim to reread the preface. It was as if the author of the preface was working from a list of questions I’d submitted to him. That rereading probably doubled my enjoyment of the book. I remember lying there with the ideas just spinning around in my brain.

One thing that occurred to me was the way we see the world with our senses. I remembered an incident from the other day where I was standing outside watching a grove of poplar trees across the road dancing in the wind. The motion was observed by my eyes, and I heard the rustle of the leaves with my ears. I couldn’t smell those trees, but I could imagine the smell they’d be giving off if my face were buried in their leaves. I layered that smell on. I next imagined each leave’s underside with hundreds of stomata opened, and gas exchange happening on a grand scale with each tree. As the gasses vented to the atmosphere, water was drawn up 50 or 60 feet through the circulatory system of the tree. I imagined there was plenty of water around the roots for this process to occur, since we’d had nice rains lately. I felt the minerals in the soil flowing up the tree too, and combining with the carbohydrates the tree was manufacturing from the sunlight, making the tree thicker, taller, and stronger.

Hesse helped me understand that I “see” on many levels, and that the more educated one is, the more pieces of the puzzle fall into place when common place things are observed. No wonder this man won the Nobel Prize for literature for this book.

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