Number four on my list of the 10 books left off the best of the 20th century lists:
Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
About ten years ago, Siddhartha was one of those books that was required reading for anyone with even a pretense of being well read. When I tell people these days that itís one of my favorite books they just sort of smile and nod and humor me, like I just told them I think the backs of cereal boxes are underrated as literature. I suppose reading a moving, thoughtful story of Prince Siddharthaís journey to enlightenment is considered a sign of oneís Unamerican views now that the mass culture has deemed Multiculturalism a dirty word.
Has anyone else noticed this? Elvira and I were talking about this just the other day, that now it seems to be socially acceptable to show off your Christian Piety, wave a flag and casually drop Bible quotes in conversation, especially if they trample on any spiritual ideas that arenít Christian, support the killing of children in far off countries or generally reinforce the small town bigotry of Protestantism. Itís a disturbing trend and one that seems to becoming more pervasive. OK people, just because a bunch of wacky Muslims donít like us doesnít mean you can bring the white hoods out of the closet and start setting crosses on fire. Did you ever stop to think that we as a culture just might have done something to deserve a little bit of flaming Karma? And Iím apologizing for terrorists or making excuses for their own forms of bigotry. Itís just that I feel it needs to be said: 9/11 didnít give us all carte blanche to hate again. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs desperately to read this book.
Enlightenment is what Siddhartha is all about and something this country and this planet could use a little more of; something slight and luminous-- a slice of Nirvana on Earth. Read Herman Hesseís classic, proudly, out loud while sitting in the park sipping lemonade. Give copies to your friends on their birthdays. Next time some little old lady hands you a Bible tract, hand her your copy of Siddhartha> as a trade off.