Dehumiliation time

There are some books that I sort of feel have a best-before date, in reference to the age of the reader. E.g., The Catcher in the Rye. Most of the books I put in this mental category I have, in fact, not actually read: Brave New World, Catch 22. This could be a totally wrong impression, based only on the fact that a lot of kids do read them in high school, but regardless. This is the mental state in which I entered my read of Siddhartha.

SiddharthaSo I freely admit I’m going into it a bit prejudiced. And I didn’t pick it up last week in a great frame of mind, either. But I didn’t find quite what I expected.

The philosophical content was less objectionable than anticipated, though I do still think it might appeal more to younger people. And it’s not completely sensical outside of Buddhism, of course.

But it was the writing that really didn’t do it for me. Now, first of all, I read this in translation. I almost never do this; I don’t think I’ve read anything in translation from German since high school. I wasn’t super motivated here though. Anyway, I think I read the translation most people read, by Hilda Rosner. And I don’t know if it was her or Hermann Hesse, but the only word I can think to describe the prose was: lifeless. Not a single sentence gave me that aesthetic-pleasure smile I look for. I can’t place what it was exactly, and it may have been partly or largely my frame of mind. But I read this in several sessions and the writing never clicked for me.*

Does this count as a Bildungsroman? I think it should; I don’t think there’s a very good reason to class “spiritual journey” separately; Siddhartha is looking for a philosophy of life. So can someone please explain to me why I say I don’t like these and keep reading them—and not really liking them?

*And, in one place, I’m almost completely sure that it said “credible” where it should have said “credulous.”

5 comments to Dehumiliation time

  • I find the books I put in the category of having a “best-before date” (whether I’ve read them or not) are overwhelmingly, popular dystopian lit: 1984, Brave New World, Anthem, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Clockwork Orange… Its particularly odd because I do like dystopian novels (at least, I have less of a problem with the genre than you do Bildungsroman).

    Other candidates for me include Kerouac, Beats etc. I would probably enjoyed them had I read them later, but at 16 and itching to get away from home, I was absolutely captivated.

  • nicole

    Oh yeah, I knew I was forgetting something, I meant to mention On the Road.

    I’m sure the dystopian business has something to do with how shitty it is to be a teenager. I like dystopias fairly well still, and The Handmaid’s Tale is another one I read “late in life,” so I’m relatively sure this prejudice has no basis in reality.

    Except that I did really hate On the Road when I finally got around to it.

  • I read On the Road a little late in life, too, and while I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t like it as much as I expected to. The Catcher in the Rye I did love but I was in the correct age range then.

    Come to think of it, I haven’t really read any dystopian novels. I’ve always meant to but never get around. Unconsciously avoiding them, probably, just not interested.

    I guess the reason why I now sometimes am not as attracted to coming-of-age novels as I used to be is that I can’t relate any longer. Especially with all the angst.

  • I hope you’ll reconsider the past it’s use by date label when it comes to Catch 22. A very funny and also quite moving satire which I find appealing even now I’m no longer an adolescent.

  • I do think there’s a reason we read most of these novels when we’re young since at that point most of us are still developing an understanding of our place in the world – not that this ever becomes completely fixed later in life, but it does become less flexible, or atleast we’ve had enough of our own real experiences to hold against the book – otherwise, I think, we would be too critical of the lessons or experiences they contain. I had a similar experience with Kerouac. I wonder if Orwell might hold up, however, I read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school but I’d be interested in an adult re-read to see if he’s got enough layers to speak to several different generations.