The Glass Bead Game

by Herman Hesse

Hesse's Nobel Prize winning novel about a boy comming of age centuries in the future who becomes a gifted teacher and master, or Magister Ludi (the books alternate title) of the Glass Bead Game. It's more culture fiction than science fiction. In fact, it isn't science fiction at all: different genre. What I enjoyed most about the book is Hesse's tounge-in-cheek intellectual brilliance. It is an understated tour de force. Reading it feels like a pleasant afternoon's conversation with the mellow author-genius himself. Appended to the main novel are two novellas that are brilliant and worth reading on their own even if you don't fancy the bulk of the main course.

Hesse didn't like the predominating culture of the late 20th century, with it's predominance of, as he saw it, banality. So The Glass Bead Game is his vision of a better world and a unique hero, a hero of learning and culture, intellectual subtlety and gentle brilliance.

Once you escape into the world of Hesse's imagined better tomorrow, you will be hooked until the last page.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

The protagonist has Asperger's syndrome, and reading about how the adults in his life behave made me curiously self-reflective, and a little embarassed. It made me more understanding and patient with my own step-son who suffers from ADHD, which is thankfully mild compared with autism or Asperger's.

Asperger's syndrome is like autism in that it's cause is the incomplete or improper development of the nervous system and brain. The primary difference is the degree to which it hampers normal interactions and communication. What's great about this novel is that it takes the notion of normal and stands it on its head. Much of what we take for normal sucks. Just because a person has a properly developped nervous system doesn't keep them from being a jerk. And by the same token, a neurological handicap doesn't keep someone from being magnificent.

The story is engaging, imaginitive, and engrossing; an adventure story par-excellance.

Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

Takes a concept and runs with it, though so subtly that you don't think concept until you've finished the book and reflect on it. I felt a greater than usual urge to re-read this book. You learn something at the end of the book that makes it unusually compelling to reread immediately.

The structure of the novel is unique. The author introduces himself and the project of writing the book in a prologue, and before you realize it you are engrossed in several stories: the author's and the people about whom he writes. It works marvelously on many levels. The stories each have their own textures and nuances, though the tone is not lofty or abstruse, but human and readable.

I especially like the way Martel writes about animals. He doesn't anthropomorphize at all, but rather brings us into a more inimate understanding of them. I felt wiser about animals after reading this book.