Last year when I was deciding which summer reading book to study with my seniors, I picked One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest because my particular students were somewhat free-spirited neo-hippies if you will. I really liked that about them, and I thought they’d enjoy Cuckoo’s Nest for the whole counter-culture aspect and association through Ken Kesey with the hippie movement. One student, however, lobbied for a study of Siddhartha. He proclaimed it had been his favorite summer reading book. This from a student who found something to dislike in just about everything we read. It made me think. We couldn’t study it last year, frankly, because I hadn’t read it. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into one selection this year, which is why I resolved to make sure I’d read all the summer reading books the students were required to read.
After having read Siddhartha myself, I can say that I’m not sure I’ll select it yet again. One thing my principal and department head have always made clear is that I should select the book that really grabs me the most. I think Siddhartha is intriguing. In many ways, I can see why it might be interesting to study with a class, but I’m not sure if my sort of lukewarm response to the book might be obvious.
If you are not familiar with the novel, it is an allegorical story of the quest of the title character for spiritual enlightenment. It strikes me that Siddhartha is much more receptive to learning from all different kinds of people than most people are. I think in this he is wise. He meets Gotama, whom we most often refer to as Buddha, but decides that he cannot learn from Gotama what he must experience himself. If the truth be told, he reminded me very much of Henry David Thoreau and John Dewey in some of his ideals. In fact, Siddhartha’s best teacher, the ferryman Vasudeva, is the one who realizes that he is a facilitator — Siddhartha must learn for himself. In fact, it might be interesting for teachers to read this book for its commentary on education. If I don’t decide to teach the novel in class, I can at least compose better topics for essays. It was a short book and only took me a couple of days to read, even with all the other interruptions in life *cough* computers and TV *cough*. I’m glad I read it, and I think I’ll be turning it over in my head for some time.
[tags]siddhartha, hermann hesse, literature, book, review[/tags]