When I was a child my parents used to punish me for my bad actions in their own way: I often had the prohibition of reading for a week.
Of course I wasn't so nerd at that time and together with reading there could be no tv, no bmx rides with friends, no late night awake and all sorts of "normal" don'ts.
But the worst one was definitely the "no reading week".
Later in my teenage years, I remember how my mum was very glad about my reading activity, but not particularly interested in influencing that favourite pastime of mine with her tips. As far as I remember the only exception was "Narcissus and Goldmund".
"Mum, I read "Candide". How nice it was!"
"Good for you. But you should rather read Narcissus and Goldmund".
"Mum, "The Buddenbrooks" is very interesting. What a surprise!"
"Very well. Yet, you would appreciate more "Narcissus and Goldmund".
"Mum, I have to admit it: "Rosshalde" is kind of interesting".
"Yes. But that's nothing compared to "Narcissus and Goldmund": you might read it!".
"Mum, this "Elective affinities" is a masterpiece of romanticism".
"I know, but why don't you read "Narcissus and Goldmund?" You must do it!"
Ok, I resisted for many years. When I was younger I never liked when people were forcing me to read anything. At school, in family.
Then came my late twenties and I finally capitulated: I took "Narcissus and Goldmund" in my hands.
Albeit the awful, terrifying front cover graphic chosen by the Italian editor (think about the name "Hesse" wrote in the same style, way and colours of the notorious "Esso" logo on a grey background...) I decided to leaf through the book pages.
I was really surprised. After managing to win over the first "philosophical" part of the novel, that I found a bit too slow, I discovered a surprisingly libertine book. Not that bad, of course, but exactly the opposite I would have expected as a tip from my mum.
Eventually "Narcissus and Goldmund" was an involving reading. Although I think that sometimes Hesse stumbles on the thin line between allegory and parody, this book worths a reading. I like the historical-yet-undetermined contest of the book even if the Goldmund character doesn't look that realistic to me. The way Goldmund walks around the world is very "Candidesque" and picaresque and I do like this sort of mood.
At the same time, Herman Hesse is more accurate and, in my opinion, does a better job in picturing Narcissus, who at least behaves as a man in his adulthood rather than a whimsical, naive boy as Goldmund stays for the whole book without having a real evolution despite all the life (and sexual) experiences he had. I know this won't be appreciated by those who consider this book formative, but the same comeback of Goldmund to the monastery where he spent his earlier pious years looks more like a defeat than as an inner development of him.
Now I just wonder if my mum wished to make a Narcissus or a Goldmund out of me. Frankly I'm a bit scared to ask her.