The Corner

B16’s Reading List

The most interesting thing I learned in the current NR was Mike Potemra’s mention of Benedict XVI’s esteem for Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf.

Now, Steppenwolf is my favorite Hesse novel. That is setting a very low bar, but I think it is actually a good novel. This may take some unpacking for younger Cornerites. There was a time — I was actually just too young — when every teenager read Hesse. The reason was not far to seek — he was a German-language teenager who wrote well, but never grew up. Such angst! Such passion! Such deep questions!

Such lack of humor or real insight.

Steppenwolf does have a bit of both, which it is why it is superior to its fellows. It ends with a drug dream, caused by the hero smoking hashish I think it was, offered him by a cool Latino bisexualish jazz musician. During his delirium, people shoot random strangers; he wants to shtup the heroine; he converses with Mozart, who tells him what is wrong with Brahms and Wagner (paging Terry Teachout). It is a wild, sixties kid farrago of wish fulfillment, nonsense, and some wisdom.

The idea that the current pilot of St. Peter’s bark, this scholarly classical musician, grooved to it makes my Methodist past seem very tame.

Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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