This is the first book I read when I was five years old. Here it was: The magic of words and the astounding miracle that a whole world is just waiting for you when you open a book. I was hooked.
The knowledge of self was a recurring theme in Hesse's work. And isn't intense self-examination at the core of trying to become an adult? Hesse wrote about finding yourself, being true to who you really are and about claiming your individuality against the odds and against society. So when I discovered these books at the age of about fourteen, they very much suited the angsty, confused and quietly rebellious teenager that I was.
I shared an apartment in Munich with a bunch of crazy, noisy and partying art students. I had just returned from a year of backpacking through Australia and Asia, had broken up with my boyfriend and was at that delicious and heady stage of absolute freedom without any constraints. And - voilà - at this pivotal moment Sartre stepped into my life and talked about just this: You alone are responsible for your own fate, you choose your destiny. There is no helpless surrendering to a divine fate that makes the decisions for you. The purpose of life? You create your own meaning in life (or a lack thereof) yourself.
The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg) by Thomas Mann:
With this book I come full circle: Here again is the vast, sheer endless landscape of knowledge that just waits to be discovered. The language is full of beauty, rhythm and musicality, and one can dreamily read whole passages without quite understanding what Mann is actually talking about. The characters in the book reflect on time, politics and sociological issues. Reading the novel just makes me feel so damn clever and eloquent; a state I have tried to capture and maintain ever since.