Some of the volumes on my shelf have been my companions for decades and have accompanied me across various oceans to three different continents. When I was a young student living in Germany I fell under the spell of Hermann Hesse. He was quite the rage at the time. I acquired and read nearly everything of Hesse’s. I still have some of his oeuvre in the beautiful Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition. As we mature our tastes change. I picked up Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game) some time ago and couldn’t get past the first twenty-five pages. I find Hesse unreadable these days. His style (if there is one) drips with righteous sentimentality. Still, his books grace my shelf.
The same story in reverse: Many years ago a literary friend warmly recommended the novels of Barbara Pym to me, proclaiming her a modern Jane Austen. I read one novel in its entirety but couldn’t get enthused about it. Perhaps I had other expectations. Recently I picked up Ms Pym again, Quartet in Autumn, and have become a fan. Nothing much happens in terms of action, but her prose is lucid, unencumbered, elegant. Now that I take my own writing seriously, I view Barbara Pym as a model of fine prose. I strive to write like that.
No education is complete without total immersion in the Greek myths, and no one has rendered them more poetically than Robert Graves. I cherish my Folio Society boxed edition, exquisitely illustrated. Having been subjected to a stultifying brainwashing in a religious school, my young soul soared in high school when a freshman English teacher introduced us, with infectious exuberance, to the magical world of Greek and Roman mythology. Here was poetry and imagination, stories of heroics and bloodcurdling hubris! I have never recovered from the experience. (I thank you a thousand times, dear teacher whose name I no longer remember.) Robert Graves’ I, Claudius became my favorite book all through high school. It must be one of the best historical novels ever written.
I have always loved to travel. When I can’t, the next best thing is reading good travel writing. The current master of the genre, hands down, is Bill Bryson. I have read many of his books multiple times and always enjoy them. He writes with wit and erudition. A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country are my favorites. Next to Mr Bryson is William Dalrymple, a writer of history. He lived for years in India and has written several books exploring the complex history of the subcontinent. The Last Mughal covers the fall of the Mughal dynasty and the complicated relationship of the British to their colony. In his vibrant prose Dalrymple makes dusty history come alive. In a modern vein, Paul Scott’s sprawling four-novel Raj Quartet, aka The Jewel in the Crown is a stunning achievement in modern literature. I am also very taken with the Granada BBC film version of Scott’s saga. It couldn’t have been done better than that!
John Mueter is an educator, pianist, vocal coach, composer and writer. His fiction has been accepted by various literary journals, including: Freedom Forge Press, Twisted Endings, Wilde Oats Journal, Writers Haven, Biblioteca Alexandrina, Haiku Journal. His opera Everlasting Universe, about Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati, was premiered in 2007. He currently teaches at the University of Kansas.