Why I read, why I write: Kafka edition.

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I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

An axe for the frozen sea inside us! Good Lord. What a fantastic way to put it. It’s fitting that this rather dark (yet ultimately hopeful) reading of reading comes from the same mind that turned a salesman into a bug and skewered the inhumanity of the penal system. I imagine Kafka’s frozen sea is perhaps more choppy and violent than most (but also more beautiful, gleaming with ice crystals and the cold blue of glaciers). Oh and that picture? It’s by Russian-born (and now New Haven-based) illustrator Yelena Bryksenkova. She has some great prints for sale on Etsy, and counts “dashing historical men, good grammar, fancy urns, books, elephants” and folklore among her interests. Basically, she’s an artist after my own heart. Check out her website here.

Previously: Why I read, why I write.

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3 thoughts on “Why I read, why I write: Kafka edition.

  1. Kafka always affected me. But, honestly saying he has a very unique and wonderful way of words, I wish I had his pen. He couldn’t be more right.
    We should read books that sting us, the way bees do. Books are like fire that should consume us, burn us inside. There’s no reason to read something that doesn’t affect us. That’s the reason of writing them in the first place.

    1. Someday, I want to write a book that changes how at least one person sees that world, that shifts something inside just ONE person and makes them feel something strong and memorable (and I would prefer that the strong feeling isn’t “I hate this book!”)

      But for now, I’ll settle for reading the writers who do that to me. Like Kafka and Marquez and Kundera and Atwood and lately, Rebecca Lee, and so, so many others. I think “Bobcat,” Lee’s book of short stories, was the last book that stung me like a swarm of bees.

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