Franz Kafka responded to a comment from a fellow named Oskar who apparently commended reading that makes us happy: “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading 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 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 within us. That is my belief.”
It appears Mr. Kafka either thought Oskar was a silly fellow who needed severe instruction, or K had a rather limited view of the value of reading. I mean what if we just want to relax, or to figure out how to get rich, or to learn about food in the 14th century?
I suspect even K at his most didactic would respect our right to read for a variety of reasons. Still, he might consider us fools if we didn’t ask ourselves why we read what we do. Especially us writers, because we write best (I’m pretty sure) the kind of work we love to read.
And K might suggest that among our reasons for choosing books, we ought to seek out some that might punch a crack in our heart’s or mind’s frozen sea.
Or, if we claimed to have no such frozen sea within us, he might use us as the model for a character who turns into a large dung beetle.
Anyway, I hereby resolve to review 2015 my reading list.