An Axe for the Frozen Sea Inside Us

Writer Franz Kafka discusses books worth reading.

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.

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, The Castle, and posthumously published The Trial and Parables and Paradoxes wound and stab us. They “wake us up with a blow on the head.”  They “open the frozen sea inside us”.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 28, 2015, in tribute to Franz Kafka.


2 thoughts on “An Axe for the Frozen Sea Inside Us

  1. Interesting, Gordon, but I think that nowadays we are adequately stabbed and clubbed by listening to the nightly news. I find I need something very different in what I read. It is by no means all “excellent literature,” though Dickens and Austen qualify. Some of it is downright frivolous, but fun. I think Tolkien’s writing, most of it, belongs with excellent literature, but some cannot abide fantasy, so I put that in a separate category. Also great fun, and more or less coherently worked out are the Harry Potter novels. As I said, I find such works necessary to counteract the terrible pall of so much of today’s news. We need relaxation to return and resume the good fight.


    • Carolyn, I hear you and I do understand. Thanks for the poignant comment. I keep thinking of the insipid sermons I’ve heard. My ears itch for something more akin to Kafka, but that’s just me. Listening to and reading the news today tends to do what William Stringfellow said it does: it renders us “de-moralized” – i.e. morally and spiritually numb.


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