Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Thoughts...

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.
Franz Kafka

I hadn't thought I would choose this quote today - but in the end it grabbed me by the throat and dared me not to! It's quite a challenging thought and so passionately expressed I figured in the end I'd best spend some time with it and think it through.

I can kind of understand where he is coming from here - but it's not necessarily a place I find myself in with him.  I think the best books do shake you up; do challenge you; do introduce you to new ways of being or seeing, but I don't believe they have to tear you apart in the process. Nor do I think the process has to be as painful as Kafka suggests.

Like anything in life - if we simply read those things we are comfortable with and feel safe with; then we are likely to become complacent and/or narrow in our worldview. So I do think broad reading is good, as I think challenging reading is good; but I also think there's a place for pleasurable and delightful reading -especially curled up in winter!

©2007 Fiona Dempster - Coastline in Aceh two years post tsunami
I searched for some images of dark places, disasters, wounds and the like and thought to myself, well our visit to our friend Jeff in Aceh in 2007 still tells the story of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. 2 years on, so much damage remained so much flotsam and jetsam. People's shoes still floating. So this one's for Kafka.

This one's for me...a winter tree in Canberra; perfect reading weather inside!

©2010 Fiona Dempster - Crisp clear winter day in Canberra


  1. There's a place in the world for both schools of thought. I think perhaps Kafka was a 'dark' person. Occasionally a thunderbolt can stir us but hey, life is too short to be constantly in a state of apprehension, waiting for the next one.

    Lovely images, tho' Aceh is sad.

    Hope your opening last night was packed to the rafters... and some sales ensued.

  2. I do agree with you, F - a broad approach is best. I love Kafka, I've read most of what he wrote, and there was a time when I would have been entirely with him, that if a book doesn't devastate you, it wasn't a good read. But perhaps that's more urgent for people who really do still have frozen seas inside in need of breaking through or breaking up. Some of us have been there and done that and now need a break from all that breaking! Then a bit of devilishly clever humor, or even something light and simple and heartwarming is just what's needed to curl up with. Good post, my friend.

  3. Interesting post, Fiona. It is so important to challenge our ideas and even our most precious beliefs from time to time. If we can do that dispassionately, it can certainly help us when we need to rely on them.
    I'm gravely concerned about this issue, esp when it comes to the media, even more than books. Most news and current affairs are so light weight, poor quality and fixedly right (mostly) or left wing in this country, there is no rigor in the debate at all. But I'll get down off my hobby-horse now.
    As for delving into darkness, there is definitely a time to do this. It's important to be gentle with ourselves too, when that is what is needed.
    I'm most intrigued to see that you have a friend called Jeff in Aceh - my husband and I also have a friend called Jeff living there! I wonder whether it's the same person? Our friend's surname begins with "H" - what about yours?

  4. Hi Jo - thanks for your thoughts. I like the notion of life being too short to wait for the next thunderbolt; how true!

    G/TT - I figured you would have read Kafka! I think his image of the frozen sea inside is powerful and poignant. There are those amongst us who are frozen and caught; and drastic action is sometimes needed. But only sometimes...

    Amanda - thanks! We seem to share a hobby horse - I am constantly trying to discover ways of getting better informed instead of just being fed the lightweight opinions, rather than considered analysis, of others. What fun about the Aceh connection!


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.