I remember my first introduction to Kafka, I was a senior in high school and had to read Metamorphosis. A book that made me feel weird, uncomfortable, and really sad. More than anything though, it was unique, very dark, and utterly unforgettable.
During an adventure I took to Charleston, South Carolina (more on that later), I picked up his Complete Stories at the College of Charleston’s Barnes and Noble. I like to collect books on trips instead of regular souvenirs. I like that someone can look at my collection of books and see something uniform. Yet when I look at it, most of them have some kind of story. Some of them I bought at my favorite bookstore as a child; complete with a grumpy older man who ran it in a tiny little town. I spent hours in his store.
Some that I have hold messages from loved ones to me, others are messages to the previous owners, which always make me wonder. And others, like this one, remind me of a time in my life when I went on a trip and I reached a turning point in my own life.
I think of that trip when I see this book on my mantle, I also remember the feelings I had while finding coffee shops around town to read in and finally starting to appreciate it.
It took me an entire month to read. When I finally finished it my first thought was: “My head hurts.” I was spinning. His stories had a similar quality to James Joyce’s Dubliners (another must read in my opinion) in that they are all fast paced and some just seem to have abrupt endings with no real sense of closure. Kafka, however, is able to make you feel the anxiety and racing thoughts he must have had. Joyce is like a walk along the Liffey when it’s slightly overcast. Kafka is a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. His stories have moments where they are really incoherent, ideas seem to run across the page, some lead to another, some don’t seem to lead to anything and all you feel is overwhelming anxiety.
Why read it then? You may ask.
Because how he was able to communicate emotion. Most writers write to evoke emotion in you. An essay, for example, appeals to your intellectual side, it makes an argument of logic, you either accept it or you don’t. Whether you accept it our not evokes the emotions. Or you empathize with characters. For me, Kafka reaches further than that. He doesn’t use logic (not one I can understand, anyway), instead, he lets you in his mind and you sort of become him. All the sudden those racing thoughts are muddling up your thinking, making you anxious and exhausted. I imagine this is how he must have felt in his day to day life, and thus his work to me is more like a diary. I’m not reading it to connect to his characters, I’m reading it to try to connect with Kafka himself.
In this way, I really came to appreciate his gift in the way he communicated emotion. In school, we looked at the works so differently, like how the Metamorphosis was about society, etc. Really though, I think it was more him reaching out to be understood and his feelings as a member of society and how uneasy it made him feel.
Would I suggest this as a casual tea-sipping Saturday read? Absolutely not. Nor do I think it is a good introductory piece into literature (maybe The Metamorphosis, A Country Doctor, and Investigations of a Dog are the exceptions). However, I would suggest it to the intermediate-advanced nerd (nerd is a loving term here). Especially if you like psychology (you could psychoanalyze Kafka for DAYS, I would love to hear what you come up with, he fascinates me) and if you already have some experience reading drier material…Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Plato’s Republic.
Anyway, what do you think? Have you read some Kafka in your day?