A Letter From Franz Kafka

This is an excerpt from a letter Kafka wrote to his friend Pollak in 1904, in response to Pollak’s accusation that Kafka never responded to his letters. Kafka excused himself but he had been reading a book that was too important to put down.

I think we ought to only read the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are 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 suicide. A book must be an axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

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5 thoughts on “A Letter From Franz Kafka

  1. I agree, but at the same time I feel there aren’t enough happy books out there. It’s really sad and trying to read of illness everywhere. Sometimes you want to escape to a happy place, or be made to venture into the beauty of the world. And there are lots of books that want to do the former or the latter, but so very few who do it well, from a deep, truly inspired and truly artistic place.

    • I agree with you as well and I think the modern reader in general would. Kafka himself, comes from a different era and speaks much in keeping with the tone of the Eastern European writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that I’ve read. I actually got this quote out of a book on literary theory that equated writing and reading with dying: “Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing” by Helene Cixous.

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