“For a few days I have been writing. May it go on! My life has some justification. Once more I am able to converse with myself, and not gaze into utter vacancy. Only in this way can I hope to find improvement.” Franz Kafka
Kafka’s The Castle has been sitting on my book shelf for about two years now. I remember grabbing it from a book exchange, knowing the name of the author, but nothing more. He is one of those great writers that I have yet to discover. There are so many others, too numerous to name. I can’t believe I made it through 12 years of school and 4 more of University without ever having been forced to read authors like Fitzgerald, Capote, Kerouac, Bukowski, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Parker, Salinger, Dostoevsky, Steinbeck… well, you get the point. There are so many great and influential writers whom I still don’t yet know. I say “forced” because I never liked being assigned books to read, but I liked reading books. In fact, I was forced to read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird in grade 10. I didn’t. At least not at the time. I would revisit it later, and loved it. So, maybe it’s a good thing they never tried to make me read the others. I’ll get to them when the time is right.
That’s the key to the great writers and the great books. Timing. I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea for the first time. I was down, feeling sorry for myself. I read it one sitting (I know it’s short, but that was pretty good for me at the time). I could feel myself transforming with every turn of the page. When I closed the back cover, I sat there for maybe 5 seconds, awestruck. When I emerged, I was a different person. It had changed me forever. I had known of it since I was a little kid. It had come highly recommended (my childhood sports hero, Bo Jackson listed it as his favourite in Sports Illustrated for Kids). But maybe it was meant to be that I had waited so long to dive into Hemingway’s world. The book spoke to me at that moment in a way that it only could at that very moment. Some of the other greats, I have tried and failed to make it through. Chalk it up to bad timing I guess. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Charlotte Bronte, and Umberto Eco, for example. Maybe I’ll take them on again when the time is right.
So, The Castle sat on my shelf. Every time I went to choose a new book to read, I’d look at it and pass it over. It even made it into my bag on several occasions, in a pile of others, and never ended up being chosen. I’ve bought stacks of other books from the web or the bookstore in that time. It always ended up being overlooked. Until yesterday. Only days after rekindling the fire inside me that drives me to write, I picked it out from the bottom of my bag. It was below another book that I began reading a week ago. Q, written by 4 authors from the Luther Blissett Project was the book I put to the side. Why, I don’t know. I was enjoying it. I just decided to shelf it for the time being and read Kafka. I’m glad I did.
The passage at the opening of this entry is not even in The Castle, but is quoted in this particular copy, in the homage. Only four pages in, before even reaching the story, I found inspiration from Kafka. I have been gazing in utter vacancy out my window, thinking about writing. For the last few days, I have been writing. I’ve felt meaning again in my life. Not that I was ready to pack it in. But, I’ve felt trapped in this situation. Now, I’m actively changing it. I’m finding improvement. Reading those words, it was like Kafka wrote them specifically for me. Like we had a bond. That is the power of great writing. It brings the writer and the reader together. Had I read those words another day, I might have thought them inspiring, but they would not have moved me the way they did when I read them yesterday. I can’t wait to read the rest of his book. I can’t wait to write the rest of my story.