Friday, 28 December 2012

WordPress Daily Prompt: That Stings

Franz Kafka said, "we ought to read only books that bite and sing us." What's the last thing you read that bit and stung you?


This is just the bookcase in the living room. We have another in the bedroom and three in our hobby room in the cellar.

Are you sitting comfortably, then I will begin at the beginning. I do not really read a book, I devour it. My reading capacity is about two books a month, depending on what I am reading, what else I am doing, and how the time is available. Language is a bit of a thing with me, I just like to learn them. I speak German and Swiss German fluently, can converse in French and Italian and can just about get through in Russian, if the Russians do not get too complicated. In between I did a year learning Arabic, but that was just a little too much. This means that I read english books in the original written language and German books in German.

And now to Mr. Franz Kafka and his brilliant phrase about books biting and stinging. The problem being that there is actually only one book by Kafka that I discovered that  bit or stung, and that was more a novella, than a book. I read “The Trial” and could follow it quite well, but what the accused did, why and how was a mystery still at the end of the book. Of course, Kafka was trying to get something across to us all, but it just did not reach me. The story also seemed to have about 4-5 different endings, so it seemed that Mr. Kafka himself was perhaps a bit muddled on how to finish his great work. I read “The Castle” which was also a mystery, the main figure in the book never actually arriving at the castle.

So back to my stinging and biting book by Franz Kafka, which was definitely “The Metamorphosis”. I always had a taste for the strange, and when Gregor Samsa, the main figure in the book, went to bed for a sound sleep one evening and awoke, lying on his back, as a giant beetle the next morning, you have to ask what happens next. The first problem was that Gregor could not turn to stand on his six or eight new legs. And so the story continues. Shock and confusion in his average family. At first he was cared for by his sister as the only person in the household that still stood by her brother, but eventually she also gave up, so Gregor Samsa was left on his own and sadly died, sort of faded away. I think Kafka was saying, if you are different to the rest, you are not wanted and ignored. There are probably many other deep thoughts to invest in this story. I am not a professor of literature, but the story just fascinated me.

I remember one of the most biting books I ever read, at the age of fourteen for the first time (I re-read this one many times) was Dracula by Bram Stoker. My dad’s taste in literature was similar to mine, and a member of his family was given the book as a school prize. The edition was from 1915, but not a valuable one, I already checked that on Internet. The book is now approaching one hundred years, and its cover has frayed through numerous readings, but the story is still good. Nothing like the spectacular blood thirsty films. It tells a story through diaries and letters written by that characters and it all comes nicely together. I survived and never awoke to a tapping at the window on a dark night by a figure with two fangs asking for entry, nor did I ever have two marks on my neck in the morning and pillow covers with blood stains. Perhaps because I always hung some garlic on the bed post.

Now for something completely different. The Scandinavians have got me. It all started with Stig Larsson’s Millenius trilogy. I know that many have perhaps read them or seen the films, but the German translation was published long before the english. I started to read them one after the other and had long finished before they were published in English. I found the translations of the titles a bit weird in english, but the content was the same. The first book was the best for me, the second was also good, and there was a grand finale in the third, although I found it a bit long drawn out.

Scandinavians write very good criminal stories. Henning Mankell from Sweden and his Kurt Wallender police detective series, which have also been filmed for the television, are just brilliant. I read and do not watch the television so much, at least not before I have finished the book. There is also the Norwegian Jo Nesbo with his police detective Harry Hole, who tends to look a little too deep into the whisky glass now and again, but he always wins. I still have two books to read in that series. Let us not forget Denmark. Jussi Adler Olsen is just unique with his books on the Q Department of the Copenhagen police and Carl Morck, his detective. Again I have had the luck to read the books when published in German, as it takes some time until the english translation arrives.

Now to the American police, I think I have a soft spot for Harry Bosch and his half brother Mickey Haller who operates from his Lincoln car. Michael Connelly created the Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch, and the lawyer Mickey Haller. There are many books but I still have a couple to dive through.

Otherwise I love the classics. Have been catching up on Charles Dickens over the past year, after all he did have a 200th anniversary to celebrate. I at last read the “Pickwick papers”, which I really enjoyed. Not all books have to sting and bite, some can just be very amusing. I now have “A Tale of Two Cities” on the shelf. Of course, I know the story of the book, but I really want to read it from cover to cover.

Am I boring you with my book collection? I will draw to a close, but not without mentioning the fact that the Swiss also have authors worth reading. Martin Suter is probably a name that is unknown to most,  a comparatively new author. I do not even know if his books have been translated into english, but they are good. His first success was “Small World”, the main figure being an elderly gentleman that has the first signs of Alzheimer. There are connections with a successful family who have more than one skeleton in the cupboard. “The Cook” is also a very good read. The central figure is a gifted cook from Sri Lanka who is working in Zürich and turns his hand to aphrodisiac cooking with success. Of course there are many twists and turns in the story.

What am I reading at the moment? “Allmen und die Libellen” (Allmen and the dragon flies) also by the Swiss author Martin Suter, his first attempt at a detective novel.

And now to finish this blog, so that I can relax with a good book.


  1. All my life I've been an avid reader, sometimes having as many as three or four different books on the go at the same time. But then, along came the internet and totally distracted me. It's true what they say about it reducing your attention-span. I rarely read these days, and when I do it's only in short bursts. I'd have to have a good think about which books I've read that would come under this 'bite & sting' category.

  2. Reading a good book is one of my great pleasures. Recently I read 'Night Train to Lisbon' by Pascal Mercier... a very interesting and meditative novel...

  3. I love to read but I have to admit, the bite-and-sting books are not my favorites. I had to read them in school and that spoiled it for me ... I had to read too much into it at a too young age.

    I recently re-read the Lord of the Ring Trilogy (in English of course, even though there is a Dutch translation available) and read an excellent book by a new American writer, Krista Phillips, "Sandwich with a side of romance". The title is sweeter than the book ;)

    I don't read Dutch writers as they tend to us too many profanities in their books (that's the way to write here apparently) and I don't like that.

  4. I was the same with the literature from the school days, but today I have started to read those books. I think being so many years older makes them more entertaining. I have Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone. If I wait for a bus etc. I just have a read. I read Lord of the Rings a couple of years ago and also The Hobbit The only Dutch novels I know are the Van der Valk stories by Nicholas Freeling, but have never read them. Might be an idea.

  5. I'm with you, as you know, Pat with the Scandewegian crime thrillers. In fact I was in my local library today and they have received the whole set of Sjowell and Wahloo novels. So I'm in my element! I'm a bit like Mitch - the Internet is a bit distracting, But I force myself to read before bed every night (even if it's only a chapter). But I'm a very slow reader; I have to read every word and consider the author's turn of phrase as I read. Whether that means I enjoy them more than quicker readers, I don't know.

  6. I love my books and read every night rather than watch TV unless there is something I really want to see. I used to read anything and everything so long as it was fiction. Never love stories. I can't think of anything worse. Now I have found my neich and read fantasy. Like Lord of the rings, Hobbit, etc.I also have many many spiritual and self help books. In fact I write them.

  7. WOW! I'd be happy with just your living room bookshelf! The bite? I have less books since we moved, but still too many to fit nicely into the pitifully small bookshelves I currently own. I need to work on this problem, OR, I need to start walking more and get down to the library. The sting? I have agoraphobia.