Masterpiece Monday: The Trial

Rating: 2 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

It took me almost a month, but I’m finally done with Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925). Unfortunately, it did not enthrall me like his short stories, but at least I can cross it off my 5 Classics I Really Want to Read list.

The story follows Josef K (referred to mainly as “K.”), a bank official who is arrested on his 30th birthday for a crime unknown to both him and the reader. For an entire year, K. must seek legal advice from lawyers, relatives, love interests, and fellow accused men.

All this effort proves worthless, however, since K. is captured the night before he turns 31. Dragged to a quarry outside of town, he’s placed on a butcher block. Aware that he is supposed to grab the two men’s knife as they pass it back and forth to commit suicide, he refuses and lets them stab him in the heart–in his words, “Like a dog!”

It was not the subject matter which made me dislike The Trial. Kafka’s morbidity is intriguing, and his prose is engaging. Like many existentialists, Kafka’s life was so influential on his work, and therefore extremely fascinating to literary critics.

Born to a middle-class, German-speaking, Jewish family in Prague, Kafka suffered from alienation and self-loathing. His relationship with his father was strained, and his five siblings all died prematurely, his two brothers when Kafka was a child, and his three sisters during the Holocaust after Kafka had died of tuberculosis.

Much of Kafka’s personal life has been left to interpretation, with theories ranging from schizophrenia, anorexia, and homosexuality. A deeply private and troubled man, Kafka never intended to gain fame from his writing. In fact, he explicitly told his closest friend, Max Brod, to burn all his work after his death.

As much as I empathize with Kafka’s wishes, I am glad Brod ignored them. Otherwise, we would have no record of one of the greatest writers of all time. While I don’t consider The Trial Kafka’s best work, I appreciated its reference to another of his stories, “Before the Law.”

Kafka’s own legal background inspired his occupation with the machinations of the government and justice system. If he was not a man without a niche, struggling to find his place in the world, his insights would not be nearly as powerful. It’s simply amazing to think that this novel foreshadows the horror that is to befall Europe in World War II. Although his life could never be described as peaceful, I’m actually glad it ended when it did, rather than witness the tragedy that would take the rest of his family.

Favorite Quote: “Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of my case I wanted to finish it, and at the end of it I wanted to begin it again?”

Masterpiece Monday: 5 Classics I Really Want to Read

So if you’re like me, for some reason (boredom, intrigue, shame over your reality show obsessions like “America’s Next Top Model”), you’ve Googled “best books of all time.” I love reading the classics, and every now and then I like to spice up my reading with some intellect. Usually after a string of chick-lit novels, I’m craving a challenge.

Right now I’m enjoying Francesca Segal’s The Innocents, but often find myself feeling nostalgic for its inspiration: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. This, of course, makes me look forward to reading another Wharton novel waiting for me on my bookshelf: The House of Mirth.

Thus, I thought that I would share with you my list of the five classics that I really want to read soon, starting with The House of Mirth.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905): The title is derived from Ecclesiastes 7:4, which states, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” That little tidbit of info alone tells me that this story is going to be dramatically tragic, and hopefully in the best possible way. When it comes to the struggles of upper-class women in the Gilded Age, Wharton is queen, and I am her humble reading servant.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877): This tale covers two goals on my reading list–experience another great ‘fallen woman’ story and finally read a Russian author. I’ve been recommended this novel by a few of you guys, and I trust your judgment. Plus, I seriously can’t get enough of 19th-century women pushing the boundaries of femininity and morality. It’s like literary crack to me!

Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945): This is a story which I already know a lot about, since I watched the film adaptation in my high school European History class, and I routinely reference it as an example of allegory to my students. And frankly, I’m tired of mentioning a book that I still haven’t actually read. I fell head over heels in love with 1984, so there’s little chance that I’ll dislike Animal Farm. Why I continue to put off good reading, I’ll never know!

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961): I feel that if you’re going to use “catch-22” regularly in conversation, you might as well read the book which originated the term. I don’t actively seek out war stories, but it sounds like Catch-22 is much more than that. I’m a big fan of satire and anything chock-full of mentally stimulating themes and allusions, so I’m pretty sure this fits the bill.

The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925): I already love Kafka after reading his amazing shorter works, such as “A Hunger Artist” and “The Metamorphosis.” His writing is unique: bizarre, existential, and humorously morbid. Even though he died before he could finish writing it, I don’t want to die before I can finish reading it!

So what are the classics that you haven’t gotten around to yet, but you definitely want to read? Share your picks, and offer your opinions on mine!

And check back next week, because I’ll be discussing the five classics that I NEVER want to read. Any guesses???

Vote for my 20th (and possibly last) book of the year!

Ok readers, I have a favor to ask of you! I’ve set a goal for myself that I will read 20 books this year. Actually, this goal wasn’t intended, but looking at my reading pace a few months ago, I figured 20 would be a nice, achievable number (I’m not including any non-fiction I’ve read this year). Many of you probably read 20 books in a month, but alas I have sacrificed most of my potential reading time to grad school.

Anyways, I’m currently reading my 19th novel, A Desirable Residence by Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella), which is a pleasant piece of chick-lit after my run of dsytopian classics. And now I’d like YOU to vote for my 20th book of the year! (Considering how busy I am writing my final paper and preparing for the holidays, it’s quite possible that it might even be my last book of 2011! *cue ominous music* DUN DUN DUN!!!

Here’s your choices:

  1. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  3. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  4. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Summer and the City by Candace Bushnell

So let me know which one I should read and why…My fate is now in your hands!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving break, and–of course–thanks for reading!

Love, Book Club Babe

Masterpiece Monday: Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” (Tribute to Catch-22)

Catch-22

Image via Wikipedia

Rating: 5 out of 5

Today’s the 50th anniversary of the publication of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, but because I haven’t read it yet, I unfortunately can’t blog about it for Masterpiece Monday. However, I thought I would pay tribute to that classic by discussing another story representing a “catch-22.”

The definition of the term (thanks Google!) is “A dilemma from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.” In the original novel, it described the fighter pilot protagonist’s inability to escape combat by requesting a pysch evaluation to determine if he is unfit to fly–the very request would prove he’s sane enough to fly.

I chose to discuss Franz Kafka’s short story “A Hunger Artist,” because Kafka is also king of writing about lose-lose situations. Published in 1922, it narrates the life of a nameless hunger artist, a person whose circus act is starving himself for his fans. He was extremely popular at first, with many viewers surrounding his cage to get a good look at him. But over time, fasting lost its appeal, and the hunger artist struggles to continue his craft despite his irrelevance.

The catch-22 in this story is that the longer he starves, the higher his personal record (a feat essential to him, given that his boss originally placed a 40-day limit to his fasting). However, the longer he starves, the closer he gets to dying and thus officially loses the audience he so desperately wants to impress. Food is both his problem and his solution.

I love Kafka’s work, because he manages to make morbid, serious subjects like starving or turning into an insect and make them humorous. You pity the hunger artist for his situation, but you also are proud of his determination to succeed no matter what. Kafka’s calm, detached writing style combined with powerful imagery is why his stories deserve to be called masterpieces.

If you’ve read Catch-22, please share your thoughts on its anniversary today. I’d love to know if you’d recommend it! In exchange, if you haven’t read any Kafka, you should! I’m sure both authors will influence generations of readers for years and years to come!

Favorite Quote: “Forgive me everything,” whispered the hunger artist. Only the supervisor, who was pressing his ear up against the cage, understood him. “Certainly,” said the supervisor, tapping his forehead with his finger in order to indicate to the staff the state the hunger artist was in, “we forgive you.” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “But we do admire it,” said the supervisor obligingly. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then, we don’t admire it,” said the supervisor, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I had to fast. I can’t do anything else,” said the hunger artist.