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January Catch-Up – Five Reviews

I feel like this is going to be another whirlwind year in slow motion (yes, that’s a thing). Goodreads says I’m already behind on my reading challenge. Oh well—I’ve been reading, anyway!

Here are some books I’ve needed to review but didn’t feel like doing an entire post or video about. Naturally, it’s turned out to be a long post, so brace yourselves…

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Is That Kafka? 99 Finds

While researching for his 3-part trilogy about Franz Kafka, biographer Reiner Stach found some interesting tidbits and scraps of writing from the author’s life. He has published these in several supplemental volumes: one being The Lost Writings and another being Is That Kafka? This book of “99 Finds” is essentially a mini-biography, told in vignettes and trivia about Kafka, spanning from his childhood (b. 1883) to his death (1924).

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Grateful: Kafka’s Lost Writings, etc

In my off-hours this week, I’ve been absorbing The Lost Writings of Franz Kafka. This little book is an enchanting diversion from social media. It also made me realize I’d been in a reading rut. Not for lack of reading, or even good reading material, but for lack of joy.

It is funny that a writer such as Kafka could bring me joy. (The sketch about the bread loaf that refused to be cut was downright hilarious.) Yet in these forgotten excerpts, there is a gentleness and humor that pulls you in, without neglecting the darker shadows of life that he, like us, knew only too well. Kafka shows a human, even tender, side in scraps of writing such as “I can swim as well as the others…“, “I loved a girl who loved me back…“, and “I am fighting; no one knows it…” Then the irony—that he wanted all of this burned!

I am grateful, selfishly perhaps, there is still more Kafka to be read.


This will be my family’s smallest Thanksgiving yet, I think—just us. It’s technically illegal to meet with multiple families here, but we wouldn’t anyway because of my grandparents’ health. It will feel a little strange, compared to past years, but I’m glad we can still celebrate even in a small way. I’ll be contributing for the first time (baking cookies!), and Friday we’re putting up the big Christmas tree. So it should be a good time in spite of everything.

I have quite a stack of books to read and am hoping to make a dent in it this weekend. If all goes well, expect a slew of reviews!

I hope you all have lovely Thanksgiving if you celebrate, and a great day regardless. I’m so grateful for all of you!

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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Edition:  LibriVox audiobook (public domain).  This was read by David Barnes, who also recorded Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  His reading style is easy to listen to (not too slow or too fast or anything), and I highly recommend it. 
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars.  This would probably be on my list of must-read’s.

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

When I first considered reading The Metamorphosis, I had mixed feelings about it.  I had heard it was a classic, and I knew the basic plot.  But was it just going to be another one of those dark, melancholy, speculative books with little or no definite meaning?  It’s a short book (the LibriVox recording is only about 2 1/2 hours long).  I decided to give it a try and listen to it in the car, on my way to and from school.

The opening sentence above is, I think, far more interesting than a plot summary would be.  Also interesting is the fact that the title of the book is not what you think it is.  In other words, we’re never told how Gregor became an insect, nor is his “insect self” the focus of the story.  The real “metamorphosis” in the story isn’t about him at all.

Gregor never changes, but the story brings out his character, in lieu of character development.  From start to finish, he comes across as being a very ordinary young man, except for one fact; and that is his extremely selfless, forgiving love for his parents and sister.  Before and after becoming an insect, Gregor puts his family first.  At times he actually forgets his own problems; and instead he dreams of recovery and returning to work to support them, as he had dutifully done before.  He does not constantly pity himself.  In fact, he feels guilty, as if all their problems were a result of his own actions.

I think it is amazing (if not genius) how Kafka was able to take an idea which sounds silly and yet write a very serious and poignant story around it.  Really, though, the focus of the story is not the most unusual aspect (Gregor turning into an insect); but rather, the book is about how people treat Gregor, and each other.  If I were to describe the plot in detail, it would be giving too much away; what I will say, however, is that what this book portrays is very true, disturbingly so. The Samsa family represents a callous, self-centered attitude, something which is selfish even when it is seems to be doing good.  Gregor, innocent though he is, has to pay for it.

The thing to remember is that this isn’t just fantasy.  These kinds of things, in essence, really can happen.  It is a depressing story, as I had expected it would be; but its message is so true that I think it’s definitely worth reading.  Especially in a world where, unfortunately, people often take a very careless view of human life.

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