Books, Axes, & Frozen Seas

Franz Kafka wrote
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading 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 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 a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

To freeze an ocean is a marvelous thing. Not “maaaarvelous” like the caviar at the society gal’s function. Marvelous like – awe-inspiring, astonishing, producing a sense of wonder.

Now that it’s gotten colder, I’ve been thinking a lot about freezing – especially when walking past the drafty basement door or into the kitchen which was not an original part of the house and so stays about ten degrees colder than the rest; or, when I have to venture out for mail, recycling, garbage, walking the dog and the cold is so strong it suck the heat from the soles of my shoes and the bitter wind knocks the rest out on top.

I used to focus on the book part of that quote – “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”  But not now. The power of literature is that it wakens us, moves us, breaks through our walls. Walking by the frozen river the other day I stopped to observe the wonder of it all. The waves are literally frozen in place – all movement has stopped even though it has the appearance of movement. In some parts, frozen slabs pushed by the remaining flows are cracked, crowded, and forcibly collided with the ice already frozen creating a cascade of tectonic-like rifts. How must it feel to be so immovable yourself that only outside forces can change your position? How must it feel to be forced under, on top, in half, or crushed with an outside force?

Wind whipped waves washed over each other until the cold air trapped them in position. What does a frozen heart look like?

Does it have the appearance of movement?

Is it a picture of perfection, but hiding a great secret underneath?

Does it reflect the sun rather than absorb it?

How do we break that “sea frozen within us”?

Can we break it? Or, must some outside force batter and crash against us until we are forced to yield under the pressure?

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