Very Good Paragraphs

Came across this one, from one of Kafka’s letters, in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom:

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? So that it shall make us happy? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.

I love how this starts out as contentious and misanthropic and then swerves to end on something akin to salvation and hope.

I’ve got more to say on Sade’s book, but for a future post. For now this quote’s going on the wall of my office.

The Return of Very Good Paragraphs

To celebrate the return of this steady feature (well, as steady as anything is here), I’ve got two from the 10 Dec 2018 issue of The New Yorker, which is as far as I’m caught up.

First up is this bit from the Joy Williams story, “Chaunt” [1]:

When Jane Click still read, she preferred the language of displacement and estrangement that prepared a path to revelation over language that simply refreshed and enlarged upon what she already knew. But if you asked her what was the very last book that she had read—that one that had ultimately led her to the conclusion that books wanted only to expose and destroy you, tear your heart out and leave it in the dust, like the soul of a murdered and soon forgotten little animal—she wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Next is this ¶ from Louis Menand’s piece on literary hoaxes, the part of the piece that most made me want to write one:

Does this all mean it’s a game? Yes, in a sense. Literature is a game with language, and hoaxing alerts us to the fact that the rules are not written down anywhere—in the same way that someone who goes barefoot to a wedding alerts us to the fact that there are actually no regulations governing these things. Those acts draw our attention to the thinness of the social fabric by tearing a little piece of it. Literary hoaxes appeal to critics and theorists because they expose the fragility of the norms of reading.

Here’s maybe the place to point out that, amid a Twitter discussion this weekend on which Hogwarts house I was a member of, I chose Slytherin.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Shameful, this might be the first Joy Williams story I’ve read. And of course it was incredible, the best story I’ve read in months. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.