Kafka’s Hat is Patrice Martin’s story of a man who embarks on a quest to pick up the hat that once belonged to a famous writer for his boss. It’s much lighter than anything actually by Kafka, and also owes a great deal to Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Auster. In the end it becomes a story about all those writers, but with a very light touch. It feels less substantial than those great writers’ works but a good complement.
I have a couple of quibbles with the characterization of P. one of the main characters. I don’t know if, even in the post-hoc rationalizing way that makes sense when you’re writing Kafka pastiche, a couple of the decisions P. made were actually earned by the character. At several moments P. felt less like a person caught in greater machinations than a playing piece being pushed by a writer. This is, obviously, a fairly fine distinction, as all characters are caught in the machinations of their writers, but I feel like if you’re drawing Kafka comparisons you’d better bring your A game.
But the problems I had were minor quibbles. The book is slight, yet solid. I would argue with the promotional copy about it being “delightfully absurd” (Jasper Fforde’s work seems more dlightful than this) but I definitely enjoyed my time reading it.
Why Read the Classics? is a collection of essays by Italo Calvino about literature. He discusses Ovid and Aristotle and Homer, all the way to Hemingway and Borges. Calvino writes interestingly enough about the topics, but especially when it came to authors I hadn’t read a lot of, the essays weren’t so compelling as to make me want to fix these gaps in my education. Probably my favourite essay was the one about Hemingway and why people love and then abandon his work, basically without huge embarrassment. So yes, a decent book but not the weird and awesome experimental writing of Calvino’s that I prefer.
My book for October was Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions. It was the book I returned to amidst all the school reading, when I needed something beautiful to enter my brain. The stories are very short. There are many many knife fights. And labyrinths. And doubles. A few libraries. Some philosophical treatises. Many excellent quotes about art and letters and all of that. The fact that Borges was a librarian does give me hope. Hope that I won’t disappear into a job as I work my way along through this life.
I know a girl who reads the Bible with her boyfriend. Maybe I know several who do this, but I specifically know that this is something this one girl and her boyfriend share. I would never be able to take such a practice seriously. Not the proper amount of reverence in me. But I could see a book like this one filling that same role in a life. You pull the book down and read a few pages with your lover, a little tale. And discuss what it all might mean.