Despite the growth of e-readers and digital technology, New Yorkers are spending more time in libraries than ever, says a new report out today from the Center for an Urban Future about the changing role of our city’s public libraries in the digital age. This week on WNYC’s New Tech City, host Manoush Zomorodi delves into the topic and finds the contemporary library is about more than just digitizing documents and lending e-books to patrons on their Kindles and iPads.
This ought to be interesting. Words make worlds.
Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.
—Franz Kafka, from a letter to Oskar Pollak dated January 27, 1904.
Walter Brueggemann loosely cited this passage from Kafka in our interview being released this week and so, while fact-checking the script, we thought we’d verify for attribution. And, we wanted to read what he originally wrote. Following is the German version from which the English was translated:
"Ich glaube, man sollte überhaupt nur solche Bücher lesen, die einen beißen und stechen. Wenn das Buch, das wir lesen, uns nicht mit einem Faustschlag auf den Schädel weckt, wozu lesen wir dann das Buch? Damit es uns glücklich macht, wie Du schreibst? Mein Gott, glücklich wären wir eben auch, wenn wir keine Bücher hätten, und solche Bücher, die uns glücklich machen, könnten wir zur Not selber schreiben. Wir brauchen aber die Bücher, die auf uns wirken wie ein Unglück, das uns sehr schmerzt, wie der Tod eines, den wir lieber hatten als uns, wie wenn wir in Wälder verstoßen würden, von allen Menschen weg, wie ein Selbstmord, ein Buch muß die Axt sein für das gefrorene Meer in uns. Das glaube ich."
Photo by Celeste RC/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Books that Changed Your Life
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Trent and I have been talking about how to discuss books on the blog. We get tons of books every week and while we look at all of them, and read some of them, I don’t think we have either the capacity or the interest for a regular book feature. But we are aware that books are a big part of the DNA of our program and website, even though we hardly ever do what is commonly considered a “book interview.”
It’s in the nature of the program to care deeply about books that matter, and to have deep respect for the textual basis of tradition. So, for us, the focus on books has less to do with what is being published recently and more to do with how they have had a deep impact, or capture a topic or a story in a way we just can’t resist.
I think of our show with Mary Doria Russell, "The Novelist As God," as an example of a program that arose out of a singular attraction to an author’s work. An exception to the “we don’t do book interviews” rule happened early in the show’s history. When Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book, Doubt: A History, had just been published, we pursued her because we thought it was just so brilliant.
There are books that become so important to us they become like old friends. Or, books that we find so transformative our lives are never the same. In about 1979, I picked up a copy of
D.T. Shunryu Suzuki’s slim volume, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in a book store and was so struck by the lines I read I bought it and took it home to read. And I’ve never stopped reading it.
At one time, I transcribed the entire book by hand into a notebook as a meditative practice. I’m not a Buddhist, but this man’s words settled in to my being to stay. Now, that paperback is missing its cover. Its pages are dog-eared, and I’ve written grocery lists and phone numbers on the flyleaves.
briefly above in the trailer from a documentary about him, was one of the major importers of Zen Buddhism to the West. What were his words that so captivated me? “In the beginner’s mind,” he wrote, “there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
What are the books that have changed your life? What are the books that became your best friend?
UPDATE: We inadvertently conflated the two Suzukis, and so struck some language, replaced the video (but kept the link to the D.T. documentary), and swapped out the photo as well. Thanks to chucklief for leaving the comment below and correcting our mistake.
Some Light Summer Reading?
Whew! It’s hard to keep up with all the books that get sent to us for consideration. The table in our office fills up quickly each week, and since our territory is “religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas” we get a little bit of everything. Some are good fits, others are too abstract; some come with thoughtful pitches about why the author would be a good guest for us, others have no relevance and I assume come just because we got on some publisher’s mass distribution list.
While we make earnest attempts to plough through these, the reality is we pay attention to program ideas from many diverse sources. But looking at the stack on the table this week made me wonder what summer reads our listeners are enjoying that might be of interest to us. Please tell us — but don’t send us a copy, OK?