Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life

There are biographies of literary icons, and then there's James Hawes' s Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life. In this case, you can judge a book by its cover. An ironic play on Kafka's story "Metamorphosis" has the insect lounging cross-legged, reading a bug-sized version of this book that's illustrated with a postage-stamp sized photo of "our hero" brooding darkly. Though Hawes holds a Ph.D. in German literature, his content is anything but dry or academic. Instead, he reveals Kafka the man in an extended, enthusiastic conversation, full of rambling asides and copious footnotes that read like conspiratorial whispers: "In the summer of 1913, Kafka bangs endlessly on about 'necessity,' that favorite concept of every German since Hegel who ever planned to do something morally dubious." Hawes takes great pains to put the oft misunderstood Kafka in the context of his time by offering a snapshot of the sweeping changes that overtook Mitteleuropa in the early 20th century. Then, he fleshes out the many sides of Kafka the person: lawyer, writer, smitten suitor, hypochondriac with a taste for bizarre porn. Using letters, diary excerpts, news clippings, photos, and illustrations (yes, some of the contents of the locked bookcase are revealed!), Hawes produces an edifying and thoroughly entertaining portrait that urges readers to revisit those classic stories once more because, he argues, "Kafka the writer sees more honestly than Kafka the man."

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.