The Axe

Photo by Simon Berger on

“A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us.” —-Franz Kafka

I love to read. The most horrible thing that might ever happen to me would be to lose my sight. I can’t even imagine not being able to turn the pages of a book, or surf the Internet for stories and news. I would miss watching movies and televisions shows. I would long for the views into my backyard or from my car in my travels. I am a visual learner, a person who has to see in order to believe. I have found great joy inside the pages of books.

My favorites are the ones that teach me things that I did not know or with points of view so different from my own . I remember reading The Kite Runner and reconsidering all of the stereotypes that I had about Afghanistan and its people. The same was true of Things Fall Apart, a story with a different viewpoint toward colonialism. Both novels challenged me to reorganize my thoughts, to question my beliefs. They chopped open the frozen sea inside my mind and became two of my favorite works of fiction. 

Isaac’s Storm took me to a familiar place and a well known story, but it introduced me to the backstory of an event that I believed I knew quite well. Set in the days and hours before the nineteen hundred hurricane that ravaged Galveston, Texas it is a stunning look into humankind’s hubris and vulnerability. It tells of a time when Galveston, Texas was a sparkling city by the bay, a place of high finance and success. Seen through the story of Isaac, the local weather expert is unfolds into one of the greatest tragedies of all time. Since reading that true account I see Galveston in a very way than I once did. I feel the spirits of all the innocents who died each time I visit. I now have a kind of reverence for those who perished. 

Such books dare me to leave the isolation and privilege of my own life and to see worldviews very different from my own. One book leads me to another in my quest to learn even more about the places and ideas presented in the pages between the covers. Whether fact or fiction I prefer those that ask me to suspend my personal judgements and to place myself into another person’s shoes if only for a time.

It seems that the more I read, the more I change. i learn new words, new customs, new philosophies, new truths. Books awaken the sleeping corners of my mind and force me to become less inward and more inclined to appreciate differences. I become the citizen of the world that my high school English teacher challenged me to be. He introduced me to authors that I had not known like Albert Camus and Franz Kafka. Their works were metaphysical and strange to an innocent girl who had rarely ever left her hometown or even the street on which she lived. 

Reading The Lord of the Flies was exciting but sometimes confusing because I had never met people whom I thought might become so uncivilized in a situation when they should have been working together. Then I saw the rumblings of such behavior during the recent pandemic. I saw that those wild young men may not have been so out of character after all. 

Truth is often stranger that fiction, but a good tale captures the essence of the human story. It teaches us and asks us to consider that our ways of living are not the be all and end all that we may think. A well crafted character introduces us to people that we might otherwise never meet and opens our minds to the idea of crossing over the chasms between us. We learn that when all is said and done each of us longs for safety, kindness, autonomy, love. We are not so different after all.

I outgrew fairytales long ago I no longer want only happy endings or characters with magical lives. I expect authors to chop away at the still frozen parts of my mind. I grow with every such encounter and it is good.


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