A Reading List Inspired by Kafka

I have the worst book hangover I’ve ever had in my life. I keep thinking about Stach’s biography of Kafka, and Kafka’s life and everything related to Kafka. I am having a hard time focusing on other books this week. As I was reading Stach I keep a list in my notebook of books that Kafka read, kept in his library, or mentioned often. Most of the books on my list were already sitting on my shelf awaiting my attention. I am thinking of slowly trying to make my way through some of these books next. If Kafka loved them, then maybe I will too.

Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education. The Letters of Gustave Flaubert 1830-1857. Sentimental Education is mentioned in all three volumes of Stach’s biography because it was one of Kafka’s favorite books. He even learned French so he could read it in the original language. Flaubert’s style of writing was one Kafka wished to emulate.

Franz Grillparzer, “The Poor Musician.” This short story was one of Kafka’s favorites. I have Volume 37 of the German Library which I bought to read Stifter, so I was thrilled to find that the Grillparzer story is in the same collection.

Heimito von Doderer, The Lighted Windows. Doderer’s name comes up a few times in Stach’s biography. Thanks to a Twitter post from flowerville, I had already bought this Doderer book. Now I have more motivation to finally read it!

Heinrich von Kleist. Hyperion; The Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist; An Abyss Deep Enough-The Letters of Heinrich von Kleist. Kleist is one of Kafka’s go-t0 authors. I’ve already read, and loved, Penthesilea, but I still have Hyperion sitting on my shelf awaiting my attention. Kafka actually loved to read the letters of Kleist, Flaubert and Hebbel.

Rainer Maria Rilke. Letters to a Young Poet; Letters on Life; Letters Summer 1926 with Pasternak and Tsvetayeva; The Notebooks of Laurids Brigge. Rilke, who was also born and raised in Prague, is mentioned a few times in Stach’s biography. Rilke and Kafka actually met briefly at a literary reading. I’ve had most of these Rilke books sitting on my shelves for a while and I am now very eager to explore his writings.

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain; Death in Venice and Other Stories; Thomas Mann Diaries 1918-1939; Thomas Mann Letters. As a contemporary of Kafka whose novels were very popular Mann is mentioned several times by Stach. Kafka and Brod, while vacationing in Italy, met Mann’s brother Heinrich as well.

Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or; Kierkegaard-Letters and Documents; Works of Love; The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard by W.H. Auden. One of Kafka’s last diary entries is about Either/Or. But it was not so much his philosophy that Kafka was interested in as his personal life. Kierkegaard also had a failed loved affair and a broken engagement with a woman named Regine. So I am reading these letters as well as a biography of Kierkegaard recently written by Stephen Backhouse.

Max Brod. Three Loves. One of the things that I learned from Stach’s biography is that Max Brod was a prolific writer. The amount of novels, articles and reviews he turned out is astonishing but very few of them have been translated into English. I was lucky enough to find a rare copy of his novel Three Loves which hasn’t been in print since the 1930’s at my favorite NYC bookstore, The Strand.

This is by no means a complete list. These are the ones that piqued my curiosity and that I could find in English translation. There are many other books that I would liked to have included, but are not translated into English. Friedrich Hebbel, Felix Weltsch, and Oscar Baum, just to name a few. It was actually Hebbel’s 1800-page diary he was reading when Kafka wrote the famous line in his letter to his friend Oskar Pollack: “A book must be an axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

On an unrelated note, I also have the three volume autobiography of Simone de Beauvoir that I am contemplating reading. I also just bought a few of the novels and volumes of poetry written by H.D. I am hoping one of these books will pull me out of my rut! If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.


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33 responses to “A Reading List Inspired by Kafka

  1. Have you read Bruno Schulz, by any chance? He has a not-Kafka-but-kinda-Kafka flavor, and the new translation of his stories is superb.

    Reading and re-reading Kafka, the importance to him of Kleist has grown and grown. Kleist and Hoffmann may be the only true influences on Kafka. What an original.

    A plunge into “Kafka and his forbears and descendants” sounds like a great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Recommendation to you isn’t easy feet but if a novice like me could recommend some books to you how about this writers
    Jarmila by Ernst Weiss
    Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane
    Fräulein Else Arthur Schnitzler
    Andreas by Hugo von Hofmannsthal

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It doesn’t get any better than The Magic Mountain in my experience. And I second Tom’s recommendation of Bruno Schulz. The blurb from I. B. Singer on my older Penguin copy of his Street of Crocodiles says, “He wrote sometimes like Kafka, sometimes like Proust, and at times succeeded in reaching depths neither of them reached.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Melissa, I think you’ll enjoy reading deBeauvoir’s three autobiographical books. They’re quite enlightening, revealing life in France, growing up as a young woman of whom parental and societal expectations are placed upon her, and later, her complex relationship with Sartre. Please keep us posted on your thoughts and conclusions as you read through the three books.

    Ellen L.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Melissa, I would like to write you a letter. I am reading books all the time and wanted to share my readings with you. Do you have a PO Box of some kind? My name is Richard M.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Feel free to send an email.


      • Good Afternoon Melissa,
        I recommend reading the Life of Beethoven written by Jan Swafford. Jan is a man, but he has a Doctoral degree in Music. It is one of the best books I have ever read in my whole life and I have read thousands of books. I had no idea how interesting music can be until I read this book.
        Secondly, do you accept letters of any kind at a PO Box or thru a third party? I realize that you cannot give out a personal address due to your position. How do people contact you by US Mail? Thank you. Richard M.


      • Thanks for the recommendation. I don’t accept US mail from readers. If someone wants to contact me they use my email.


  6. Hey, I’ve read a few of them!

    Kafka loved Flaubert, I wouldn’t have guessed that. I think that it could be interesting to read Madame Bovary and Effi Briest in a row to compare the fate of the two women. Although I think that Flaubert has that caustic French tone that is missing in Fontane’s novel.

    L’Education sentimentale is great but Trois contes is worth reading too.

    If you’re suffering from Kafka withdrawal, I can only recommend Milena by Margaret Buber-Neuman, a biography of Milena Jesenska. Well, you know who she is, I don’t need to tell more, except that it’s a great glimpse at the Prague of that time.

    I loved Letters to a Young Poet. I had it in audio book and I highly recommend to hear it aloud, it’s even more powerful.
    I had more difficulties with The Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge.
    Rilke has such a beautiful style and I suspect it translates even better into English than into French.

    There are billets about Madame Bovary and Rilke on my blog.

    PS: For me, Kafka is like Proust. Literary geniuses but they must have been hard to live with

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much, Emma! I have read Effi Briest and really enjoyed it. I do have a biography of Milena which I ought to read as well. I will definitely read your Rilke and Bovary billets. Thanks for pointing them out to me!


  7. Oh I do empathise. A bad book hangover is the worst! But you have some wonderful potential antidotes there and I can highly recommend immersing yourself either in the Magic Mountain or in the Rilke books (particularly Letters…) because either of those will absorb you completely. Mind you, so will the Simone de Beauvoir – wonderful author. Her The Mandarins is a big novel worth reading too!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh, and I need to add my voice to those suggesting Bruno Schulz – his work is unforgettable!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve not come across the phrase “book hangover” before, but I like it! Hope you find something great to sink your teeth into next 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been using it to describe the lost and aimless feeling I get when I finish a great book and can’t settle on something else. But I can’t take credit for it. I’m sure I’ve seen a few of my bibliophile friends use it, although I can’t remember which ones at the moment!


  10. Nat

    This is a great list. I recently re-purchased Sentimental Education (after replacing it with an ebook that turned out to be defective during a recent move) so I’m looking forward to that one.

    I love Kleist and Kierkegaard (and it doesn’t surprise me that Kafka did too). I’m especially fond of Kleist’s The Prince of Homborg, and I rather wonder what Kafka would have made of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Kafka was the one who got me started on Rilke, so I completely understand your wish to delve into his works too. A lesser known but utterly beautiful work by Rilke – at least in German – is his translation of the Portuguese Letters, the love letters of the Portuguese nun Marianna Alcoforado. They sound like Rilke but with a feminine touch, just gorgeous!


  12. Vishy

    Beautiful post and beautiful list, Melissa! I read a little but of Flaubert’s ‘A Sentimental Education’ years back when I was did a French Literature Reading Year, but I got distracted and couldn’t continue with it. Hope to read it one of these days. I have read a few stories of Kleist – he is so wonderful. Hoping to read more. I am hoping to read Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge for German Literature Month this month. Thanks so much for sharing this Kafka related reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve been meaning to read Death in Venice for so long! I do love when you read a book and it leads you to lots of other books.


  14. I have experienced many book hangovers. Good readers understand the term. Richard M.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Liz

    Wow what a fantastic list – plenty to keep you out of mischief for a while!

    Liked by 1 person

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