By October 18, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

The Transformation

Has anyone ever walked into a book group meeting expecting to be wildly bored? You didn’t select the reading, it didn’t thrill you, and you’d rather be at home reading something else, except you need to lead tonight’s discussion. That’s how I felt at the start of the evening.

Last night I attended one of the liveliest, most insightful discussions I’ve ever experienced. What were we excited about? Franz Kafka‘s “The Metamorphosis”. This short story is book group ready with plenty of great discussion topics, interesting author background, and even humor.

Most culturally literate readers know who Gregor Samsa is even if they haven’t Kafka’s masterpiece.   It’s not a long story and you’re not cheating very much if you read the graphic novel adapted by Peter Kuper. They didn’t even need me. The eight readers who gathered at my table couldn’t wait to get started. They all started to speculate on what Gregor had done to turn into a giant insect. One reader suggested he’d led a joyless life and another piped in stating that Kafka thought this was a humorous conceit and she’d laughed at the absurdity of it all. Then we discussed the humanity of all the characters. We were intrigued that Gregor retained his human-ness even though he’d lost his ability to communicate with his family. We marveled at the family’s gradual loss of humanity through the ordeal and while we understood why, we still felt uncomfortable with the family’s actions. The charwoman fascinated a couple of readers very much since she was the only character to talk directly to Gregor and assumed he understood her.

Finally, we wrapped up conversation by looking at the absurdist elements of the story. It’s very easy to take this story too seriously and look for larger social concerns and symbols. But we also felt that Kafka was asking his reader for a pretty large suspension of disbelief with a hero who woke up as a giant beetle and no explanation or question why for the reader or from Gregor himself.

Book groups that have been hesitant to take on the classics might look at this short story for stimulating conversation and an exploration of what is ‘Kafkaesque.’ Discussion might be better than you expected.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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