walking the other way.
Sales reps (& my co-workers) - them I trust. Their opinions are based on reading waaaaay more books than I regularly read and they've got me good and pegged. Which is, in fact, the job description. We all get labels and under those labels are book titles and when those books are recommended or not by people who've been selling my boss books for years and then I come along with my obsessive reading of The Odyssey and Les Mis and Rainbow Rowell and Christopher Moore and Linda Medley it's nothing to them. Here, they say, read The Art of Joy. Here, try this new translation of The Iliad. Have some Ivan Vladivasic. Maybe this one about cooking food for your face. I am putty in their hands.
Life goal achieved. New levels of book love unlocked.
And then, and now, there is Karl Ove Knausgaard. He wrote a bunch of books. Six of them make up My Struggle (yep, Hitler's book title (yes it's deliberate)(no, he's not an obsessive genocidal power mad mustache haver)(although he does seem to sport a mustache on a regular basis)(dude facial hair is, well, confusing sometimes)).
I picked up and promptly put down the first book at least five times in the space of 2 weeks. The blurbs suggested some navel-gazing self-indulgent masturbatory violently lyrical dude novel and the photo on the cover did nothing to change that impression. You may be surprised to learn that I am not the intended reader of those books. Also, people seemed to suggest that Knausgaard is like Proust or (worse) The Beats. I've read some Proust. I adore him. I've read some of The Beats. I do not allow their books into my home. You see my struggle, I think? But then - well a tenth of Norway has read his books. One Tenth of An Entire Country. And not any country, a country that is one of the great loves of one of my most favorite people on the planet.
The best test of whether a book will even get read is to simply pick it up, open it up and read what it shows me. What it showed me was humor and a couple of children in a tense but not unfamiliar childhood moment. I bought Book One. And read it. In one day.
I have read Books Two & Three and am desperate for the Fourth one to be released next year.
This is not easy reading. Even the subtitles can do nothing to lighten the constantly tense internal processing of this narrator. Knausgaard's writing is grounded firmly in the physical world. A person could learn much about cooking and house cleaning and the processes of childcare from these books. I spent several hours wandering forests, snow-filled tracks and urban sidewalks and restaurants. The storytelling is paramount here with tales nested in each other like parenthetical phrases or lines of melody in a fugue. I see them not so much novels as exercises in craft with a lifetime of subject matter to hand.
There are important conversations happening around them and their author: when will we get one of these written by a woman, more relevantly when will we recognize this level of craft in works that already exist written by people who aren't straight cis white guys? What is up with all of the worrying about the presentation of masculinity (o.m.g.) and what does it say about gender obsession? Does every autobiographical novel written by a cis dude have to be compared to Proust or The Beats? What process of writing leaves room for the kind of associative segues that Knausgaard uses to connect his ruminations on death and Death and children and childhood and parents and parenting? Are the Swedish really like that? What happens to people whose selves are shown by such an observant and detailed third party?
It is no exaggeration to say that I love these books. The hype notwithstanding.
|See, now this cover I like. Probably because I had that haircut once.|