Boris Kachka of New York Magazine reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in The Book Reader
On New Year’s Eve, 1984, on a snowbound street in southern Norway, a teenager named Karl Ove Knausgaard plotted to smuggle beer into a party. He chatted with his mother about the weather. He shoveled the driveway, and he failed to figure out the guitar chords in David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.” All the while, he brooded. “I wanted so much to be someone. I wanted so much to be special.”
That evening takes up 80 pages in a six-book series written by the middle-aged Knausgaard under the title "My Struggle." The English translation of the third volume, Boyhood, comes out in the U.S this week. Knausgaard’s 3,600-page experiment breaks basic rules of literary writing: avoid clichés; don’t copy straight from your life; and never, ever, be boring. And yet, My Struggle is irresistible. Written with extreme speed and extreme honesty, the whole series was published in Scandinavia to major controversy and massive sales. My Struggle—which by the way is Mein Kampf in German—enraged the author’s family, nearly broke up his marriage, and was bought by one in ten Norwegians.
Over in the U.S., it’s hard to believe that something so long and digressive could tear readers away from YouTube long enough to get through even one of these volumes. But critics and writers have already lined up to hail My Struggle as not only a glorious accomplishment but an addictive read. (The author Zadie Smith, for one, compared it to crack.) After dealing in the first book with his alcoholic, abusive father and in the second with juggling toddlers, remarriage, and writer’s block, in this third volume Knausgaard takes us back to the daily wonders and terrors of childhood. All three of these books make you feel that you are living the writer’s life as you read it. No reality show could compete with that. So start reading now, and you’ll be done just in time for volume four in 2015.
For my profile of Knausgaard and more book reviews, check out Vulture.com, New York Magazine’s center for all things culture.