Reading As An Experience | Autumn vs My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Not everyone can sit down with a book such as My Struggle, having felt the profound effects of such a personal work, and say they truly loved it. It is a well loved and hated autobiographical series, and is clearly meant for the introspective and patient readers out there. Here, we've found one such reader who understands exactly what Knausgaard is conveying and appreciates that raw, sense of self so boldly written, then compares that to his most recent work, Autumn. His perspective is genuine, intimate, and unique to the book community.
We are thrilled to welcome Sean, and read his experience with Karl Ove Knausgaard's work. Thank you for your incredible insight, and thank you Penguin Press for providing a review copy!
Autumn: my favorite season, my favorite author, and new experiences of both.
Reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle was a revelation for me. It is bold—raw in both its structure and subject matter, and it is directed in an extreme degree toward inner experience. Though My Struggle definitely isn’t surreal or fantastical (it is heavily grounded in the day-to-day), it doesn’t feel like a story in the sense of an account of things that might have happened in the world, but feels more like an inner-narrative brought to print, the kind of narrative that each of us creates to tell ourselves who we are, replete with the little inaccuracies, imagined details, and hyperbole that sneak in and amplify any given memory’s impact on us. We are swept up along with Knausgaard’s world and siphoned through his subjective experience in a way that is immersive and gripping, page after frantic page (which is nice as My Struggle has, so far in English, around 2,600 such pages to tear through).
In many ways Autumn is a complete reversal of that formula. It is short, for one. It is refined; its mood is tempered sometimes even to the point of being sappy, and it is mostly focused outward, at things in the world. Even on the subject of loneliness, Knausgaard avoids dwelling in his own experience, giving us only what is needed in order to abstract the process and function of loneliness, then applying that understanding not to himself, but to others (in this case his father). Most importantly and wonderfully, Autumn is the opposite of immersive.
Where My Struggle is best gulped down hundreds of pages at a time, Autumn is a book to be sipped. I read it in a series of moments: at cafés and bars, while waiting for an appointment or a friend, or in my car if I found myself sitting there a minute or two before I needed to be, just a few savored pages at a time.
One morning I spent the moments between waking and gathering enough courage to leave the warmth of my comforter reading Autumn’s one-and-a-half-page essay on the subject of beds. In that brief period I was taken on a trip through a series of connections starting with a physical description of a typical bed, moving to its placement in a room and in a building, then relating that to our experiences of both safety and vulnerability, which are universal and run throughout human history. That journey through time is then gently folded back onto the bed, which is now described as a boat on which we “let ourselves be carried through the night.” Once I’d closed the book I found myself in an entirely different place from where I started, ready to disembark.
Nearly every time I read a section of Autumn, I would look up from it to greet the sight of, say, a steeple poking out from the skyline, or look down at the buttons on my shirt to find that I related to these things in new ways. I would run my tongue across my teeth or hear a siren in the distance, and find that those experiences had been colored (like autumn leaves perhaps), however slightly, by what I’d been reading. By connecting the dots between phenomena, Knausgaard is able to kick us out of his book, placing us vividly back in our own surroundings, marking out our place in the world which he has made more meaningful.
Have you guys read any Knausgaard? What did you think?
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