Reading Matters


I have been between books for a while now partly because I have a new job which has required a massive learning curve (and I’ve been steadying myself of an evening with the cozy perfection of Nigel Slater’s food writing) and partly, because I recently completed (she said, not without some pride) the entire series of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s non-fictional “novel” series.

Fortified, I then pressed onward with the entire Neapolitan volumes written by the hauntingly hard-to-read, hard-to-put-down, hard-to forget Elena Ferrante whose work I now admire immensely.

These books are like opulent, rich meals – with dessert – and beg to be savored not gorged, since they are certainly not easily digested afterwards. With Knausgaard particularly, it was troubling to decide if I applauded what he was doing (writing frankly about his life without any filter and thus exhibiting a total disregard for anyone else’s feelings) or despised it; however, what intrigued me most were his descriptions of the everyday and the banal which he chronicles from childhood to the present day; the expression of a cashier he might never see again; the certain feel of a day; the outside weather echoing what he felt within himself; his documentation of a parent’s sharp, throwaway, put-down which crushes him.

My brother Spock whose erudite, challenging voice is never far away in my head, was full of scorn and (false) puzzlement when he recently learned that I was reading Knausgaard whom he quickly relegated to that unusual genre of “navel gazing shit” and proceeded to question me at length, why the hell anyone would want to read about somebody else describing a cashier etc. etc.

But since Spock hasn’t read (and never will read) Knausgaard, this is a debate that would prove futile.  But, as it happens, many people do want to read this. It speaks to them.

Respected novelist Zadie Smith famously announced that she needed the new Knausgaard volume “like crack.”

For myself, I appreciate the reminder that each day exists independently as a whole and this, the present, is all any of us have. I also especially like the idea of paying attention; Knausgaard’s memory for detail and the ability to recall and bring it forward is staggering. And finally, there is the notion that at a certain age fiction can lose its appeal which I absolutely relate to although I don’t like it. But the idea of reading something untrue, only for entertainment can suddenly seem irrelevant and a bit silly.

Who has time when there is so much to learn?


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