No, Knausgaard isn't some new upholstery protectant they try to sell you at the deluxe car wash.
Knausgaard is Karl Ove Knausgaard, a Norwegian writer who has become famous for his 3,600-page, six-volume autobiographical novel, "My Struggle."
(In his native tongue, "My Struggle" is "Min Kamp," the same title of an autobiography by a certain sociopathic, genocidal maniac, which gives you some sense of Knausgaard's throw-caution-to-the-wind approach.)
"My Struggle" has reportedly sold half a million copies in Norway, a country of 5 million people. Equivalent penetration in the U.S. would mean more than 30 million copies sold, numbers even John Green can only dream of.
The sensation surrounding Knausgaard is even more amazing considering his subject matter, essentially every stray thought and image that has crossed his consciousness over the entirety of his life. To call his subject matter quotidian is an understatement. He's not writing about the everyday, but the every second. The books are entirely plotless and almost without structure. Scenes start and then abruptly shift down some unexpected track of Knausgaard's memory, the only apparent logic his own emotional temperature at the time of writing.
When Knausgaard recently visited New York City to mark the occasion of "Book 3: Boyhood" being published in the U.S., he was greeted by standing-room-only crowds at bookstores and other public appearances.
The literary intelligentsia genuflected in the extreme. As quoted in the New York Times by Liesl Schillinger, Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides declared that Knausgaard's "granular" focus and "earnest meditations" are something "nobody's done before."
Lorin Stein, editor of the uber-prestigious Paris Review, says that Knausgaard's employment of a "narrator who is a real person and is in charge of the story" has "solved a big problem of the contemporary novel."
Never mind that it's sort of silly on its face to declare that in a world where we already have Proust, Knausgaard is doing something "nobody's done before" or that the contemporary novel can be "solved," this hyperbole is only more evidence of the sensation that is Knausgaard. When major literary fixtures are expressing the rhetorical equivalent of breathless teens screaming themselves blue at a Justin Bieber concert, attention must be paid.
As a recognized book-recommending expert, I have people asking me, "Should I read this Knausgaard dude?"
Here's my answer: Sure. Why not? Maybe? Probably not. It depends.
When books and writers cross the line into phenomena, they inevitably attract readers who are not well-suited to that writer's particular charms, and the charms of "My Struggle" are rather particular.
It's not surprising that so many writers are so admiring of Knausgaard's work.
Speaking from personal experience, the task of writing fiction is like rooting around inside your own subconscious with a dull spoon, trying to chisel off something meaningful to share with the world. The gap between authorial intentions and effects on the reader seems unbridgeable, always out of grasp.
Knausgaard's work casts a kind of hypnosis on me as I read him. I have no desire to write novels like his, but reading his books is a simulation of the sensation I strive for in writing my own fiction, a state where I simultaneously completely reveal and also destroy the "self." It's a kind of bravery that amazes me.
Or put another way, in the words of New Yorker critic James Woods remarking on "My Struggle," "Even when I was bored, I was interested."
My advice, as it is with all books: go to a nice store, pick up a copy, start reading and see how it goes.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "The Ark Before Noah" by Irving Finkel
2. "Ancestral Journeys" by Jean Manco
3. "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie
4. "The Works of Thomas Chalmers" by Thomas Chalmers
5. "Eclipse: The Horse that Changed Racing History Forever" by Nicholas Clee
— Brad S.
I believe Brad will sink his teeth into the meticulously researched and reported (and disturbing) "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert.
1. "Stiff" by Mary Roach
2. "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed
3. "Inferno" by Dan Brown
4. "Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin
5. "W is for Wasted" by Sue Grafton
— Michele B., Addison
For Michelle, I'm recommending Adam Langer's witty and plot-twisty exploration of New York and corporate publishing, "The Thieves of Manhattan."
1. "The Land of Steady Habits" by Ted Thompson
2. "Middlemarch" by George Eliot
3. "The Man Who Never Was" by Ewen Montagu
4. "Three Junes" by Julia Glass
5. "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
— Margie K., Riverwoods
Margie read "The Land of Steady Habits" on my in-person recommendation at Printers Row Lit Fest, a recommendation that was right on target, I must add. This only ups the pressure, though. To maximize my chances, I'm going to go with one of our most consistently good contemporary novelists, Francine Prose, and her satirical campus novel, "Blue Angel."