Life is a relentless bombardment of experiences. Each day is the same yet different. I am writing this on an airport terminal, one like so many I’ve sat in before, but just now a sparrow flew past and landed on the luggage scanner, a reminder that the humdrum of modern flight is still a miracle. Life is amazing but you need to pay attention.
Karl Ove Knaussgaard takes the minutia of his life and zooms in more and more to reveal the miracles that lie within all those gray moments we all take for granted. He recalls the ambitions and delusions of adolescence so sharply that they force me to dust off my own memories, to look beyond the familiar packaging and remember how it really felt to be fifteen, horny, dreamy, arrogant, and afraid, vivid reminders that force me to also shake off my torpor of this moment and come a little more awake. He recreates the anxieties and chaos of parenting small children and the lurking fear of mortality our parents come to embody as we age.
Knaussgaard, whether filling pages with the experience of eating an apple, cramming on a rubber boot, changing a diaper, or losing a parent, delivers such particularity that it becomes universal. Last weekend, his NY Times Magazine cover story revealed simple truths about how Russians view themselves that demystified and humanized them in a way I’ve never experienced before.
The candor, intensity, banality, and epic scale of his books can be an ordeal and no one has ever taken me up on my Knaussgaard recommendations. But I love sharing space in my brain with his, seeing through his eyes, inhaling his second-hand smoke and familiar human fragility.