James Wood’s Favorite Reads of 2012

Agree with this one. The refreshing thing about My Struggle is how Knausgaard fails to romanticize his life or fall in to cheap pessimism. Yes, he’s straightforward about what he considers to be the pleasures of his life, and he knows that his lifestyle has a certain hip cachet in Western societies, but he’s honest about what that life is and the costs that must be endured along with it. Many writers and readers could learn from this.

I also loved Karl Ove Knausgaard’s book “My Struggle” (Archipelago), which I reviewed at length in the magazine. I felt that the book didn’t get the attention it deserved. Was it a novel or a memoir, or something in between? Knausgaard has written five more volumes of whatever this book is, and these have made him famous and infamous in his native Norway (where it is reckoned that a fifth of the entire population has read him). So English-speaking readers are going to be able to make up their own minds, at their own speed, as these books appear over the next few years. Knausgaard tells the story, such as it is, of his childhood and adolescence, his marriage, his life as a father, husband, and son, and his desperate need to be a writer. The book is more like a dramatic essay than anything else, and the form allows Knausgaard room for digressions, reflections, asides. This is a book intensely hospitable to ideas, and it is thrilling to witness a properly grave and ironic mind, treating, in a theoretical and philosophical and yet fundamentally unshowy way (a massive difference between Knausgaard and certain show-offy American novelists, who always seem to be squeezing the juices of their obsessive fandom over their cultural subjects), all kinds of elements of life: having children, the working of memory, reading Adorno, playing guitar and drums in crappy rock bands, drinking too much, looking at Constable drawings, sex (good and bad), and death.


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Quoting Wood: “a massive difference between Knausgaard and certain show-offy American novelists, who always seem to be squeezing the juices of their obsessive fandom over their cultural subjects.” Are the certain show-offy American novelists (and the use of the word “certain” here is duplicitous, since Wood does not identify with any degree of certainty who these authors are) squeezing the juices of their obsessive fandom over their cultural subjects (which are, uh, what exactly?) like one would squeeze a lemon over a nice piece of fish, or did he mean to say that they are squeezing the juices of their fandom OUT of their cultural subjects (catechretically, as one would squeeze blood out of a turnip)? Either way, this phrase makes no sense to me, beyond being an example of pointless snarkiness.

Speaking of snarkiness what does catechretically mean?

    It’s not snarkiness to use a rhetorical term used for a number of things, but in this case, mixing metaphors, like talking about squeezing juice out of a lemon in one moment and blood out of a turnip in the next. I was actually being mildly self-ironic, not snarky toward Wood. And there are these wonderful things called dictionaries if you don’t know the meaning of a word (now THAT is snarky).

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