Books must be demanding — but captivating

(Sam Barker)

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s lengthy, six-part autobiographical novel, “My Struggle,” became an unexpected international success thanks to its exquisite writing. Now comes “Autumn” from the much-acclaimed Norwegian writer, the first in a four-part memoir. Knausgaard will speak with New Yorker book critic James Wood at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the First Parish Church in Cambridge. Tickets are $28 and include a copy of the book. The event is sponsored by the Harvard Book Store.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

KNAUSGAARD: I’m reading Orlando Figes’s “A People’s Tragedy” about the Russian Revolution. It is probably the best book about that. I’ve always been fascinated by Russia, but now I have started to read more systematically about it. I was reading another brilliant book about the Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Then I’m also reading Svetlana Alexievich’s “Voices from Chernobyl.” That’s one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read. It’s like history itself is speaking.

BOOKS: What’s the last novel that you read?


KNAUSGAARD: That must have been Norwegian, and it wasn’t translated. There’s this book by Claire-Louise Bennett, “Pond.” I loved it. It is about a woman who’s by herself in a cottage in Ireland. There’s almost nothing going on of significance in this text, but it feels very intense.

BOOKS: Who are your favorite American writers?

KNAUSGAARD: I love Ben Marcus. Don DeLillo has written some of my favorite books. The most important to me is “The Names.” It’s not well known, but it’s brilliant.

BOOKS: Who are the Norwegian writers you’d recommend?

KNAUSGAARD: The best writers there are not translated into English. There is Jon Fosse, a major European writer. His novel “Morning and Evening” is in English. He takes some effort, but that is only a sign of quality if you ask me.

BOOKS: Do you find that your taste in novels has changed over the years?


KNAUSGAARD: I demand more of a novel than I did 20 years ago. But I’m still looking for the same thing as when I was a child. I want to be pulled into it. The most perfect novel is Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” I’ve read it three times and have been captivated each time.

BOOKS: Did your readings of the novel change each time?

KNAUSGAARD: Very much so. Also you forget so much that it will surprise you. When I was in my 20s I read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” I was completely spellbound, but then I forgot most of it. Then two or three years later I wrote my own novel. It had no relation to Proust in my mind when I was writing it, but now I can see many things I’ve taken from him subconsciously. When you read a book, you bring something of it inside of you.

BOOKS: Whom have you read the most by?

KNAUSGAARD: In my 20s I read all of Knut Hamsun. He’s very controversial because when the Nazis occupied Norway he supported Germany. On the other side, people have always loved his books. Everyone I know has read at least one of his books.

BOOKS: Are there classics that are still on your to-read list?

KNAUSGAARD: Yes, it’s strange. It’s the book compared with “War and Peace” by a Russian who I’ve never heard of until three days ago. Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate.” Now I have a copy in my hand, and I’m going to read it


BOOKS: Do you keep a lot of books?

KNAUSGAARD: I have many thousands. I have three houses in a horseshoe shape. One is where I write. There are books floor to the ceiling in its two rooms. I have many that are precious, such as the first book I really spent money on, an old translation of “The Odyssey.” I have the first book I was really into, a book my mother gave me, Ursula K. Le Guin’s trilogy. I like to be surrounded by books and have this superstition that I don’t even have to read them. They bring me luck just being in the room, as if they are communicating something to me.


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