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Why Karl Ove Knausgaard appreciates the insignificant details of life

In his new book, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard steers clear of the introspective prose that defined his best-selling autobiography, “My Struggle.” Through letters and thoughts addressed to his unborn daughter, Knausgaard’s new essay collection “Autumn” explores the banal objects, feelings and habits that fill the day and “show the world as it is.” Knausgaard sits down with Jeffrey Brown.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now a meditation on the simple pleasures of living.

    Jeffrey Brown has this latest addition to the "NewsHour" Bookshelf.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It was an unusual international literary phenomenon, the six-volume, 3,600-page series titled "My Struggle," and an unusual form, dubbed an autobiographical novel.

    In it, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote in great and intimate detail of his life. Now comes a new book titled "Autumn," written as a letter to his unborn daughter, with short essays describing the world she will be born into.

    Karl Ove Knausgaard joins me now. Welcome to you.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So, after this enormous undertaking of the six volumes, you write a more quiet book, letters and thoughts to your daughter.

    Was that — were you trying to narrow things down?

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Very much so.

    I mean, "My Struggle" is very much about my interior life and about psychology and relations and inner turmoil. And I just lifted my gaze and I — and wrote about the opposite, which is what's outside of my and what's in the world.

    And at the same time, we expected a child. And I just wanted to write about the simple things, the simple pleasures of life and the world to her.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

    What did you want to tell her? I mean, you say, "I want to show you the world as it is now."

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What did that mean to you? It's not the big stuff.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    No, no, no, it's very much the small stuff.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    It is many of the insignificant things, I'm writing about, for instance, toothbrush or toilet bowl or a glass of water, but also the sun and the moon. And it is kind of…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes, I wanted the feeling to see the complexity of the world and that everything is somehow valuable.

    I mean, this is kind of — maybe a bit naive, but that's what I want to present to her.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    That there's value in the banal or the everyday.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes.

    And the thing is that, when you grow up, it's like you lose sight of the world, you know? It's kind of an automatic, you know what everything, how everything works, and you stop seeing it, you know?

    And I think I kind of wanted to transform myself into a child almost and try to see the world as it once were, you know, new and open and fresh, and…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, that's what comes through.

    You're a writer wanting to see the world, right?

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    This is your daily exercise, I would think, anyway.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes, it's true.

    It is just like I'm — it becomes even more visible when I don't write about people, but about things in itself. But I also wanted somehow — these are four books, and this is the first. And it goes through the seasons.

    And I also wanted to establish some kind of trust in the world to her. And that's a very important part of it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    There were some dramatic sort of things that happened.

    And I wanted to ensure her that that is also part of life. The darkness and the dark thing also is a part of life and try to lay everything open, so to speak.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In "My Struggle," everything, as you said, was so introspective. And you have said that you wrote this because you were tired of introspection.

    You wanted to get away from yourself in some way?

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes, exactly.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Exactly what I wanted.

    And it is also interesting because, if you follow a path — so, in "My Struggle," it is my father and my father's death and my relationship to him. If you follow that, it makes it possible to say this about the world.

    But, at the same time, something else exists. The world and the beauty in the world is kind of a parallel existence to that. And through this form, I could talk about that instead. And that was — that is the magic of literature and of literature form, that things appear in them that you don't think of before you start to write.

    But if you do it this way, then things in the world start to appear in front of you. And I think that's why I write, because I love that experience, you know?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And these were written sort of, every day, a different essay, right, rubber boots, birds of prey, loneliness, feelings, short essays.

    They're — it feels a little random. But I'm wondering if it was random. Did you wake up thinking — knowing what you were going to write about? Or how did — was there a theme, a pattern?

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    It is very randomly.

    I love the concept of encyclopedia, where the whole world exists in writing.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    But I wanted kind of a personal encyclopedia.

    And it is randomly. It's like, every morning, I had like 400 words on my screen. And I scrolled through it. And I spent maybe an hour before I could pick. And then I would pick…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Literally? I mean, really, that's how you did it?

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes. Yes.

    And then knew I have to write this word. There is no escape. So, that's why it took so long to pick the words.

    And then I wrote the word for maybe two hours or so. And that was the day of writing.

    And it's also a matter of composition. I kept everything I wrote, so all the bad stuff is in there too. But the thing is, if you compose, if it's just one piece or two piece, it's OK. And then you maybe have a third piece that changed.

    There is kind of an intuitive composition. Like, if you imagine an art gallery, you have lots of paintings side by side. And they can change the impacts of — the one changes the other.

    But it's all intuition. It's all about the emotions, and — yes, not rational stuff at all.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But that was all about you being — I mean, that's also a part of what you're trying to do as a writer?

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes, it's true.

    I — when I sat in front of something and wanted to write about it, for instance, a toothbrush, there's really nothing to say about it, you know? What do you say?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I think we all have that experience every morning.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Right.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    But then you start to write, and something happens. And it's like things are just opening up, and you see it's loaded with meaning. It's so charged, everything.

    And you can't think out that. I mean, you can't calculate that. You have to lose every thought you have about the world and just try to write, and then it appears something. And that something has to surprise me. If not, I'm not interested, you know?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, the book is "Autumn."

    Karl Ove Knausgaard, thank you very much.

  • Karl Ove Knausgaard:

    Thank you.

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