#85 Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard

34362982When thumbing through the book review section of The New York Times a few weeks ago I wasn’t surprised to read in Celeste Ng’s By the Book Q&A that she’s not a fan of Karl Ove Knausgaard: “I have never been able to get into Knausgaard, though many, many people whose opinions I trust adore his work. It’s just not for me.”

Knausgaard is a polarizing author. Based on conversations I’ve had with friends and fellow book lovers, it seems you either love him or you just really don’t. I’m solidly in the LOVE category. My husband, however, having never read a lick of Knausgaard’s writing, derides him with passion any chance he gets (most recently over dinner with friends at Leo’s Oyster Bar) because of an instant dislike of Knausgaard’s seriously earnest author photo and a general mistrust of anyone who pens a six-volume, many-paged autobiography. I’ve read the first two volumes of My Struggle, by the way, and they’re fantastic. I particularly loved volume 2.  Most of the people who dislike Knausgaard refer to his navel-gazing, a meticulous dissection of everyday life, calling his writing boring, misogynistic, banal.

What amazes me, again and again, about Knausgaard’s writing is that there is a pedestrian everyday-ness about it. He catalogues and peels apart the world around him in seemingly ordinary prose. And then, in peeling back and exposing ugliness and the ritual of the mundane, he shows us such great beauty and insight. That beauty is, at times, simply breathtaking.

In Autumn, the first in The Seasons quartet, Knausgaard, already a father of three, writes to his unborn daughter about the mundanity of our world, about the place she’ll soon be entering into and some of what she’ll encounter. As only Knausgaard can do, he describes for his daughter: Apples, War, Infants, Autumn Leaves, Lice, Vomit, Pain, Flaubert, the Labia (holy shit, read it), Forgiveness, and more. In each description, there is knowledge to be imparted and a personal connection being made, to others and to the world. And at the core of it all, fleshed out and laid bare, a deep and gorgeous truth.

One of my favorite books of the year.

With beautiful illustrations by Vanessa Baird and translated from the Norwegian by Ingvild Burkey

#62 milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

23513349Rupi Kaur’s poetry arrives from a raw and deeply personal place. Kaur is young, still in her early 20’s, and her milk and honey poems flow with an eager and easy earnestness, an earnestness so achingly present at that age. Reaching for big feelings in a pared-down and approachable way, Kaur writes about early sexual abuse and trauma, intense young love, the pains of breaking up, and what it means to be a young woman today. She pairs her poems with simple line drawings, and the result is like reading a teenager’s intimate journal about sex and heartbreak and identity. There’s not a lot of depth here, but parts of my younger self could identified with the acute longing, the hunger for connection and for experience.

A good gift for a young woman heading off to college in the fall.

#50 The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

29936927#50!! And just like that I’m halfway to my goal to read 100 books by the end of the year…

One of the things I appreciated about Berkeley-based Thi Bui’s gorgeously illustrated graphic memoir The Best We Could Do, is that she opens her book with an intense birth. She is in labor with her son, and, by way of her lovely illustrations, we are in the moment with her. I couldn’t help but find a parallel between the “birth” of the book, the creative impulse, and Bui’s labor, the creation of life; the book opens, she opens, the story unfolds, a life is brought forth.

The Best We Could Do is a story of life and survival, of family and identity. Bui tells the story of growing up between two cultures, the story of her parents – where they grew up in Vietnam, how they met, the dreams of their youths, the realities of adulthood. It is the story of a country and a people torn apart, by colonization, by the Vietnam War. It is the story of refugees. It is powerful and memorable, a fascinating and evocative read.

#22 Was She Pretty? by Leanne Shapton

25664515This quick read by author/illustrator Leanne Shapton, one of the women behind Women in Clothes, is comprised of short, precise descriptions of exes and exes of exes, all accompanied by lovely black and white drawings. What struck me is that the things we remember about exes, and the things our partners remember about their exes, are sometimes quirky, irreverent, and odd, but deeply defining.

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