Dear Knausgaard

dear knausgaard
Now available for pre-order from  SPD    Bookshop    Amazon   Fiction Advocate
publication date August 25, 2020

In a series of warm and often funny letters, essayist and memoirist Kim Adrian delivers a compelling feminist critique of the 6-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. Adrian’s book of letters begins as a witty and entertaining response to a seminal work and transforms into a fierce and powerful interrogation of the darker social and cultural forces informing Knausgaard’s project. Through an examination of the curious operations of intimacy demanded on both sides of the page by all great literature, Dear Knausgaard ultimately provides a heartfelt celebration of the act of reading itself.
"This work is less an homage to Knausgaard than a way for Adrian to reckon with her own reading habits. Those moments that praise Knausgaard’s magnum opus or wonder dreamily about his real life—two things, Adrian admits, that are hard to tell apart—pale in comparison to those places where Adrian ruthlessly interrogates the work and the literary world at large, especially the misogyny that she finds in both places. In examining how Knausgaard uses the word 'feminine' throughout to connote weakness and a lack of substance, she reflects that
'language is, in itself, hardly a neutral medium.' Adrian’s dynamic work of both literary and self-analysis will appeal to those passionate readers who have vacillated between adoring certain authors and wanting to throw their books across the room."
Publisher's Weekly

"Adrian [takes] on a daunting task: responding to the entirety of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. If you’re seeking a heady, thoughtful response to a heady, thoughtful multi-volume work — well, we have a recommendation for you."
Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“Kim Adrian’s Dear Knausgaard isn’t just for everyone who reveled in or fought with My Struggle, it’s for everyone who reads—period, everyone who struggles with the profoundly complicated act of engaging with another mind. It is both a love letter to Knausgaard and a feminist critique of his work, a celebration and deconstruction of the act of close reading, and a meta-commentary on the relationship between writer and reader. Smart, funny, intimate, and erudite, this marvelous book is a powerful argument for the potential of reading to change us, to alter the trajectory of our lives.”
—Peter Grandbois, author of Nahoonkara

"Dear Knausgaard brings together two notions of what it means to be good, two kinds of writerly indulgence, two versions of the casualness and self-attentiveness of our era. In these imaginary letters, Kim Adrian faces down her hero and unwitting oppressor, a man whose novels have helped her see the world anew, but whose blind spots give pain and spark anger. Adrian’s crushing honesty, her unusual forbearance: these make the book a moving and intimate one. Her long attachment to My Struggle makes the critique an essential read."
—William Pierce, author of Reality Hunger: on Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle
» Author's Statement

Read an excerpt
May 11, 2019
Dear Knausgaard,

Lisa and I both have May birthdays. Hers is the 10th, mine the 6th, so two days ago we had a small afternoon party at my place. I made miniature sandwiches, half a dozen deviled eggs, a simple bundt cake moistened with a few spoonfuls of Madeira, and the four of us—Lisa, Shuchi (who also works at the bookstore), a new acquaintance named Nina, and myself—sat around my dining room table drinking a pot of peppermint tea and talking about a lot of things, but mostly books. At one point I mentioned to Nina that I’d just discovered a shared interest: “Lisa told me you also like Knausgaard.”

Nina said that actually she loves your work, especially A Time for Everything, the novel you wrote right before My Struggle. She asked if I’d read it. I told her I had, then we chatted for a little while about your almost hallucinogenic descriptions of angels in that novel, and about the Bible stories you retell, and the strangely pastoral 17th century vibe of the whole thing. But as neither Lisa nor Shuchi has read this book, the conversation soon circled around to My Struggle.

“The thing I like best about it,” Nina said, “is how incredibly attentive he is. To everything.”

“Exactly,” said Lisa.

“It’s not that everything matters, but he pays attention to every single thing, just in case it bears meaning.”

Again, Lisa said, “Exactly.”

I didn’t say as much, but I don’t agree. I don’t think that’s what you’re doing. Actually, I think you’re saying the opposite. I think you’re saying that things don’t have to have meaning, because meaning isn’t the point. It’s beside the point. What matters is simply paying attention. Or to put it another way: what matters is being alert to the state of being alive.

“It’s the way he looks at things,” said Lisa. “Because he isn’t afraid to look at the ordinary and the ill-formed and the vain. He exposes all that’s on the inside—all that he’s experiencing inside himself as he looks at the world—and, yes, he violates a lot of social norms in order to expose those things, and many people don’t want to look at what he’s doing for even a minute because it’s so unattractive. But that is the beauty of it.”

“And yet it’s problematic,” I said. “Because by letting everything on the inside come out, and by being completely truthful about his feelings and perceptions, he hurts a lot of people.”

“I don’t get that at all,” said Lisa.

“Really? I thought that was the whole point of Book 6.”

Lisa and I often have mini-tiffs about your work. Basically, she’s a purist, which means that when she loves something, she does so completely. I benefit from this as her friend, but it’s annoying when I disagree with her. “He had to do it in order to live,” she said. “He would have died otherwise. He had to be real. He had to fight for that kind of reality. And I admire that greatly. I would like to be that transparent. I know he kills himself on a daily basis, I mean all of us do, trying to be true, but when you set the bar that high...”

I poured myself some more tea. I always feel like a fake when Lisa talks this way. I mean, I try to live a good life. I try to be a good person. But do I examine these ideas as carefully as I should? What does “good” actually mean? And do I really want to be real, like you? Like Lisa? Is being real even a good thing? Or is it selfish? Is selfishness necessary to live in the deepest way possible, to touch life as intensely and truthfully and courageously as possible? Am I—adorer of all that is cozy, safe, and reliable, all that is tasty, all that is sweet—actually content, when everything’s said and done, to sleepwalk through my allotted time on this planet? To waste huge quantities of my own limited life force simply because being real is such a lot of lonely work? These were the kinds of questions going through my mind as I ate a second slice of cake soaked, forkful by forkful, in milky peppermint tea.

Kim Adrian

publication details
Publisher: Fiction Advocate
Release date: August 25, 2020
Paperback 194 pp.
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