There’s a book that has given me a lot of hope and joy during this pandemic. It’s called Autumn.
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In the book Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard offers up 60 essays on everyday objects and states of mind that we encounter every day – apples, wasps, plastic bags, the Sun, teeth, porpoises, frogs, piss (who knew piss could be so interesting?), blood, lightning, rubber boots, jellyfish, fingers, loneliness, oil tankers, tin cans, pain, telephones, vomit, flies, forgiveness, buttons, toilet bowls, silence… well, you get the idea. He wrote the essays for his unborn daughter, to introduce her to the world she was about to enter.
Autumn begins with Knausgaard’s letter to that daughter in utero. It is dated August 28. Amazingly, that was the very date I began to read the book. August 28 also is the birthdate of a childhood friend of mine who died on Earth Day five years ago. Like Knausgaard, he was Norwegian (on his mother’s side) and had been a writer of meticulous detail.
Mere coincidences? Or was the universe trying to tell me something? Whichever, Autumn captivated me. I found myself paying closer attention to everything in my own surroundings. What was I missing? The resolve of a white tern dive bombing into the Bay for his supper. The ebullience of my sisters’ laughter via Zoom. The flakiness of my morning croissant. I suddenly didn’t want to take anything for granted.
Knausgaard first gained international fame and notoriety with a massive work called My Struggle. A fictionalized autobiography which ran over 3,500 pages and was published in six volumes, the books created an uproar, not only because the Norwegian title, Min Kamp, echoes Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but because Knausgaard’s frank tell-all caused 14 members of his family to denounce him in an Olso newspaper.
Autumn is a smaller book, both in pages (240) and in intent. It is, however, linked to three other books called Winter, Spring and Summer.
This fall Autumn gave me reason to celebrate my restricted surroundings. The perfect pandemic read. Now I’m looking forward to reading the whole Quartet of Seasons, each in their corresponding times. Maybe once I get through Winter, Spring and Summer, the pandemic will be behind us.
One can only hope.
– Margo Hammond,
Journalist and Reader