We continued drinking in Peter’s room. He tore the phone loose and used it as a window stopper, so we could smoke without being fined, and handed me his book with photos of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he had covered for a decade, and of the lives of the veterans back in the U.S. I leafed through it while I tried to come up with something to say to him. I ended up saying that he sought complexity, not just the iconic, and that this gave his photos enormous distinction. The expression on his face didn’t change when I said it, so it was impossible to tell whether I had pleased or insulted him.
He put the book on the bed and opened a new beer.
“So what’s your position on the question of God?” he asked.
I got up, put out my cigarette and set the half-empty beer can on the coffee table.
“I think I’ll go to bed now,” I said. “It’s been a long day.”
–Excerpt from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s article in the NY Times, “Travels through North America: My Saga, Part One”
What is it like to meet someone you worship in print but can barely relate to in flesh and blood? I think that as a reader, I really feel a writer I like is a comrade in arms, a fellow pilgrim, a potential soul mate. The fantasy meeting would be like My Dinner with Andre times ten–a real moveable feast of words and confessions and life-altering exchanges. But isn’t this too much to expect from someone who spends most of her time by herself either scribbling or typing away? My all-time favorite Norwegian author–Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), who wrote a trilogy that takes place in the fourteenth century and centers around a strong female character named Kristin Lavransdatter–would probably have been full of warmth and interesting stories in person, I imagine. Yet perhaps that is wishful thinking. To know an author well, one must keep reading her books over and over. For there is a good chance you might come across someone with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s inability to hold a conversation. Yes, he may contain multitudes, but he really just wants to have a smoke and keep interpersonal interactions to a minimum. I feel sorry for the photographer who probably spent so many years connecting with people under horrible duress in war situations, only to find himself face-to-face with a very popular author who won’t give him the time of day. It must have been a lonely night.