Wednesday, September 28, 2016

61 Books: #46

The project: to read 61 books, of whatever sort—short, long; literature, schlock; prose, poetry: you name it—before December 4, 2016.

The first ten books can be seen here. The second ten are here. Nos. 21–45 are below this post.

46. Erlend Loe, Naiv. Super (1996) (9/28/16)
Several years ago a friend, Thelma, and I started studying Norwegian together once a week. She lived in Bergen decades ago and learned some then, and I go to Norway frequently enough that I thought getting some grasp of the language might be . . . fun? useful? A good challenge, anyway. So far, "useful" has not played out—I still can't understand any spoken Norwegian, or summon up even the simplest sentence on my own. But it's a good mental workout, and I enjoy getting together with Thelma and thrashing our way through our readings.

Today we finished a delightful book called Naïve. Super. (We read it, out loud, in Norwegian but had the English version, Google Translate, and two dictionaries ever at the ready.) It is the first-person story of a young man who has an existential crisis, drops out of university, and starts pondering the nature of time and space, encouraged by a book he's reading by the physicist Paul Davies, while throwing a rubber ball against a wall, hammering on a peg-and-hammer toy, and making lists. Well, that's not the whole story, but it is sort of the gist of it. The unnamed narrator also spends time with a six-year-old neighbor boy, meets a young woman whom he cares about, exchanges faxes with a friend who's studying the weather in the far north of Norway, and travels to New York to meet up with his brother.

Midway through the book, the young man sends a letter to Paul Davies in Australia. In it he says, "I don't like to think about the time that passes, and you seem to say that time doesn't exist and that makes me glad, but I do not feel certain that I understand you perfectly.
     "You also say that the universe will collapse one day.
     "You say so many frightening things.
     "I would love to have the feeling that everything has a meaning and that it will be o.k. in the end.
     "Right now I don't have this feeling at all.
     "I would like to ask you twelve questions, and I will be immensely grateful if you answer."
     The questions cover matters of time and space, as well as more frivolous (or maybe not) ones like "Do you sometimes wish you didn't know all the things you do, and were free to run on a beach, careless and ignorant of everything?" and "Do you disapprove of television commercials that feature animated food, for instance biscuits that dance and jump into the cheese?"

The style of writing is very simple. The narrator's thinking seems to be simple too, but that's deceptive. He's actually coming to some important realizations about love, life, and happiness. By the end of the book, when he receives the answer to his letter—sort of—we get the sense that he's back on track and will be just fine. And we're glad.

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