Even in a year that saw the release of a blockbuster work of nonfiction about blockbusters called 'Blockbusters,' many of the best books were small enough in scope to hide their ambition. As George Saunders continued to play cutman for the American short story, two English journalists journeyed across continents in an attempt to map alcohol's role in culture and an ex-NFL tight end pulled back the curtain on life in the locker room. The world of men was scratched across book after book. These are the ones you need to read.
'A Man in Love'
'My Struggle, Volume Two: A Man in Love'
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
In the second volume of his autobiographical opus (a controversial best seller in his native Norway), Karl Ove Knausgaard moves away from the ugly specter of his father's squalid alcoholic undoing to his own attempts at parenting and the unraveling of his second marriage. He's a stay-at-home dad who attracts more interest from the overweening parents at the nursery than from women and who struggles to write, what with the burbling little one and the unquiet preschooler. He loves his kids, but Knausgaard is a whiner.
Fortunately, he's not simply complaining. His frustrations, common and amusing from the outside, are symptomatic of deeper difficulty: How does one find meaning in the endless ordinary that seems to comprise so much of adulthood? He sees in himself the same strangled impulses to break free that led his father to begin his march toward dissolution. If he's not going to be his father, what will he be? It's a strength of the book that Knausgaard offers no answers.
No less candid than the first installment – after the book was published, his wife said she could no longer think of him romantically – 'Man in Love' is funny and true in the way only great books are. Knausgaard is a dog listening for the clink of the leash, forever alert to the possibilities of life. Recriminations, indignities, friendships, and moments of clarity endlessly bump up against each other. Volume three comes out in June. Life goes on.