I hacked Christmas this year to get two books I had been hearing about from reviewers and friends: Project Hail Mary and My Struggle by Knausgård. I wrapped the sci-fi one for my husband, because he will like it. I handed the weird one to him and asked him to wrap it for me. I killed many birds with one stone. The people who read econ blogs will appreciate my accomplishment.
Right after Christmas I had a plane trip that provided some reading time for My Struggle. I like it. As a warning to others, I wonder if the reason “everyone” thinks it is so relatable is that the types of people who review books share the author’s burning desire to be a writer.
I did not know much about My Struggle before reading it. The first page is about death, and that seemed appropriate as I was flying to speak at my grandfather’s memorial service. The next few pages are about sonhood. I am trying to maintain a home for a little boy, so it’s interesting to get into their heads.
I did not get much time to read novels on the trip, since I brought my 6-year-old son along. The bit that I was able to read made me want to record some of the details of my own experience. At home, my laptop is off limits to my kids. That might be why my son was so delighted to be allowed to type characters into Word on the plane. I also let him use the Calculator program.
He chortled and bounced as he entered 9,000,000,000,000,000 into the calculator field. He proudly showed me and challenged me to say the number aloud. Causing the machine to bend to his will was as fun as creating something incomprehensibly large.
Taking a trip together, without the rest of the family, gave us a chance to get to know each other. Typing 9 quadrillion for fun is specific to him. He noticed that I sometimes order tomato juice on planes, although I never have it at home.
Fiction and memoirs can belong in economics. The person I know who is innovating the most in this space is Bart Wilson, with his Humanomics program at Chapman University.
For example, Knausgård’s honest intimate description of his teen drug use is a complement to all the statistics we have. He arrived at a new school in his teens and remained on the outside of social cliques. So, he smoked cigarettes, even though he did not like them, in order to appear occupied during breaks from class. As I was leaving the social orbit of my public American high school, I also reflected on the role of illicit drugs in creating social cohesion.
Some of the humor in the first few chapters comes from the stupidity of teenagers. This feels like an important counterweight in a society that probably overrates the words of young people. I can’t recall a lot of literature that paints the desperation of teenagers so unsparingly. I’m sure if I keep going in the book and the series, I’ll feel like he does a great job portraying the foibles of adults, too.
Knausgård, like that woman who wrote Educated, mostly talks about real people in intimate details without much of an effort to hide their identity. We should appreciate pure fiction more, because it gives the author a chance to tell us more dirt about humanity without directly incriminating real people.