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While a student at Harvard, in the early two-thousands, Pete Buttigieg taught himself Norwegian in order to read more books by an author he liked. Not Spanish.
Not for a class. The book, a best-seller in Norway, follows a twentysomething man who drops out of college after experiencing an existential crisis. That said, the trademark Buttigieg traits of openness, intellectual curiosity, and bookish determination are made all the more alluring by the unthinkability of Donald Trump exhibiting any of the same qualities. Erlend Loe himself pointed this out to me when I asked him about Buttigieg learning Norwegian to read his book.
It no longer fitted together. He faxes his pal Kim, who is studying to become a meteorologist while stationed on a remote island; he reads the work of the quantum physicist Paul Davies and stresses about galactic vastness and the finality of time. For fun, games and probably other things. It all comes down to choosing the right one. I would guess that this is something Buttigieg was interested in when he was much younger than he is now.
Coming-of-age novels often only pretend to be about disillusionment. In fact, they are intensely romantic, although the romance is articulated as skeptically as possible—as an absence of romance, a yearning for romance. The protagonists of bildungsromans usually end up turning inward, directing their sense of awe at their own bullshit detectors. Another way to say this might be that coming-of-age stories star young adults, who are by definition a bit solipsistic, their inquisitiveness layered with self-regard.
For example, they believe two hundred dollars is better than one hundred. It is a very traditional society. Their trainers are all squashed on one side and worn thin because they weigh so much. It addresses itself to profound ideas—the nature of time and the universe, how one should live—but it does so in a way that is knowingly flat, offering a provisional fix for a restless intellect, a fantasy in which the hard questions have easy answers. We crave, from politicians, coming-of-age stories: narratives that split the difference between romance and realism, aspiration and relatability.
By Benjamin Wallace-Well s. Katy Waldman is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Read More. Cultural Commen t. The Political Scen e.
The Coming-of-Age Tale That Inspired Mayor Pete to Learn Norwegian
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Best Ever: Erlend Loe’s ‘Naive. Super’
While a student at Harvard, in the early two-thousands, Pete Buttigieg taught himself Norwegian in order to read more books by an author he liked. Not Spanish. Not for a class. The book, a best-seller in Norway, follows a twentysomething man who drops out of college after experiencing an existential crisis.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Troubled by an inability to find any meaning in his life, the year-old narrator of this deceptively simple novel quits university and eventually arrives at his brother's New York apartment. In a bid to discover what life is all about, he writes lists. He becomes obsessed by time and whether it actually matters. He faxes his meteorologist friend. He endlessly bounces a ball against the wall.
Complexities and transparencies
As an aside before I even get started, irreducible books are probably, in my very humble opinion, the only kinds of books worth reading. At least, as somebody working on a book I find almost impossible to explain, I really, really hope so. From there, not much happens. The protagonist drops all his commitments and ends up housesitting for his brother, his only job to fax any mail that arrives in the letterbox. The protagonist plays with wooden BRIO toys and throws a ball against a wall, writes lists, plays with the fax machine, and reads the works of physicist Paul Davies. Both Loe and Murakami play with the scale of the world, distorting and amplifying the mundane until it ends up rendered strange and fantastic. I think one of them was all the animals he has seen in his life.