“It is possible that time does not exist, although things still move. Life is in motion. We are born and we die. I grow older. What good does it do that time is not the same on the sun?”
–Erland Loe, Naïve. Super
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Chatting with my lovely friend Naomi today, we came upon the topic of influential literature. Not necessarily literature that influences masses of people, but pieces that have been individually influential. Although there are numerous works, both fictional and non-fictional, that have influenced me quite greatly, I would have to settle on one particular book that has stood out as The Book That Changed My Life.
This particular book is Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe, originally published in Norwegian and translated into English by Tor Ketil Solberg. Chances are you probably have never heard of this novel, but it was a bestseller in Norway when it was published in 1999. I was introduced to the book several years ago in a Nordic studies class and it captured my heart almost immediately.
The simplistic and direct style of Naïve. Super sets the perfect pace for the 25-year-old unnamed narrator to describe his sudden loss of purpose to life. At the time I first read this, I couldn’t relate; I knew what I wanted in life, I had an idea of where I was going, and everything seemed very well-planned to me. I could not relate to the sudden need to flee from a situation or a desire to spend so much time alone, which is a large part of what the narrator does in order to help him get to the bottom of his deep and philosophical questions about life, time, and purpose.
The narrator at times steps back into his childhood in order to find answers. He discusses stories he has been told about his family about things that happened even before he was born. He purchases simple toys and befriends a young boy in the neighborhood. While it seems counter-intuitive to step backwards in order to progress, it makes more and more sense as we follow the story to New York and through the delicate beginnings of his interactions with a pretty girl he has just met. While the novel does not necessarily present a clear-cut answer, it depends on the reader to decide just how much the narrator has accomplished with his lists, his constant reminiscing, and his simplistic exercises in catharsis.
One of the things that I really connected to is the habit that the narrator makes of creating lists. I’m a list-maker, myself; I tend to keep lists in my head of just about anything, and I write lists out every day as a way to organize just as much as I do to generate motivation or get ideas out on paper. The list-making becomes a useful mechanism in the novel for being able to connect to the narrator’s perspective as it ever-so-gradually changes.
While I loved the book from its very first pages, it took a while to really settle in with me. I didn’t know upon first reading it that it was going to be the most profound and influential piece of literature I had ever read. Believing I already knew my path in life (and ultimately being wrong), I used this novel as a way to connect to friends who had seemingly lost direction in life. I’ve snapped up as many copies as I could find, and I intend to do it again when I can once again afford to do so.
I have more recently connected to this novel because I have embarked on the sort of journey I never expected, one in which I’m re-writing my path and heading in a direction I never thought I would ever take. It was a few months ago that the book came back into my life; I re-read before I decided to move to San Diego and carried it around with me, checking my favorite passages on a daily basis, as I pondered whether or not the move would be a good idea. Although the book means a lot to me, I don’t necessarily need to possess a copy — I’ve read it so many times that I remember quite a lot of it by heart. I gave my most recently-acquired copy to my last boyfriend so that he could understand why I uprooted my life in search of change, but also as a way to express my love. I feel that communicating in art, music, and literature can be one of the most effective ways to express complex thoughts; in giving this book, it’s like giving a piece of my heart to someone.
If you can find a copy of this book, I highly recommend getting ahold of a copy and reading it — especially if you feel like you are still searching for your purpose in life. Then I recommend giving it to someone else who might be going through a similar situation. Even if it doesn’t change your life, like it did mine, it’s still a worthy perspective and a clever, charming read.