On the Struggle Bus with Karl Ove

01 Mar 2017

I’m seriously obsessed with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, the monumental 6-volume autobiographical fiction that is took Norway by storm. I’m finishing up Volume 2, which mostly deals with his second and current marriage. Volume 1 is split between his teenage years and after his father’s death. Volume 3 is supposedly a lot about poop in his childhood, I’m told by my reputable source. Anyways, it’s full of angst and thoughts about getting to grips with masculinity, unimaginable writer’s block, being socially awkward, and trying to raise a family with a bipolar wife. Great stuff.

I was interested in, how much readership changes over the course of the six volumes. Each one is at least 300 pages, and they’re not typical action-packed fare at all. It’s hard to sell it to people, honestly. But for those I know who are reading through it (n=2), we’re enamored.

I just did a quick look at the number of Goodreads reviews and Amazon reviews across the six volumes. Note, only Volumes 1-5 are out in English, and Volume 5 is only out in Hardcover right now. Goodreads seems to have much more, but that’s because it collects reviews in all languages, so presumably there’s some Norwegians in there inflating the numbers. I looked at Amazon.com, which serves the US only, so there’s fewer results. And yes, I know that reviews doesn’t equal number of readers, but I’m not sure I can ever get my hands on that real number.

But look – it’s interesting that the relative numbers of reviews are generally the same. I don’t think there’s an option to feed reviews on Amazon to Goodreads or vice versa (but there is for Goodreads to other social media like FB or Twitter), so that wouldn’t explain the covariance. I think the trend is basically as you would expect. Many people read the first one to see what it’s all about, a relatively small subset of those move on, and then it trails off. But I’m bolstered to see that the downward slope Volumes 2-5 isn’t that steep. I’m under the impression that those who move onto 2 intend to continue through 5. 6 however, is a bit of a task…

Some more fun graphs. The first 5 volumes average 531.6 pages, but the last one is clearly a ridiculous outlier, clocking in at 1,119 pages (in the Norwegian edition). War and Peace (Oxford) is 1,392 pages; The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin) is 1,276. As far as overal page counts: Knausgaard totals 3,777 pages. Proust is 4,215. Ferrante is 1,682 (331, 471, 400, 480).

The campus library has the Norwegian editions, so you can see the behemoth (and when they changed dewey decimal stickers) here. Those impressive black hardcovers are Volumes 2-6.

It’ll be some time before I make it through that, I’m sure.