Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume epic, My Struggle, astonished us with its brutal candor and self- awareness. It primarily centered on the author’s painful relationship with his father. By contrast, Autumn (Penguin Press, $27) is a slender book with beautiful illustrations by Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird. It is the first in a projected quartet, and gives us Knausgaard as a tender father speaking to his unborn daughter about everyday objects. His descriptions run about two-and-a-half pages in length, and flow in a seemingly random cascade, on subjects as diverse as doors, porpoises, vomit, and labia; buttons, apples, and chewing gum. “It is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this,” he writes, “showing you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.” In one piece he writes of a family photograph where everything about the lives has been stripped away so that what remains is “what we ourselves don’t see… that our lives are written in our faces and our bodies, but in a language so foreign we don’t even know it is a language.” Knausgaard’s perspective is compelling and razor sharp, and as in My Struggle, he makes the ordinary feel vivid again, and strange.
The aim of Garry Wills’s powerful little book, What the Qur’an Meant (Viking, $25), is to teach readers about the real Islam as it is laid out in the Qur’an. “Living with fear is corrosive,” Wills writes. “Ignorance is the natural ally of fear.” He finds beautiful parallels between various canonical writings, as well as some poignant differences. Many Hebrew prophets appear in the Qur’an, with Abraham figuring prominently as the rebuilder of the Kah-bah shrine in Mecca. In the Qur’an, Adam and Eve are both tempted together. But Eve is unnamed, as are all other women, with one exception: Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur’an considers Moses and Jesus to be the two most important prophets prior to Muhammad, who stresses peace between the three faiths as well as obedience to one God. It is Allah who works through all of them. Conversely, Jihad is found nowhere in the Qur’an and the word Shariah appears only once, in reference to Muhammad following Allah’s path. This is a scholarly but thoroughly absorbing book which will make an unusual gift for anyone seeking new ways to revive their faith over the holiday season.
Projects (Abrams, $85) chronicles forty-four Andy Goldsworthy installations around the world, as they change and evolve with their environments. This book, a companion volume to Goldsworthy’s Ephemeral Works, includes stunning photographs, site maps, and an extensive interview. You’ll find his usual cones and labyrinths made of wood and stone, but unlike his “ephemeral” works, whose construction marked an endpoint, these pieces began life only when Goldsworthy finished them, for they evolve as they are weathered by the seasons. Goldsworthy documents, for example, walls covered in porcelain clay, as they dry, crack and tear away, and enormous slate chambers, enclosing wind-fallen branches, which gradually transform as moss and fungi cover them. He repaves an ancient forest track with rectangular stones and cuts a new path across an Ohio estate, always maintaining 950 feet above sea level. An igloo of woven branches sits inside a pit, accessed through a doorway via steps in a terraced wall. A flowing line of fallen cypress weaves through eucalyptus trees, which overtake a California landscape. But whatever he does in these installations, Goldsworthy invites us to experience nature freshly. This gorgeous, glossy volume will make an extraordinary gift for the art or nature lover in your life.