REPORT FROM OSLO
In Norway for and with the fun stuff
I am drinking a Pepsi Max as I write this, like that other writer. The glass bottle was there in the minibar when I checked into the hotel in central Oslo. Coming from New York and landing in Norway, I instantly entered autumn. Down the street from the hotel, at the Literaturhuset, for two nights and one afternoon, seven writers in town from America (or Paris) discussed various literary currents and our own works, sometimes in conversation with our Norwegian counterparts. The panels were fluid and in some cases bled into each other. The audience was essentially co-participant and discussion continued into the wee hours at spots around Oslo each night. On the last night there was a rock show.
I am not sure there is an American equivalent of the Literaturhuset in New York City, or anywhere else. On the first night I was introduced to Per Pettersen, author of one of the first books I ever reviewed, To Siberia, as well as the magnificent novel Out Stealing Horses. On the second night, during a smoke break, someone pointed to a group of middle-aged men and said, “See that man in the green sweater? He’s the prime minister.” Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party was said to be present for another event that night, the Literature Pop Quiz, so he didn’t hear my remarks on the current US literary landscape or the panel that followed on the question of the global novel. Yes, Barack Obama puts out a yearly book list that resembles a portrait of the front table at Barnes & Nobel, and he once interviewed the novelist Marilynne Robinson. Norman Mailer interviewed many presidential candidates and mixed with politicians, running for mayor of New York himself. George Plimpton was present at the assassination of his friend Robert F. Kennedy. Occasionally a writer will get invited to the White House to have a medal draped over his chest. But President Biden showing up at a random reading at Franklin Park or KGB Bar is not imaginable. (Children of former presidents and stepchildren of vice-presidents: maybe.)