Who Wrote It: Beto O’Rourke or Karl Ove Knausgaard?

Photo: Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke is an American dad who lives in Texas. Karl Ove Knausgaard is a Norwegian dad who lives in London and Sweden. The two are primarily known for different reasons: The former for his much-watched (and ultimately unsuccessful) Senate run and former membership in a band, the latter for his very long books. Despite their differences, the two share a taste for writing zoomed-in portraits of the moment-to-moment realities of being alive — regardless of how boring they might be.

Back in November, Katy Waldman of The New Yorker wrote keenly of O’Rourke’s burgeoning similarity to Knausgaard: “That languid parsing of routine activity, in which no detail proves too insignificant, conjures another lanky father with salt-and-pepper hair.” Upon the release of Knausgaard’s latest novel, Dwight Garner noted the prolific writer’s “commitment to the quotidian details” and “gift for isolating his details.” Just this week, the New York Times described Beto’s writing as “stream-of-consciousness” and used the word “diary” twice. Indeed, both Knausgaard and O’Rourke seem to get away with literary and political self-indulgences that women usually do not.

One man has published six novels. The other has a Medium account and robust email newsletter. Both have strong, slightly unkempt eyebrows. Here at the Cut, we have one question: When you read these excerpts, can you tell them apart? Take our Karl vs. Beto quiz and see for yourself.

Who Wrote It: Beto O'Rourke or Karl Ove Knausgaard?

Can you tell the difference between the musings of these men?

I was caught behind a school bus that would stop every hundred yards or so, lights flashing, red stop sign swinging out from the side of the bus. At one of the stops a child loaded down with a big backpack stepped off the bus and was met by a waiting dog with a wagging tail. As the bus and the cars and trucks like mine continued down the road, the child and dog trudged through the snow and the fading light back to their home.
After I had eaten the hamburger, I got undressed and went to bed. It was still only around nine o’clock, the room was as light as if it were the middle of a gray day, and the silence that was everywhere magnified the sounds of every movement I made, so even though I was tired, it took me a few hours to fall asleep.
Understanding the world requires you to take a certain distance from it. Things that are too small to see with the naked eye, such as molecules and atoms, we magnify. Things that are too large, such as cloud formations, river deltas, constellations, we reduce. At length we bring it within the scope of our senses and we stabilize it with fixer.
There is only one thing children find harder to hold back than tears, and that is joy.
The loss is bitter, and I don’t know that I’ve been able to fully understand it. I try not to ask what I could have done differently because I don’t know that there is an end to those questions or thoughts. There are a million different decisions I could have made, paths I could have taken, things I could have said or not said, said better or differently.
The thought of this could sometimes weigh me down because I wanted so much to be someone. I wanted so much to be special.
I awoke to rain. Cold and stiff, I struggled out of the sleeping bag, pulled on my trousers, packed everything, and set off for the town. It was six o’clock. The sky was gray, there was a light, almost imperceptible, drizzle, I was freezing cold and walked fast to generate some heat.
Go somewhere you know nothing about and see what happens.
As I took my seat at one of the few tables that had been cleared and cleaned, she said our special today is an open faced roast beef sandwich, mashed potatoes and green beans. She said it in such a way as to suggest that this was what I was going to order. I ordered the special. It was brought out within a couple of minutes by a young woman, perhaps her daughter.
We crossed the lawn. The air was completely still, the trees stood completely still, the sun hung suspended above the sea, sending its scorching rays out over the landscape. And yet all the time the same coolness in the air. It had been ages since I had felt such a calm.
I listened to the radio until the station would start to fade, try to find another one, or just turn it off and sing to myself, think, or zone out. Then Rich Girl by Hall and Oates would pop in my head.
We read, we learn, we experience, we make adjustments. Then one day we reach the point where all the necessary distances have been set, all the necessary systems have been put in place. That is when time begins to pick up speed.
Snow melt on the side of the road where I’m running. I find a vacant lot to cut through to another street, also busy and without sidewalks. I finally get to a smaller road that goes past a mobile home park, then a small subdivision, and out into corn fields to my right and empty fields to my left.
Drove out to the lake the waitress had told me about. Had it all to myself and some ducks. Found some crab claws. Maybe left by a bird. Walked out on a pier. Looked out, took some pictures. Leaned over, scooped up water and washed my face. Picked up beer cans that someone had left and were blown into the bushes.

Who Wrote It: Beto O’Rourke or Karl Ove Knausgaard?