Friday, February 24, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

It wasn't so long ago that I seemed to see this book on every blog I visited. The amazing quotes I read were the reason why I had my book club read Everything is Illuminated last year--I wanted to read EL&IC to see what you all were talking about, but I wanted to experience Jonathan Safran Foer in the order he was published. Based on all I'd heard, I was a little worried that if I read EL&IC first, I might not enjoy Everything is Illuminated.

As it turned out, I did enjoy Everything is Illuminated quite a bit, but I'm afraid that the reverse has happened: Jonathan Safran Foer may be one of those authors whose first work read becomes the favorite.  My first experience was one of wonder--everything felt fun and original, his writing, his characters, his story were all grounds for discovery.  This second experience wasn't as glittery and new.  The characters held a similar quirkiness to his other characters; the writing had a cadence that was no longer unique.  I enjoyed it, I appreciated it, but it didn't hold quite the magic for me that the other did.

That being said, Foer does manage to present his ideas through very different people and their very different circumstances, making the way the story ties together all the more meaningful.  Each person that Oskar encounters as he makes his way through New York City has a story, just as each person we pass each day has a story, but Oskar--unlike most of us--is allowed the privilege of hearing those stories and becoming (if for just a moment) part of their lives.  There is something incredibly unifying about this; something brave about pushing against the profound loneliness of a crowd.
Mom told me, "It probably gets pretty lonely to be Grandma, don't you think?" I told her, "It probably gets pretty lonely to be anyone."(p. 69)
Generally known as a novel of 9/11, I think it works much better when viewed as a novel of loving and loss.  The idea that 'living is harder than dying' is returned to again and again throughout the book. What is living?  What is love?  Why do we live?  Why do we love?
I promised myself I would stay until I found her, but as night began to come in, I knew I had to go home, I hated myself for going, why couldn't I be the kind of person who stays? (p.114)
I love how Foer gets right down to the heart of humanity.  Some of his characters have habits and opinions bordering on absurd, but through these extremes normal becomes simplified and understandable.  I might not hold onto hundreds of empty envelopes, but perhaps I do hold onto empty promises, empty words.  I might not keep a scrapbook of everything that's happened to me, but perhaps I do horde the inconsequential in other ways, continually looking back through those moments in my mind.  I might not be dealing with grief, but perhaps I still erect walls around myself as a barrier against pain.
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness. (p.180)
It is a call to appreciate life, to be thankful for what you have when you have it, to be brave enough to be a part of someone else's life, regardless of the drawbacks.  Live life--don't let it pass you by.  
"She let out a laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth, like she was angry at herself for forgetting her sadness." (p.254)

(note: lucky for me, this book was on my wish list & counts for my wish list challenge...also, my book club will be discussing it on Monday, so I'll get more opinions on it then!)

12 comments:

  1. "I might not hold onto hundreds of empty envelopes, but perhaps I do hold onto empty promises, empty words. I might not keep a scrapbook of everything that's happened to me, but perhaps I do horde the inconsequential in other ways, continually looking back through those moments in my mind. I might not be dealing with grief, but perhaps I still erect walls around myself as a barrier against pain."
    Those are very powerful words that resonate with me. I am guilty, I think, of it too!!

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  2. Good review! I loved this book, and I hope readers will have the chance to read it before watching the film and spoiling the experience.

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  3. This one's on my nightstand...my oldest daughter wants to see the movie but I'll have to read it first. I haven't read anything else of his though so it will be interesting to get a first impression from a book that was not his first.

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  4. This one has been on my wishlist since I read and loved Everything is Illuminated, I just have a tendency not to read from my wishlist.

    Now the film is coming out I may be a bit more likely to read it so I can read it before seeing the film.

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  5. hmmm I have just finished everything is illuminated and for the whole it worked and I did like it. I have to read this for a book group next month and I,m looking forward to it but I hope that the author has improved on what he set out to do with illuminated.

    On another note the film is the worst reviewed fim ever to be nominated for Best Film!

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  6. I own Everything is Illuminated but couldn't get through the first few chapters, I'm not sure his writing style is for me...

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  7. BookQuoter, this was one of those books that gets you thinking about the big things. I think it all really came together for me as I was blogging about it--one of the things I love about blogging, how it helps me process things!

    Jamie, I typically don't have any problem watching a film before reading the book, but I think it might be a mistake to do so with this one. Reading it is a unique experience!

    Peppermint, there are a lot of similarities between his two books I think. He has a very unique writing style. :) I hope you enjoy it!

    lucybird, this one didn't take me as long to get through, so there's some incentive for you! I am curious to see the film, even though I wasn't impressed with the adaptation of Everything is Illuminated...we'll see how it goes!

    Jessica, now that's an interesting bit of trivia! What things do you hope have been polished in his 2nd novel? I was hoping that his style (of writing & of characters) would be different, but those were much the same. I hope you enjoy it.

    Oh Sam, I know what you mean! I actually had to force myself to get into both of them because I found his style to be abrasive. It did grate on me throughout this one, which is probably a big reason why my opinion of it improved upon retrospection.

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  8. Love, love, love the quotes!!! I love little philosophical quips in the middle of narrative writing.

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  9. Heidi, this book is full of them. Actually, maybe more insightful quips than narrative itself. ;)

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  10. I haven't read EiI but I have heard people say it's their favorite where others claim this one--and I think it generally does fall with which was read first. This book hit me so hard and though I hate to call a book my favorite--this one is it. Funny though as I've never thought about this book as a 9/11 book.

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  11. I read this book many years ago and just remember falling in love, though I do agree that Everything Is Illuminated holds a special, nothing-can-touch place in my heart. I'm eager to read this book as an adult -- or more of an adult, anyway.

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  12. I think that I've decided that I like the process of thinking about Foer's books after having read them more than I like the process of actually reading them. EL&IC especially has so much to say, but something about the writing or the eccentric characters bugs me while reading.

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