Sunday, September 25, 2011


Each year, Michigan State University chooses a book for all of its incoming freshmen to read as part of its "One Book, One Community" initiative.  The idea is that if everyone reads the same book, they will all start the year having that in common, and having something to share with each other.  This year, the book that they selected was my all time favorite, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

The choice of this book was brilliant, due to this year being the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  Extremely Loud is the story of a boy, Oskar, whose dad is killed in one of the World Trade Center buildings.  At the time of the story, in 2001, Oskar is nine years old.  This means that if Oskar was a real person, he could be a student at MSU right now.

Tonight, Jonathan Safran Foer came to East Lansing to talk about his book.  He was incredible.  He talked a little about his work, and himself, and then opened the floor for questions.  When asked about his writing process, he said that he can't use an outline, because if he did, the best that he would ever get from himself is what he expected to get.  Instead he said that he tries for more.   "I want to do more than what I can do, and I want to write better than I am able to write" is how he explained it.  He also said that the best writers are not the people who start off as the most talented writers, but instead they are those who just keep writing.

At the end of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Oskar receives a heartfelt letter from his idol, Stephen Hawking.  JSF revealed that earlier in the day, an MSU student had asked him if the letter was really from Stephen Hawking.  It took JSF a few minutes to understand that the student thought that the letter may have been written by Oskar's mom, instead of Hawking.  JSF said that he had never thought about that possibility, but now that he considered it, yes, the letter must have come from Oskar's mom.  How cool is that?  He is not only willing to discuss his book and answer questions about it, but he is willing to reconsider what it means.  He compared his books to the scores written for orchestras.  Just as the score needs the orchestra to be fully realized, his books need the readers' interpretations.

JSF was also remarkably generous with his time.  The line of people waiting for him to sign their books twisted and turned, and I have no doubt that some people are still in it.  He signed my son's copy of Extremely Loud, and my copy of Tree of Codes.  Extremely Loud is scheduled to come out as a movie next year.  I will have to see it, because I won't be able to stay away, but I am planning on being disappointed in it.  I just hope I can get my son to read the book before he sees the movie, because once he's seen that, I'm afraid the power of the story will be lost, and he'll never understand why I thought it was such a great book.

THIS JUST IN!  Thorougly unattractive picture of me with JSF!  Love it!

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