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Reader’s Den: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Week 2

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Now that you have had a chance to meet Oskar, what do you think of him? Many readers have compared him to Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Others think he’s far too precocious for a nine-year-old and have suggested the author used his own inner child as the narrator. In Foer’s own words from an interview with Robert Birnbaum published in the online magazine The Morning News on April 19, 2005, he contends that he was not trying to write the character as a real 9-year-old child but rather in the fictive voice of an empathetic character that was believable to readers. In other words, he is invoking obliquely Coleridge’s principle of the willing suspension of disbelief. The measure of success realized from that principle derives both from the skill of the writer and the extent of participation the reader exercises. The book’s popularity tends to rule in Foer’s favor.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is Foer’s second book. Jonathan Safran Foer is an American author, born in Washington, D.C. in 1977. His first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, won the National Jewish Book Award and was a New York Times Bestseller in 2002. In 2005 it was made into a major motion picture of the same name.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was also adapted to film, released in December 2011. I saw the film after I read the book; I enjoyed it and recommend seeing it. However, the movie simplifies the book’s multiple plot lines into one straightforward plot and makes a few changes in the plot details. Thus, seeing the movie first would not adequately prepare you for the book’s complexities. As is often the case when a book is adapted to film, each work becomes its own entity and stands alone. Although each may satisfy, they satisfy in different ways consistent within each medium. Comparing the two then becomes almost like comparing apples to oranges. 

Foer and his wife, writer Nicole Krauss, live in Park Slope, Brooklyn with their children. He is currently a professor in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at New York University. His writing spans more than fiction. In 2005, he wrote the libretto for an opera titled Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence, performed in Berlin in 2005. In 2009, he published a non-fiction book called Eating Animals, exploring the misrepresentations of the meat-processing industry and the cultural history and fictions behind our eating habits. His 2010 book Tree of Codes has been described "as much a sculptural object as it is a work of masterful storytelling." Foer was also the editor of The New American Haggadah, published in 2012. His new novel entitled Escape From Children's Hospital  is due for publication in 2014. In 2003 he won the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award, and in 2011 he was selected as one of the 15 writers named as Fellows by The New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers for the 2011-2012 class. During his year as a Fellow, Foer planned to work on a novel about technology and new failures to communicate.

Next week when you are closer to the end of the book, I’ll post a few more discussion questions. In the meantime, here are a few things to consider. 
 
What other child protagonists does Oskar make you think of?
 
In EL&IC, Foer uses some non-traditional techniques, including multiple interconnected storylines, photographs Oskar included in his scrapbook, and print formats which vary by character. What reaction did you have to these techniques? Did you notice them, positively or negatively? 
 
Why did Foer choose this title and what relationship does it have to the story? 
 
I’d love to hear what you think about the book so far and your opinions on the film if you have seen it. See you next week. 
 

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