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Reading Buddies Discussion: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer

Reading Buddies ButtonBefore I give my usual spoiler warning, let me just say that if you haven’t read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, I’d suggest you find yourself a copy and join in! At halfway through, it’s wonderful and, I suspect, will be great to discuss. I’d expected it to take me a while to get through, but when I sat down to read the first chapter, I ended up tearing through 85 pages without even realizing it. So good!

And now, the spoiler warning: if you haven’t read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and plan to, be warned that spoilers are fair game from here on out!

I’m loving Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close so far. It’s been on my shelf approximately forever, and I loved Everything is Illuminated (Foer’s earlier novel), so why has it taken me so long to pick up Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? No idea. Thank you, reading buddies, for prodding me into reading it! Some of the things I love:

  • The way color, photos, and formatting oddities are interspersed throughout the book. For instance, how the marker testing pad at the art supply store is included, or how pages of Oskar’s grandfather’s written communications are interspersed with the story he’s writing out in his daybook. When I first flipped through my copy (which I got used), I thought someone had marked in it! (Check out page 208, if you have the hardcover version.)
  • The fragility of every character, the poignant things they say and do, the pain they try to hide or justify.
  • The Morse code jewelry Oskar made for his mother, encoding messages from his father his mother had never even heard into beads and string, fashioning them into gifts for his mother to wear so that without even knowing it, she’s wrapped in her husband’s last words.
  • Oskar’s creative approach to swearing: “Succotash my cocker spaniel, you fudging crevasse-hole dipshiitake!” (p. 145)
  • The amazing believability with which Foer crafts Oskar, this brilliant but sad little kid trying to cope with a world that’s falling apart.
  • The way each character’s voice is unique, and the way all the stories gradually fill in pieces of the others.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (cover)

I remember struggling just a bit with the narrative style in Everything is Illuminated and wasn’t sure what to expect with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but the latter isn’t presenting any problems for me. Foer’s style strikes me as being a step closer to stream of consciousness than a typical novel, but not so completely there as to be confusing. I find Oskar’s tangents to be both charming and illuminating.

I’m anxious to see where the search for the key’s lock will take Oskar, as well as what the rest of his grandparents’ stories are, but at the same time I’m not looking forward to the book’s end. I’m loving spending time with such wonderful characters. I’m trying to savor, to keep myself from rushing, but the story keeps pulling me along!

What are your thoughts on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close so far? Do you have favorite elements or characters? How do you like the narrative style?

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  • http://loveyalit.com Em (Love YA Lit)

    I’m going to have to spend some time examining the pages (or perhaps rereading someday) because your bullet re: photos and formatting etc took me by surprise. I listened to the audiobook for this one and loved it.

    • Erin

      Oh, yes, take a look at the physical book. There are photos, colorful pages, and a few printing oddities. There are also a couple of ways the book format ties in with the text. Very cleverly done!

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I loved this book. At first I had been worried that it would be too quirky for me, but when I really started to get into it, I loved it. I am glad that you are finding it so interesting and I can’t wait to hear what you think of the end!

    • Erin

      I tore through the rest of the book tonight, but alas, I’ll have to wait two weeks to post final thoughts! I loved it straight through, though!

  • http://www.thebluebookcase.blogspot.com Ingrid

    Hi erin! I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now, but I’ve never commented before! Anyway, it seems like everyone loves this book but I didn’t like it at all. The “quirky” characters just don’t do anything for me. I didn’t think Oskar’s character was believable at all. However, I do think that Foer does understand trauma on a fairly deep level and that comes through in his characters. He was very careful about how he treated a very sensitive topic (9/11) and I think that’s pretty admirable.

    • Erin

      Hi Ingrid! I think you’re the first person I’ve heard say they didn’t love EL&IC. I can see where Oscar would come across as not believable. The more I read, the more I wondered how real I found him to be. Then I realized, I think the distinction for me is in real vs. realistic, a point I hope I’ll be able to successfully explain in a couple of weeks when we wrap the book up! What you said about Foer and his treatment of trauma and sensitive topics is, I think, dead on. That was a piece I was a little worried about going in. All that being said, I don’t think it’s necessarily a book for everyone, though.

  • http://ardentreader.wordpress.com Christina

    I closed my eyes and scrolled to the end of this post as I just started the book yesterday. I’m 75 pages in (just reached the part where Oskar finds the key and goes to the art shop) but I like what I’ve read so far.

    • Erin

      I hope you continue to enjoy it! I ended up finishing the book tonight. I’ll look forward to your thoughts when you’ve read more!

  • http://literarymusings-blog.blogspot.com/ Brenna

    This was my very favorite book I read last year. I thought Oscar’s character was so unique and memorable, and the story so achingly beautiful. The post-modern touches Safran Foer added make it all the more interesting. I’m happy to hear you are really enjoying this one!

    • Erin

      “Achingly beautiful”…yes! There was so much I loved about this book (I just finished it tonight), I find it hard to put everything into words. I know it’ll make my top books of the year, too!

  • http://www.thebooknerdclub.blogspot.com mummazappa

    I didn’t read your post to avoid spoilers, but you’ve just reminded me how much I want to read this – cheers! :-)

    • Erin

      Glad to have reminded you! I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. I LOVED it!

  • http://Www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    I have so much to say. I couldn’t stop after a certain point and went ahead and finished the book. I love the things that you pointed out (like the bracelet). I personally love the character of Oskar but I do think he is probably a bit too precocious to be believable. To me, the book felt like it took place in a bit of cocoon world that Oskar creates .. but it is a world that I find fascinating.

    I read Everything Is Illuminated last year and, while I thought it had moments of wonderfulness, I thought it was very hard to read. I admit to struggling a bit with this book. Would it kill him to use some paragraph breaks or some standard punctuation????? Could we have some dialogue that was broken up on different lines so I could keep track of who was talking??? Still, it was a much more accessible read than Everything Is Illuminated, and I though the Oskar parts were easy to read and follow. The grandmother and grandfather parts were more of a struggle for me. Plus I kept losing track of who was writing what until I realized the letters were from the grandfather and the “My Memories” were from the grandmother.

    I was interested in how the book incorporated photos and drawings into it. I hadn’t seen that done. It is used extremely well at the very very end of the book. Left me in tears in fact.

    I’ll try not to be spoiling the rest of the book for you so I’ll stop now until you are done. I haven’t read many books about 9/11 but this was very well done and I thought Foer did a great job at approaching such a sensitive and personal topic.

    • Erin

      I just finished the book, too! At the halfway point (right after writing this post), I just couldn’t stop. I struggled with Oskar, because you’re right, I love him, but he’s maybe not an accurate portrayal of a little boy. I thought long and hard about the distinction between real and realistic, which I’m hoping I can explain satisfactorily in my wrap-up post in a couple of weeks.

      I didn’t struggle as much with this book as I did with Everything is Illuminated, for some reason. I have no explanation as to why that might be. But yeah…a little traditional formatting wouldn’t have hurt! I sort of had to thumb through the chapters to get a feel for Foer’s naming system, and then I could tell who was writing what.

      I LOVED the way the book’s format mirrored the text. I kept wondering why the photos of doorknobs kept turning up until we learned that Oskar’s grandfather took photos of all the doorknobs in the apartment and then taped a set of photos into his daybook. And when he was running out of space and kept writing lines over other lines… LOVED it.

      Come back and tell me more! I don’t mind :-) I agree…Foer’s handling of the 9/11 tragedy was better than I’d ever imagined anyone could do it.

  • http://www.readingonarainyday.com/ Aths

    I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Yeah, the ending was a bit strange, and it felt weird to see them married when they still weren’t in love. But it didn’t bother me that much. I chalked it to their inability to let go, their desire to hang on to those days, those events that changed much of who they were. Great post, btw!

    • Erin

      I can see what you’re saying about the shared experiences and important events they can’t let go. But…marriage? I didn’t believe it. Maybe good friends, or something like that.

  • http://www.lovelaughterinsanity.com Trish

    The thing about this book is there is SO much that one reading just isn’t enough! I honestly don’t remember the morose code jewelry. But I do love Oskar and agree that Foer did an amazing job crafting him. This book was so touching and I always get so happy when I see someone else is loving it as well.

    Can’t wait for final thoughts!

    • Erin

      I know! I’ll absolutely reread this one at some point. Probably at more than one point. The Morse code jewelry was a pretty small thing, but it took my breath away when I read about it, so it stuck with me :-)

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