A Witness to Tolerance

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Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, December 26, 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer

I like the sound of a book that starts with a living teakettle. Or rather, gives you the impression that it's living. That opening sentence or two just grabbed me -it's either a child or a philosophical/whimsical adult. The point of view is interesting here. I am on the first page of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The first page of words, anywya. The pictures - of birds and a tenement (?)/apartment building set the tone for the book. The birds are also interesting and disturbing in another way. Isn't this book happening when there's terrorism in New York? Aren't I taking a risk reading it during the first anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsuamni?

I love the flight of ideas that the narrator has, about the singing teakettle for example, he could have it reading in his dad's voice so he could fall asleep, or a set of kettles which sings Yellow Submarine. He is obviously precocious - entemology is one of his passions, though I do think he may be using the word in the wrong context. It's charming. He doesn't know everything yet. Terrorists always seem so certain about what they're going to do, no matter what. They seem to have a power of unity/strength - at least the veneer of such. I think there will be at least triumph and adversity in this book, and that the narrator will lose someone he loves. perhaps his Dad, or his friend or the garbage man. I think of the images and stories of the real September 11, and how badly we all wanted to get on with life and not let people win. How, in my case, I wanted to go forth for tolerance and understanding. Unfortunately, that wasn't on the breakfast menu where i lived, and God help Thursday night dinner.

At the finish line of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war. The hearts as microphones paragraph is a masterly written paragraph, and yet it's in the authentic voice of a little boy - like women and their menustral periods, which I knew about, but I don't want to know about. I also like his comments about farts and the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The opening, in fact, reminds me of an intellectual version of The Day My Bum went Psycho. Sorry, Andy Griffiths
. I might learn to expect some more poo/fart/bum jokes as the narrative unfolds, but this is a bit of whimsy on Safran Foer's part. He seems to have a great deal of freedom - or imagination - When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone's heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. I think Safran Foer chosen an evocative metaphor, and that I do love what literary theorists call 'close reading'.

On page 2 there is a lot more action. The narrator is in his ju-jitsu class, and the Sensei Mark asks him to kick his privates. Or more precisely, to "destroy" them. We also learn the narrator plays the tambourine. I noticed that Safran Foer doesn't put dialogue on a new line like you're supposed to as a writer. I have indicated that he is somewhat experimental. We learn the narrator is a pacifist from some very funny dialogue. It would be embarrassing if you were one of the other kids who didn't know what a pacifist is. So he rebels in small ways from his environment. I especially like the line. ""No," I told him even though I don't have dreams of running the family jewellry business any more.

Oh my God. On page 3, we get into the meat of the themes and concerns. Especially when Oscar describes his grandmother and his ninth birthday. I know I'm not really processing this in the unity that Safran Foer meant us to. Suffice to say there's an interesting family heirloom (I, too, should have a funeral for overused words. If children continue to use them, it is because we professional writers are also in the habit, particularly in their first books, which is why the good people of Blake Education ask for tales with unusual vocabulary ... but at the same time weasel words and PC-ness is corrupting our language and narrowing the range of things we can say. I would not exclude commercial culture [!] in this either)in the form of the grandfather's camera, which Oscar's grandmother says he would wish Oscar to have it. Oscar says, with his intimiable logic, But I was only negative thirty. There is also a wonderful paragraph on skyscrapers, which focuses the mind wonderfully, and caliberates the heart. I want to write it out in full, when I haven't such a shocking headache.

So what about skyscrapers for dead people that were built down? They could be underneath the skyscrapers for living people that are built up. Tou could bury people one hundred floors down, and a whole dead world could be under the living one. Sometimes I think it would be weird [another word Safran's narrator uses a lot] if there were a skyscraper that moved up and down while its elevator stayed in place. So if you wanted to go to the ninety-fifth floor, you'd just press the 95 button and the ninety-fifth floor would come to you. Also, that could be useful, because if you're on the ninety-fifth floor, and a plane hits below you, the building would take you to the ground, and everyone could be safe, even if you left your birdseed sheet at home that day.
Safran Foer, page 3.

Page 4 is really funny. I know I really shouldn't be laughing with regard to Stephen Hawking's voice, but the rest of the limousine scene - the first time Oskar went on the limousine with his grandmother - is so richly (and sickly funny). I think it's mainly Oskar's spirit of fun in talking to unknown adults. The cab/limousine driver responds by giving Oskar his card. Which, I feel, is gracious. The driver's name is Gerald Thompson, and he serves the five boroughs. The rest ... I gradually gather that Oskar and his grandmother are burying his father. He talked so warmly about his Dad earlier, especially at the start of the book.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hello

Hello
Whinging is a waste of energy.
Or something.
The Queen's Christmas message was great.
Hope you had a happy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for those of you who celebrate.