While in college when revealing to family friends or acquaintances the direction of my study (English Literature, duh!) the endlessly repeating follow-up question was nearly always, "Oh that's great. Who's you're favorite author?" At the time I never had an answer. Never. I've liked a lot of books in my time but I never felt concretely that my appreciation was of the author. There was never an authorial focus centering my pursuit of material. I did love Oscar Wilde, but in a different way. I loved his character and his history and his brazen yet refined personality. I don't particularly love his books.
Now post-college I absolutely have an answer to that plaguing question. Jonathan Safran Foer is maybe the best thing that has happened to me in the last two years. His books are everything that I think books should be. He is the author that you can't help but be frustrated by because you love his work so much that you wish it was yours. And he's only 26 so why couldn't it be yours? It can't be yours because you can't even begin to understand how he does it. The composition seems so difficult but the end product is so seamlessly integrated.
Here's some stuff from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, his second novel:
My first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. Self-defense was something that I was extremely curious about, for obvious reasons, and Mom thought it would be good for me to have a physical activity besides tambourining, so my first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. There were fourteen kids in the class, we all had on neat white robes. We practiced bowing, and then we were all sitting down Native American style, and then Sensei Mark asked me to go over to him. “Kick my privates,” he told me. That made me feel self-conscious. “Excusez-moi?” I told him. He spread his legs and told me, “I want you to kick my privates as hard as you can.” He put his hands at his sides, and took a breath in, and closed his eyes, and that’s how I knew that actually he meant business. “Jose,” I told him, and inside I was thinking What the? He told me, “Go on, guy. Destroy my privates.” “Destroy your privates?” With his eyes still closed he cracked up a lot and said, “You couldn’t destroy my privates if you tried. That’s what’s going on here. This is a demonstration of the well-trained body’s ability to absorb a direct blow. Now destroy my privates.” I told him, “I’m a pacifist,” and since most people my age don’t know what that means, I turned around and told the others, “I don’t think it’s right to destroy people’s privates. Ever.” Sensei Mark said, “Can I ask you something?” I turned back around and told him,” “‘Can I ask you something?’ is asking me something.” He said, “Do you have dreams of becoming a jujitsu master?” “No,” I told him even though I don’t have dreams of running the family business anymore. “Do you want to know how a jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master?” “I want to know everything,” I told him, but that isn’t true anymore either. He told me, “A jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu master by destroying his master’s privates.” I told him, “That’s fascinating.” My last jujitsu class was three and a half months ago.
When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table. I spent my life learning to feel less.
Everything will be
I started to cry.
It was the first time I had ever cried in front of him. It felt like making love.
He squeezed my sides so hard, and pushed so hard like he was trying to push through me to somewhere else.
“Hey, buddy.” “Actually, I’m not your buddy.” “Right. Well. It’s great weather today, don’t you think? If you want, we could go outside and toss a ball.” “Yes to thinking it’s great weather. No to wanting to toss a ball.” “You sure?” “Sports aren’t fascinating.” “What do you find fascinating?” “What kind of answer are you looking for?” “What makes you think I’m looking for something?” “What makes you think I’m a huge moron?” “I don’t think you’re any kind of moron.” “Thanks.” “Why do you think you’re here?” “I’m here, Dr. Fein, because it upsets my mom that I’m having an impossible time with my life.” “Should it upset her?” “Not really. Life is impossible.” “When you say that you’re having an impossible time, what do you mean?” “I’m constantly emotional.” “Are you emotional right now?” “I’m extremely emotional right now.” “What emotions are you feeling?” “All of them.” “Like…” “Right now I’m feeling sadness, happiness, anger, love, guilt, joy, shame, and a little bit of humor, because part of my brain is remembering something hilarious that Toothpaste once did that I can’t talk about.” “Sounds like you’re feeling an awful lot.” “He put Ex-lax in the pain au chocolat we sold at the French Club bakesale." “That is funny.” “I’m feeling everything.” “This emotionalness of yours, does it affect your daily life?” “Well, to answer your question, I don’t think that’s a real word you just used. Emotionalness. But I understand what you were trying to say, and yes. I end up crying a lot, usually in private. It’s extremely hard for me to go to school. I also can’t sleep over at friends’ apartments, because I get panicky about being away from Mom. I’m not very good with people.” “What do you think is going on?” “I feel too much. That’s what’s going on.” “Do you think one can feel too much? Or just feel in the wrong ways?” “My insides don’t match up with my outsides.” “Do anyone’s insides and outsides match up?” “I don’t know. I’m really only me.” “Maybe that’s what a person’s personality is: the difference between the inside and outside.” “But it’s worse for me.” “I wonder if everyone thinks it’s worse for him.” “Probably. But it really is worse for me.”