Monday, February 28, 2011

The fancy schmancy text changes and crazy pictures

What did you guys think of all the font changes, pictures etc? I didn't really get anything extra from the images or from the font blurring together or from the "corrections" on some of the pages. What do you think the author was trying to do (other than appear edgy and cool) with those?

I think I'd give this book a 2.5/5. I was happier with the book in the beginning, but began to find it tedious and frustrating as the pages went along. I felt like the tie-together of the two stories (grandfather and grandchild) was flimsy at the end, and I don't think I felt the emotions I was supposed to when they buried the letters together. I agree with Vaishali about what she thought regarding the relationship between the two grandparents. I still can't wrap my head around the 'something' and 'nothing' places business, and the grandfather's refusal to speak. It is true what Vaishali said, it was like he was wallowing in his own misery! He let himself spiral away- as exemplified by the fact that he 'lost' his words. Each word he lost was him letting himself be defeated by grief and as soon as he lost all his words, he just roamed the world as a defeated shell of a man. Of course he could never live again, he gave up the battle and will to live so long ago!

More later, but these are my thoughts for now!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I have to preface this post by saying that I loved this book. Also that this is a really, really long post.

I'd like to break this book down into a few layers because my mind is all jumbled:

Writing style: Initially I thought I would find the endless ramblings of a 10 year old cliche and eventually boring, but I think that is just because nobody allows themselves to think that way as an adult. It wouldn't really be efficient. But everybody has that experience of idle thoughts creating a whole imaginary story about people around them, or of entertaining thoughts of "what if" the world was a different way because of some ridiculously small change in history (I think.) Also, some of his ideas are downright funny. I particularly liked the "hole in the mattress for your arm because your arm gets in the way." We need something like that immediately. Anyway, I liked that these silly thoughts are mixed in with his unswerving mission to solve this last mystery about his Dad; it makes the whole concept bearable instead of just depressing.

I also tend to be skeptical of gimmicky things like adding in pictures or wasting pages with a few words on them, but I think the author was going for making the audience feel like they were holding the actual book, either the grandfather's book/letters that he used to communicate with, or Oskar's "Stuff that Happened to Me" book. The last few pictures in the book are a flipbook of the body flying upwards to the sky, which Oskar does describe, but it helps the reader to directly interact with Oskar in changing the course of his Dad's history, even it's just a wish.

The only qualm I had with the book's style of writing was that it was hard to switch from Oskar to his grandmother to his grandfather's voice in my head. Oskar was such a compelling childlike voice that I felt like his grandparents' letters took on a similar tone and it was not as believable.


Oskar: As others have mentioned, he is an extremely precocious young man. I think the author made Oskar the way he is to juxtapose his extreme intelligence with his childlike methods of approaching his dad's death. He can understand meteors and epidemiology, but not that trying to approach every Black in New York City is an impossible and illogical task, and that giving copies of his apartment key to strangers is not a good idea. I thought it was also great symmetry that in the end, the key belonged to a son who had also lost his father and was going on an equally long (though less illogical) search for that last remnant of his father. Are people really that much more "adult" when it comes to the loss of their family members? The sentiment at that moment wasn't even disappointment, just awe that so many people were tied together in a seemingly random fashion and eventually found to be "incredibly close."

I wanted to talk about the relationship between the grandfather and grandmother, but I might save that for a different post. This post is already extremely long.

Grief: I think this theme was the heart of the book. Every person dealt with grief in a separate but equally believable way. Oskar's grief and mission was at the forefront, but there were so many others that had an impact.

Oskar's grandmother lost her sister, her father, her home, her son, and her husband, and she just faded into the background and lived her life without purpose, except for her son and grandson. Maybe she wanted to marry her husband because he brought back some reminder of her past, maybe she took him back because he filled a void that her son had just left, and maybe she moved to the airport because after all this time, she still needed a way to feel like those people were near her. The grandfather lost two sons and his beloved Anna, and he reverted to not speaking and running away(or back to Dresden, in his case.) Mr. Black in 6A never left his apartment after his wife died, instead counting the days with a nail and creating a "magnetic pull" to his bed. Ruth Black, the widowed tour guide, never left the building that her husband loved. Ex-Mrs. Abby Black, used the excuse of grief to retaliate against her husband and cause him pain by delaying his search for the key. Oskar's mom went back to work immediately and found a "friend" who was going through similar circumstances.

Like you guys have said, many of these descriptions were exaggerated (Who sleeps in a storage room in the Empire State Building? Who doesn't speak for 40 years?) I think that I didn't try to read this book at face value because much of it is absurd. I know people will be offended, but it is comparable in my mind to Life of Pi; it has one foot in reality and the other in surrealism. The characters' behaviors are exaggerations of true to life ways that people respond to grief. While a silence may not last for 40 years, people do get so depressed that they can't return to society. People do crazy things while they are grieving, like hold onto others so tightly whether or not those people want to be held onto.

"Incredibly Close": I think the point of this portion of the title was to show how interconnected people can be. It's repeated over and over: the grandfather being a part of the grandmother's life for a short period in Dresden, and then stumbling across each other 7 years later in New York, the man at the end having encountered Oskar's father, and then again Oskar 8 months later, so on. Also, it shows how people who are incredibly physically close may be very far from knowing each other, like the grandfather with Oskar, or the grandmother and the grandfather, and vice versa, people who are strangers may understand one another perfectly.

"Extremely Loud": I think this is another recurring theme in the novel. The obvious moment is Oskar "waking" Mr. Black from his loneliness by turning on his hearing aids, but I think there are other examples. The grandfather is silent, but his actions are extremely loud (and weak-minded.) The grandmother is loud in her love for her son and grandson, but silent in her own denial of happiness. Anyway, I could go on, but it's a long list!

Anyway, thanks for reading! I really enjoyed this book and would give it a 4.5/5. There are lot of different people that are dealing with both minor and major tragedies, and maybe I'm just a sucker for sorrow, but I think the author did a great (and generally difficult) job of making the book both humorous and touching, especially through the eyes of a child.

- Charitha

The Grandparents -- Sympathy or Irritation?

I'm probably alluding to question #6 about Oskar's grandfather, but really, am just bringing up my own issues with the book.

I feel like I tried to be sympathetic towards the grandparents and their situation, but really couldn't feel anything but irritation towards them. I understand that the Dresden bombings messed with them a lot and forced them to have trouble processing normal human emotions, but it just didn't justify their ridiculous acts.

First off, the grandmother really didn't have much of a problem being a caring mother and grandmother. Her only emotional flaws were in her relationship with her husband ... taking him back when he came back 40 years later, not wanting him to leave when he walked out on her again 2 years later.

Then the grandfather ... coming back 40 years later, right when his son has died. Really? How does he expect to "try to live" after that. I don't know ... it reminded me of people who just don't want to be happy and instead of keeping that to themselves, are ruining other people's lives in the process.

I could probably continue with this rant but would like to hear what you have to say before I continue. I haven't decided what I'd give this book in terms of a rating but probably around 2.5-3. The only reason it would get higher than what Antara gave it is that at least it was readable ... some books are so boring I can't even get through them.

March: Alice I Have Been

The plan for March is to read 'Alice I Have Been.' It would be nice if this time we all read it at a more similar pace, so we can talk about it as we go along -- so the goal is to be about 100 pages through by the end of each week -- we can discuss it as we go along if we want, but everyone should definitely finish the book in 4 weeks -- so by March 28th.

I started it last night.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The first book of our Rekindled Book Club was 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' by Jonathan Safran Foer. Since we're just starting this book club blog, and there really is no protocol, I invite all the readers & authors to start topics and discussions for this book as separate posts -- and people can respond with comments in reply to a post, or start up a new discussion point as a separate post itself. Blogger can be a little frustrating to maneuver through, so let me know if you're lost and/or confused (Momma).

I think it might be good if we each gave the book a rating, out of 5 stars, to give a simple understanding of how much we liked (or disliked) a book.

Here are some discussion questions I found online about the book ... I don't particularly want to discuss all of them (I've given brief comments in italics), but here they are:

1. Talk about Oskar—an unusually precious child. Do you find him sympathetic or annoying? Or both?
Sympathetic, but very unrealistic. I would have thought he was at least 12-13 years old based on how mature his thought processes were. 

2. For Shakespeare buffs: Oskar "plays Yorick" (the long dead jester whose skull Hamlet holds in his hand!) in a school production. What is the significance of that role? (See Hamlet: Act V, Scene I, Line 188).
I'm sorry, I have no idea what this question is about. 

3. Jonathan Safran Foer has said that he writes about characters and their miscommunications: some characters think they're saying a lot but say nothing; others say nothing but end up saying a lot. Which characters fall into which category in Extremely Loud? What might Foer be saying about our ability to communicate deep-seated emotions?
This question is too deep for me, but I'd be interested if any of you have thoughts on this as a subject.

4. Some critics have wondered where Oskar's mother is and how the child is left alone to wander the streets of New York alone at night. Is that a relevant comment? Do you see this book as a work of realism (in which case the mother's role would matter) ... or as more of a fable, on the order, say, of Life of Pi? If the latter, what is Extremely Loud a fable of? (Like Pi, Oskar seems to be a quester—but of what?)
I find it an insult to compare this book to 'Life of Pi,' which I think is one of the best books ever. Yes, it's totally unrealistic what this 9 year old has set out to do, all on his own. It's some consolation in the end (spoiler alert!) when you realize that the mother had warned all those people that he would be arriving, but even so.

5. Do you find the illustratrions, sribblings, over-written texts, etc. a meaningful, integral part of the work? Or do you find them distracting and gimmicky? Why are they there?
I was wondering if the Kindle readers saw the illustrations and random crossed out text, etc. I honestly didn't understand the significance of it -- can someone explain it to me? 

6. How do both main plot and subplot (Oskar's grandfather and the bombing of Dresden) interweave with one another?
I have no idea. I feel like I'm in a college lit class, I don't like the feeling. 

Overall, I would give this book a 2.5 stars out of 5. I really didn't like it. While Oscar's story was interesting in the opening, I started getting irritated by the side plot of the grandfather who didn't talk (what was the point of that??), and after Oscar visiting about 4 homes, I couldn't care less, and didn't see the point of it. The opening was good, the ending wasn't bad, the middle was boring. I wouldn't recommend this book to others, or even the author for that matter.

Would love to hear what you all thought.

-- Antara B.