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on a recent train ride i read extremely loud and incredibly close by jonathan safran foer and white noise by don delillo.

i cracked open extremely loud and incredibly close around 10am and was finished around 5pm. the, loveliest book, ever. it’s narrated by a little boy whose dad died in 911, and it’s about a quest he goes on to find some shit out. i laughed, i cried, i felt like a huge weirdo for having such noisy reactions in the quiet car of the amtrak train. one of my favorite passages is from the very first page, here it is so you can read it:

what about little microphones? what if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? when you skateboard down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. one weird thing is, i wonder if everyone’s hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which i know about, but don’t really want to know about. that would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn’t have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. and at the finish line at the end of the new york city marathon it would sound like war.

another part i really really liked comes later, when oskar (the narrator) meets a sorta eccentric old man who lives in the apartment above him. the man has this fantastical card catalog with a card for every person he’s ever met or head of; each card has the person’s name and a one word description of who they are.

he slid out drawers from the cabinet and pulled cards from the drawers, one after another. “henry kissinger: war! ornette coleman: music! che guevara: war! jeff bezos: money! philip guston: art! mahatma gandhi: war!” “but he was a pacifist,” i said. “right! war! arthur ashe: tennis! tom cruise: money! elie wiesel: war! arnold shwarzenegger: war! martha stewart: money! rem koolhaas: architecture! ariel sharon: war! mick jagger: money! yasir arafat: war! susan sontag: though! wolfgang puck: money! pope john paul II: war!” i asked him if he had a card for stephen hawking. “of course!” he said, and slid out a drawer, and pulled out a card. “stephen hawking: astrophysics” “do you have a card for yourself?” he slid out a drawer. “a.r. black: war husband”

another thing i really liked is that whenever oskar is sad or upset he says he has heavy boots. sometimes he has very very heavy boots. you gotta read it.

and then there’s white noise, which i’ve been meaning to read for a billion years. am still in the process of reading it, but it’s really good, and a lot easier to get through and enjoy than, say, infinite jest and other well-known examples of post-modernist literature. while there are lots of books i read slowly and love anyway, usually the mark of a good book (for me, at least) is how quickly i finish it; that is, how loath i am to put it down. white noise is engaging enough to be a page turner, but still incorporates deeper meanings and scathing cultural commentaries like the best of ’em.

after a toxic chemical cloud descends over the narrator and his town, his family is forced to evacuate. while stopped at a gas station, he is briefly exposed, and a statistical computer program quickly assures him of his imminent death. this was a paragraph i liked reading:

i wanted them to pay attention to the toxic event. i wanted to be appreciated for my efforts in getting us to the parkway. i thought of telling them of the computer tally, the time-factored death i carried in my chromosomes and blood. self-pity oozed through my soul. i tried to relax and enjoy it.

 

let’s start a festo bookclub, like oprah’s but better.

[ stefanie ]

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i continue to make my way through the aforementioned a supposedly fun thing i’ll never do again by david foster wallace, deterred only momentarily by a four-day backpacking trip where daylight was spent hiking up mountains not reading books. now i am back in civilization, and back to ravenously eating up every word davey f walls puts down.

in his essay “e unibus pluram: television and u.s. fiction” he quotes a dude named lewis hyde (oh man, how i love the footnotes) as saying “irony has only emergency use. carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.” adbusters, eat your heart out.

he also shares a passage by novelist don delillo, whom i am now inspired to read as soon as i finish this book and then infinite jest because really how can i consider myself an obsessed fan of dfw without reading his biggest book i mean really i should be ashamed of myself.

this is from delillo’s 1985 white noise:

several days later murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in america. we drove twenty-two miles into the country around farmington. there were meadows and apple orchards. white fences trailed through the rolling fields. soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. we counted five signs before we reached the site . . . we walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. all the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. a man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. we stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

“no one sees the barn,” he said finally.

a long silence followed.

“once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”

he fell silent once more. people with cameras left the elevated site, replaced at once by some others.

“we’re not here to capture an image. we’re here to maintain one. can you feel it, jack? an accumulation of nameless energies.”

there was an extended silence. the man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

“being here is kind of a spiritual surrender. we see only what the others see. the thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. we’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. this literally colors our vision. a religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”

another silence ensued.

“they are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.

. . . “what was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said. “what did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? we can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. we can’t get outside the aura. we’re part of the aura. we’re here, we’re now.”

he seemed immensely pleased by this.

david foster wallace has much to say about delillo. lots of intruguing insightful ideas. i will not tell you what they are. i am such a literary tease, eh? you should really, really really read this book.

[ stefanie ]

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