Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

Posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2005 at 3:13 pm. About Books.

My Introduction to Jonathan Safran Foer

Previously posted on Sep 25, 2005 at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/jodidodds/Blog/cns!1p1a54g1PSNkhyBLLbfi4i8A!106.entry

During the summer of 2001 The New Yorker magazine published several stories (I think there were four) by new, young, up-and-coming authors. I had begun reading the publication a year earlier, when a biology professor informed me that reading New Yorker-quality articles would aid me in preparing for the verbal reasoning portion of the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Yes, he admitted, this was South Carolina, and the locals were not prone to reading periodicals with Yankee state names in the title <g>, but this was worth the read. I quickly became hooked on the weekly short fiction. In any case, I distinctly remember several things about the up-and-coming fiction writers issue of The New Yorker from 2001 – the first story was about a young girl who falls in love with a much older man in India, but I don’t recall the author’s name. There was a story by Gabe Hudson about a soldier who returns from the Persian Gulf with Gulf War Syndrome – an intriguing, tongue-in-cheek piece outlined in the form of a letter to President Bush (41). Most remarkably, though, was an excerpt from a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. I won’t elaborate on details, but the style of the piece took me by surprise – Foer possessed a mastery of language, of delineating the barriers of languages in communicating sentiments and emotions. His writing was hysterically funny, too. I placed the magazine onto my bookshelf, deciding that I would watch Foer’s career and see where it took him.

Summer of 2002: Again, I’m reading The New Yorker, although I haven’t been as diligent about reading it cover-to-cover over the past year as I have been surviving my first year of medical school in Charleston, SC, and I must admit that I had forgotten that Jonathan Safran Foer existed a year ago for me. One of the most phenomenal pieces of short fiction I had read to that point (and have still read to this day) was hidden, awaiting me as its audience. “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” utilizes typeface symbols to represent expressions. Foer introduces the symbol, then gives an example of how the symbol would be properly used, and then throughout his story he incorporates these symbols as a substitution for the English language, but still perfectly conveying his intentions, the meaning behind the passage very clear. I loved it.

In the interest of keeping this entry brief, I will outline some of Foer’s writings I have enjoyed since my introduction to him:

Everything is Illuminated – Foer’s first novel, and an excellently crafted montage of tales featuring the history of Trachimbrod, a town obliterated during the World War II. Paralleling these mythical accounts is the story of Jonathan and Alex (Jonathan’s Ukranian translater) journeying through the Ukraine in search of information about Jonathan’s family history.

“Cravings” – short story, kind of bizarre, but a fun, interesting read

“About The Typefaces Not Used in This Edition” – short story in The Paris Review, where Foer further explores the use of symbols to convey tone/emotion

The Future Dictionary of America – edited by Foer, this is a compilation of satirical definitions, most of which possess political overtones. It was published before the 2004 presidential election, and proceeds were advertised as going to liberal groups. It is one of the most clever concoctions so far this century.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Foer’s brilliant 9/11 novel about Oskar, an extremely gifted and eccentric young boy who loses his father in the World Trade Center catastrophe; again, Foer manipulates language, this time between a man who has gradually made himself mute, but who uses “yes” and “no” tattoos on his hands and points to phrases on a pad of paper that mean almost what he is trying to express. One of the best novels I have had the pleasure of reading – I highly recommend it to all (anyone who does not mind putting energy into a rewarding reading experience, anyway).

So this is my official introduction on Jonathan Safran Foer. More to come later

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