Sunday, March 24, 2013

Diffenbaugh and Foer - the Yin and the Yang

I don't know which is good and which is bad - the yin or the yang - but Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are just that.  Last week, I named Language one of my top 12 all-time (see 3/21 post).  I even created a new rating - 4.5.  But I didn't really like Extremely much.  Of course, we all know that Extremely was made into a recent movie with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.  I didn't see - maybe if I had, I would have liked the book better - but I doubt it.

First, the good news.  The Language of Flowers is an amazing book.  Victoria Jones has had a really rough life.  She has gone from one foster parent to another, followed by one foster home to another.  She has had behavioral/social issues wherever she's been.  Her one saving grace is that she spent a year and a half with one foster parent and, while there, learned the intricate details about flowers - what they represent and how best to care for them.  This will benefit her greatly after she turns 18 and finds herself on her own.

I don't want to tell you any more than that.  But I will mention a couple of things.  First, a first for me.  There were 2 spots late in the book where I actually yelled.  At one point I said "Noooooooo." and the other time I said "s__t."  I have never spoken out loud while reading a book.  Fortunately, nobody was in proximity to me when I lost control of my emotions.

Secondly, I have never in my entire literary life wanted a reconnection as much as I wanted it here.  I know I'm getting soft(er) in my old age/dotage, but this darn book is just perfect.  I don't know how else to describe it.  Already I've spoken/emailed/texted with a number of people who have all, without exception, loved this book.  If you haven't read it, do it.

As far as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is concerned - not so fast.  This is the story of 9-year old Oskar Schell, whose father died in the 9/11 attacks.  Oskar finds a key in his dad's possession that he tries to match up to a lock.  His mission takes him through the 5 boroughs.  He encounters many interesting people.  I liked that part about the book.  But I wasn't crazy about most of the writing.  Actually, there were 3 elements of the book that helped me get through it:  1)  full-page pictures; 2) blank pages; and 3) 1- or 2- line pages.  I know that doesn't speak well of the book, but, otherwise, I don't know how I would have gotten through it.  Do you remember when I recently said that I liked Louise Erdrich's The Round House, in spite of the fact that it was a National Book Award winner?  Well, this book received the American Place Theatre's Literature to Life Award, whatever the heck that is.  My point is that I usually don't care much for an award-winning book as borne out by Extremely.  Let's just say that the people who make those decisions are not my kind of people.  Oh, and did I mention that there are some paragraphs in Extremely that are 4, 5, and 6 pages long?  Really?

Having whined about all of that, there were a couple of places in the book that I thought had impact:  1) "He looked at me and through me at the same time, like I was a stained-glass window" (that's a cool description); 2) Oskar says to his mother "If I could have chosen, I would have chosen you."  He's saying that he would have preferred she died in 9/11 instead of his dad.  Ouch. 

I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because it was the Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Book Club selection for March.  Maybe after we meet this coming Tuesday night, I'll have a different opinion...nah.


  1. I'm disappointed that you didn't really care for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because I loved the movie version of it. Have you seen it?

  2. I haven't. It might have made a difference.
    Even though I read a lot of different types of books, this kind of writing style just doesn't do it for me. I think I'm a little bit too conventional in my reading tastes/imagination.