Monday, January 16, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Buy Now on
Buy Now on

September 11th and the Holocaust are two subjects that are easy use if you are an author looking to add emotional weight to your novel, but are difficult to use well. Nobody proves this better than Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

The novel follows Oskar, a nine-year-old Manhattan boy (I'm basing my assessment that he is nine years old solely on the book jacket; I don't recall his age ever once being mentioned in the story, although he is allowed to wander the streets of New York by himself at all hours of the day and night without anyone raising a fuss, which seems odd for a nine-year-old) who lost his father in the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Oskar finds among his father's things a small key and the word 'Black' scribbled on a paper. From this he deduces that the key belongs to someone named Black and that he must find that person, for surely they will have vital information about his late father, and--for reasons never explained--he decides that he will approach ever person in New York City with the last name Black alphabetically. This last point seems to be a plot device designed solely to keep the story from being told in a thirty page short story instead of a full-length novel.

The novel is full of convoluted storylines (including a B-story about Oskar's grandfather and his experience during WWII) that never really make the emotional statements the author seems to intend, and are often downright precious (not in a good way). This novel is entirely too amused with itself, too self-congratulatory of its own cleverness instead of concerning itself with the intelligence of the reader. I was very relieved that the last dozen or so pages are just photos because it meant I was done with this book that much sooner.

Hit the jump for the movie tie-in cover, which looks equally pleased with itself...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice, by David Teems

Buy Now on
Buy Now on

I am a little embarrassed by how much I learned from David Teems' book, Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice. I really thought I knew my Christian history--and my English literary history for that matter--having spent my undergrad years studying just that, but I was shocked by how little I knew about William Tyndale, the man responsible for the first English translation of the Bible.

David Teems is clearly an expert on his subject matter. So much so, in fact, that I almost wish that this was the second or third book I read about Tyndale (which is pronounced to rhyme with 'spindle'--did you know that? I didn't!) rather than the first. I felt like I had come late to class and everyone else already knew what was going on and I was struggling to keep up. The book was fascinating, but a bit of a dense read on account of all of the quotations, literary and historical references and what can only be described as "in jokes" between the author and his subject.

One thing is for sure, this book has inspired me to brush up on late medieval and early Renaissance English history (and how many books have I read in the last year that I can say that about?).