Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Extremely Loud

I'm not talking about how I like to listen to Battle Without Honor Or Humanity as loud as I can when walking across campus while pausing and stepping dramatically at all the right times to match the score...but I do that too. I'm talking about the first in a series of two phrases that makes up the title of one of my favorite books. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. This is one of the three books that I recommend when requested for a recommendation. (The other two are My Name Is Asher Lev and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). I wouldn't say they are my absolute favorite three books (they've gotta fight with Dickens and Twain to make that list), but they certainly are up there. I think that they are three books that everybody can relate to and from whose pages everyone can glean valuable insight about life. Coincidentally two of them were written by Jews. If I weren't Mormon I think I'd be Jewish. But I digress.

I recently lent my copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to a friend. She finished it and she brought it back last week. Having it in my hands once again I flipped through it, remembering some of my favorite parts.

Do you ever have that experience where there's some aspect of your life that you struggle to wrap your head around for a long time and never can quite get the hang of--something that every time you try to explain it to someone, or write about it yourself, you just get frustrated at your inability to bend the language to your will and accurately describe what you're feeling? And then you read some book that you've heard is a decent read, and you find that some author, someone you have never met and don't know from Adam, has taken a good long look into your soul and phrased that ambiguous something perfectly?

For some reason when this happens to me I experience equal parts euphoria and rage. I always imagine it to be a faceless bohemian author sitting at a street cafe in Europe. He's just jotting down these little nuggets of literary gold on a napkin as if it were some little ditty that he can't get out of his head. He does it so quickly and so simply that it would seem as if the turn of phrase that he's just composed, and that I've been searching for endlessly, was a commonly held piece of knowledge and that he was merely transcribing it from the great ethereal nothingness as easy as tying his shoe. How does he do it? It's infuriating. But at the same time it's comforting to know that there are people out there that do this. But, again, I've digressed.

Back to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. There's a section of this book that made me experience what I've just described. I'd forgotten it until this weekend, but thankfully Foer, through the voice of a remarkable little boy named Oskar, brought it back.

Here 'tis:

"What if the water that came out of the shower was treated with a chemical that responded to a combination of things, like your heart beat, and your body temperature, and your brain waves, so that your skin changed color according to your mood?...Everyone could know what everyone else felt, and we could be more careful with each other, because you'd never want to tell a person whose skin was purple that you're angry at her for being late, just like you would want to pat a pink person on the back and tell him, 'Congratulations!' ...there are so many times when you know you're feeling a lot of something, but you don't know what the something is. Am I frustrated? Am I actually just panicky? And that confusion changes your mood, it becomes your mood, and you become a confused, gray person. But with the special water, you could look at your orange hands and think, I'm happy! That whole time I was actually happy! What a relief!"

I'd try to elaborate on this one but I can't. I'd fall short and in doing so would just muddy the waters. Suffice it to say, I've been there. I know what he's saying.

Sometimes I want that water.

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