Birnbaum v. Jonathan Safran Foer

You might as well click on over to Birnbaum v. Jonathan Safran Foer and read it. Everyone will be doing it and you don’t want to feel left out, right?

On a more serious note, the interview really is quite interesting and worth reading. Here are a couple of quotes I thought were interesting.

Obviously JSF likes books in the same way I do:

JSF: A book is an intimate object whether you are conscious of it when you are writing it or not. A book is something that is seen with the eyes on a shelf, pulled off the shelf with the hand, taken home. What percentage of people do you think read a book in bed? 80? 90? People read books in bathtubs. People read books in their easy chairs with their glass of wine or their coffee, their cat.

RB: If the books could talk.

JSF: Thank God they can’t. I really love that idea. Books aren’t just vehicles for print. If you believe that, then you read books off the internet. Or e-books, or whatever they are. I really like books as objects, as a little intimate sculptures that you have a real interaction with, and a bookstore that encourages that is great. And I think publishers encourage it by just paying attention to the details of how something is put together.


JSF’s thought provoking idea about fiction and certainty caught my eye as well:

JSF: Fiction is the opposite of certainty. That was one of the reasons I wanted to write this book now. Because the way that the story of Sept. 11 was being told was with absolute certainty. That’s the American version. It is, “This is what happened. There is good. There is evil. There are victims and there are victimizers. There are terrorists and civilians. There is war and there is peace. There are Arabs and non-Arabs.” And that is not what the world is. The world is this incredibly complicated mix of perspectives and vantages and life experiences. And when you write a book, you are able to concentrate on very, very specific things. Individuals doing very specific acts. Orhan Pamuk once said that every book, at the end of the day is about showing how similar people are to one another. And how different they are from one another. And you do that by showing how somebody pours coffee and drinks it. It’s not by speaking about diplomacy. It’s not by troop movements.

This seems in line with what Nick Arvin had to say in a recent Q&A here at CM:

CM: Is ambiguity or not taking clear sides a way to let the reader’s imagination and perspective fill in behind the lines so to speak? You seem to leave a lot of questions unanswered, is this part of this; is it an intentional style/tactic?

NA: It’s my theory that the difference between engineering and writing fiction is to some extent a difference in attitude toward ambiguity. An engineer is paid to be a problem solver, and an engineer hates ambiguity, because his task is to find a solution to the second decimal point. One of the things that I love about writing, on the other hand, is that it gives me an opportunity to explore areas of ambiguity without any particular need to solve or close off the ambiguity. I find life as it is lived to be filled with vast spaces of difficult and irresolvable questions, and so I hope my fiction reflects that.

Lastly, here is an exchange on the whole “too many books” idea:

RB: There is the constant low-level ululation that there are too many books and there is too much crap being published. I am astounded by that because of the fair number of books that I complete each year I don’t read or see much crap.

JSF: Also, let’s just say there were. There’s this idea now that a bad book is as bad as a good book is good. Like, a bad book is a negative 1 a good book is a positive 1. That’s garbage. A bad book is negative one and a good book is positive 100,000. And if it takes a hundred thousand bad books to make a good one, do we cry for the trees? What is so upsetting? Have children died because a novel was a failure? It’s just not that big a deal.

As I saidm thought provoking and interesting reading from Birnbaum as usual. So click on over.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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