Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Words I Wish I Wrote: Quotes From "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

I just finished reading the novel "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I can honestly say that all of the books I've ever read – and I've read tons of 'em – this was one of the absolute best. Even though it probably shouldn't have been.

Foer has a style all his own – it's unconventional, it's erratic, it's visionary, and quite frankly, sometimes it's downright frustrating. 

He uses run-on sentences to excess – albeit brilliantly constructed run-on sentences which run on (on purpose) for the express purpose of conveying the unfocused and rambling thoughts of an ever-imagining mind, as well as to spew forth a veritable roller coaster of confusing emotions. 

He includes entire conversations between two or more characters within the same paragraph, instead of separating each bit of dialogue into its own paragraph like you're supposed to do. Sometimes he doesn't even put quotation marks around what clearly are quotes, and you don't know who's talking when, or to whom, or for what purpose, or if you're actually reading internal dialogue. 

Yes, it's frustrating. But it's also wonderful. This book is alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, both tragic and hilarious, hopeful and hopeless. In other words, it's truthful. 

Because life is an unstable admixture of all kinds of emotions, and sometimes it's difficult to tell who's speaking, and to whom, and for what purpose. Sometimes the voices you hear aren't speaking out loud, but inside your head, and you wonder if you're going crazy, or if this is your new reality.

Put simply, I shouldn't have liked this book very much at all. But I did. Very much.

I won't rehash the plot for those of you who have read it, and I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it. Because you should definitely read it. It's an important book. It's profoundly simple, yet intricately complex. And you'll love it. You may not enjoy reading it, but once you've finished it, you'll be glad you started it. 

What more can I say? Read it. It's that good. I promise.

What follow are some of the more memorable quotes from the book. If you haven't read the book yet, don't worry – there are no spoilers here, just snippets of thoughts and conversations that made me think, made me feel, and made me glad to be alive. Enjoy!

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."

“Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time? My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.”

“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can't tell fast enough, the ears that aren't big enough, the eyes that can't take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

“There were things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them, and let them hurt me.”

“She wants to know if I love her, that's all anyone wants from anyone else, not love itself but the knowledge that love is there, like new batteries in the flashlight in the emergency kit in the hall closet.”

“So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”

“Humans are the only animal that blushes, laughs, has religion, wages war, and kisses with lips. So in a way, the more you kiss with lips, the more human you are. And the more you wage war.”

“We need enormous pockets, pockets big enough for our families and our friends, and even the people who aren't on our lists, people we've never met but still want to protect. We need pockets for boroughs and for cities, a pocket that could hold the universe.”

“I felt suddenly shy. I was not used to shy. I was used to shame. Shyness is when you turn your head away from something you want. Shame is when you turn your head away from something you do not want.”

“I took the world into me, rearranged it, and sent it back out as a question: "Do you like me?”

“I never confused what I had with what I was.”

“Is ignorance bliss, I don't know, but it's so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think. I've thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”

“We had everything to say to each other, but no ways to say it.”

“I missed you even when I was with you. That’s been my problem. I miss what I already have, and I surround myself with things that are missing.”

“I hated myself for going, why couldn't I be the kind of person who stays?”

“I thought about all of the things that everyone ever says to each other, and how everyone is going to die, whether it's in a millisecond, or days, or months, or 76.5 years, if you were just born. Everything that's born has to die, which means our lives are like skyscrapers. The smoke rises at different speeds, but they're all on fire, and we're all trapped.”

“I did not need to know if he could love me. I needed to know if he could need me.”

“I wanted to tell her everything, maybe if I'd been able to, we could have lived differently, maybe I'd be there with you now instead of here. Maybe... if I'd said, 'I'm so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything,' maybe that would have made the impossible possible. Maybe, but I couldn't do it, I had buried too much too deeply inside me. And here I am, instead of there.”

“You can't love anything more than something you miss.”

“Every moment before this one depends on this one.”

“We were quiet on the car ride home. I turned on the radio and found a station playing 'Hey Jude.' It was true, I didn't want to make it bad. I wanted to take the sad song and make it better. It's just that I didn't know how.”

“The mistakes I've made are dead to me. But I can't take back the things I never did.”

“I thought, it's a shame that we have to live, but it's a tragedy that we get to live only one life, because if I'd had two lives, I would have spent one of them with her.”

"Even if I don't like what I am, I know what I am. My children like what they are, but they don't know what they are. So tell me which is worse.”

“I said, I want to tell you something.
She said, you can tell me tomorrow.
I had never told her how much I loved her.
She was my sister.
We slept in the same bed.
There was never a right time to say it.
It was always unnecessary.
The books in my father's shed were sighing.
The sheets were rising and falling around me with Anna's breathing.
I thought about waking her.
But it was unnecessary.
There would be other nights.
And how can you say I love you to someone you love?
I rolled onto my side and fell asleep next to her.
Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you...It's always necessary.
I love you.”

"He promised us that everything would be okay. I was a child, but I knew that everything would not be okay. That did not make my father a liar. It made him my father.

“I hope you never think about anything as much as I think about you.”

“There's nothing wrong with not understanding yourself.”

“Each day has been chained to the previous one. But the weeks have wings. Anyone who believes that a second is faster than a decade did not live my life.”

“She let out a laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth, like she was angry at herself for forgetting her sadness.”

“Only someone who'd never been an animal would put up a sign saying not to feed them....”

“It was one of the best days of my life, a day during which I lived my life and didn't think about my life at all.”

“I have so much to say to you. I want to begin at the beginning, because that is what you deserve. I want to tell you everything, without leaving out a single detail. But where is the beginning? And what is everything?”

“Literature was the only religion her father practiced, when a book fell on the floor he kissed it, when he was done with a book he tried to give it away to someone who would love it.”

“She had been in love so many times that she began to suspect she was not falling in love, but rather doing something much more ordinary.”

“The paper, the stapler, the staples, the tape. It makes me sick. Physical things. Forty years of loving someone becomes staples and tape.”

“She said, 'Do you have more things that you need, or more that you don't need?' I said, 'It depends on what it means to need.'”

“I asked him did he really love New York or was he just wearing the shirt. He smiled, like he was nervous. I could tell he didn't understand, which made me feel guilty for speaking English, for some reason. I pointed at his shirt. 'Do? You? Really? Love? New York?' He said, 'New York?' I said, 'Your. Shirt.' He looked at his shirt. I pointed at the N and said 'New,' and the Y and said 'York.' He looked confused or embarrassed, or surprised, or maybe even mad. I couldn't tell what he was feeling, because I couldn't speak the language of his feelings. 'I not know was New York. In Chinese, ny mean 'you.' Thought was "I love you."' It was then that I noticed the 'I♥NY' poster on the wall, and the 'I♥NY' flag over the door, and the 'I♥NY' dishtowels, and the 'I♥NY' lunchbox on the kitchen table. I asked him, 'Well, then why do you love everybody so much?'”

“The meaning of my thoughts started to float away from me, like leaves that fall from a tree into a river, I was the tree, the world was the river.”

“What about a device that knew everyone you knew? So when an ambulance went down the street, a big sign on the roof could flash
if the sick person’s device didn’t detect the device of someone he knew nearby. And if the device did detect the device of someone he knew, the ambulance could flash the name of the person in the ambulance, and either
Or, if it was something major,
And maybe you could rate the people you knew by how much you loved them, so if the person in the ambulance detected the device of the person he loved the most, or the person who loved him the most, and the person in the ambulance was really badly hurt, and might even die, the ambulance could flash
One thing that’s nice to think about is someone who was the first person on lots of people’s lists, so that when he was dying, and his ambulance went down the streets to the hospital, the whole time it would flash

“It was getting hard to keep all the things I didn't know inside me.”

“We shared the smile of recognizing ourselves in each other, how many imposters do I have? Do we all make the same mistakes, or has one of us gotten it right, or even just a bit less wrong, am I the imposter?”

“I try not to remember the life that I didn’t want to lose but lost and have to remember."

You asked me to write you a letter, so I am writing you a letter. I do not know why I am writing you this letter, or what this letter is supposed to be about, but I am writing it nonetheless, because I love you very much and trust that you have some good purpose for having me write this letter. I hope that one day you will have the experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love.
Your father”

“I want an infinitely blank book and the rest of time.”

“She died in my arms, saying, 'I don't want to die.' That is what death is like. It doesn't matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn't matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we would never have war anymore.”

“I went to the guest room and pretended to write. I hit the space bar again and again and again. My life story was spaces.”

“People with nothing to declare carry the most.”

“If I’d been someone else in a different world I’d've done something different, but I was myself and the world was the world, so I was silent.”

“That’s all anyone wants from anyone else, not love itself but the knowledge that love is there.”

“My insides don't match up with my outsides. Do anyone's inside and outsides match up? I don't know. I'm only me. Maybe that's what a person's personality is: the difference between the inside and the outside.”

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