Excerpt from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 368 pages
    Apr 2006, 368 pages

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I spread the map out on the dining room table, and I held down the corners with cans of V8. The dots from where I'd found things looked like the stars in the universe. I connected them, like an astrologer, and if you squinted your eyes like a Chinese person, it kind of looked like the word "fragile." Fragile. What was fragile? Was Central Park fragile? Was nature fragile? Were the things I found fragile? A thumbtack isn't fragile. Is a bent spoon fragile? I erased, and connected the dots in a different way, to make "door." Fragile? Door? Then I thought of porte, which is French for door, obviously. I erased and connected the dots to make "porte." I had the revelation that I could connect the dots to make "cyborg," and "platypus," and "boobs," and even "Oskar," if you were extremely Chinese. I could connect them to make almost anything I wanted, which meant I wasn't getting closer to anything. And now I'll never know what I was supposed to find. And that's another reason I can't sleep.


I'm not allowed to watch TV, although I am allowed to rent documentaries that are approved for me, and I can read anything I want. My favorite book is A Brief History of Time, even though I haven't actually finished it, because the math is incredibly hard and Mom isn't good at helping me. One of my favorite parts is the beginning of the first chapter, where Stephen Hawking tells about a famous scientist who was giving a lecture about how the earth orbits the sun, and the sun orbits the solar system, and whatever. Then a woman in the back of the room raised her hand and said, "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." So the scientist asked her what the tortoise was standing on. And she said, "But it's turtles all the way down!"

I love that story, because it shows how ignorant people can be. And also because I love tortoises.

A few weeks after the worst day, I started writing lots of letters. I don't know why, but it was one of the only things that made my boots lighter. One weird thing is that instead of using normal stamps, I used stamps from my collection, including valuable ones, which sometimes made me wonder if what I was really doing was trying to get rid of things. The first letter I wrote was to Stephen Hawking. I used a stamp of Alexander Graham Bell.

Dear Stephen Hawking,
  Can I please be your protégé?
      Oskar Schell

I thought he wasn't going to respond, because he was such an amazing person and I was so normal. But then one day I came home from school and Stan handed me an envelope and said, "You've got mail!" in the AOL voice I taught him. I ran up the 105 stairs to our apartment, and ran to my laboratory, and went into my closet, and turned on my flashlight, and opened it. The letter inside was typed, obviously, because Stephen Hawking can't use his hands, because he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which I know about, unfortunately.

Thank you for your letter. Because of the large volume of mail I receive, I am unable to write personal responses. Nevertheless, know that I read and save every letter, with the hope of one day being able to give each the proper response it deserves. Until that day,
          Stephen Hawking

I called Mom's cell. "Oskar?" "You picked up before it rang." "Is everything OK?" "I'm gonna need a laminator." "A laminator?" "There's something incredibly wonderful that I want to preserve."

From Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pages 1-15.  Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Safran Foer. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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