One of my dearest Brit friends started a book club a year ago. I’ve only gone a couple of times, and to be honest have been a bit slack around the books they’ve selected, but one random evening I decided to join without reading the book, basically to meet up drink a few glasses of Rose, and eat lovelylovely pie. (The pub we meet at is known for its Pastry Perfection – no I’m not joking)
The book they were discussing sounded interesting. Slightly unusual protagonist, interesting subject matter, (9/11, the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima) and I just knew from what people were saying it would be a book i’d really enjoy.
‘Enjoy’ is totally the wrong word to explain how I feel about this book.
I’ve mentioned previously that I’m known for being pretty sensitive. I struggle to watch movies, I struggle to keep thoughts out of my head, I used to struggle with being totally overwhelmed with various emotions – to the point where it used to be my emotions would control my life rather than the other way round. But weirdly, the ONE thing that I’ve always been able to half keep in check, is emotions related to reading.
I can read books about war, I can read books about violence, I can read books full with darkness – yet I’m still okay. The words stay with me, but somehow it’s never affected me as much as what I see on screen.
Thinking about it over the last week or two, I’m wondering if it’s because I don’t feel I’m the most ‘visual’ person. When reading, I’m not playing a related movie or visual reference in my head – I’m absorbing words off the page. Whereas I think that’s the issue with movies/tv, because it’s an image, it seems to stick. Often I can’t rid myself of scenes in my head that play over and over and over…
So I’ve cried very little in books I’ve read. And Extremely Loud & Incredibly close takes me to a total of 3 books I’ve cried in.
1: Watership down. (INSERT SPOILER TAG IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT) I also used to sob when watching the movie. Last time I read it, it wasn’t when Fiver gets the vision of fields covered in blood (I can still visualise that scene from the movie – and that’s 27 years after I last saw it) it wasn’t when Bigwig gets stuck in the snare, and it wasn’t when Hazel gets shot, it wasn’t the story of Marli-hrair & the Black Rabbit of Inle. It was when Hazel gets to the end, and who does he meet? El-ahrairah.
I used to read Watership Down at least once a year, my well-thumbed copy is hopefully somewhere at Mum & Dad’s – it’s definitely a book I’ll be reading to my children in years to come (but I probably wont let them watch the film…)
2: The Lacuna.
I wrote about this a few years back – a book that totally took me by surprise, and probably assisted by having a glass or two of vino as I read the last chapters, I cried and cried at the end. It’s a beautiful beautiful story.
3: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I cried so much in this book I TWICE had to get out of bed, and sit up for a ‘break’ and look at cute pictures of animals on the internet after reading. I cried so much one night I texted (yes I texted) my other half to come give me a cuddle, because even though I’d stopped reading it, I was so incredibly sad I couldn’t stop crying.
I’ve read about the Dresden bombing before. ‘And so it goes’ knocked about my head every time Dresden was mentioned, and as I pieced together the related parts of the story (which I kinda don’t want to spoil) I could feel not only horror, but also incredible sadness that even tho the story I was reading wasn’t true, how many people died, how many families were lost, how many people lived on with PTSD. But also, and as related to the story, how many people were almost pushed together by way of having a similar experience.
9/11 is a ‘theme’ throughout as well. The protagonist’s father died in 9/11 and a couple of years after Oskar find a key – and starts his search across New York for a lock that fits, in someway to find something his father may have left behind.
My memories of 9/11 are hazy, but the image that has always stuck, were the jumpers.
I’m even tearing up now just thinking about it.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like, and so to have this book confront you with it as imagery shocks and floors you. It has really affected me, I’m still struggling to get the pictures out of my head.
But the hardest part, and why I struggled so much with the start and had to push myself to keep reading, is that the Oskar’s father calls from one of the towers. 5 times.
9:12, 9:31, 9:46, 10:04, and again, at 10:22.
People must have done the same, calling to say ‘I’ll be okay’ and ‘There are people coming to help us’ and then calling to say ‘I love you but goodbye’.
The book is a more than a search to find what’s lost, it’s a search to understand existence, and the search that starts when you’re the one left behind – how to find your place back in life when such a big part of you is gone, picking up pieces and shattered threads.
It’s an incredibly beautiful book, quite a few of the other book clubbers didn’t enjoy it as much (it got a 3/5) but I think it’s one of the greatest books I’ve read in a long time. And don’t get the kindle version (thanks Kat). This is definitely one that you need the actual book for.