Friday, September 21, 2007


The thing I’m enjoying most about Jonathan Safran Foer’s ”Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is the 9-year-old protagonist’s mission of talking with every person named Brown in New York City -- and its affirmation that an interesting life exists behind each anonymous face and closed door.

It reminds me of Steve Hartman's “Everybody has a Story” segments on CBS News. Hartman throws a dart at a US map to choose a city, then randomly opens a phone book there and chooses a person to interview. He invariably discovers a fascinating story.

It reminds me of The Oxford Project, wherein Peter Feldstein photographed every resident in the tiny town of Oxford, Iowa. Twenty-one years later, in 2005, he photographed the same residents again, this time accompanied by writer Stephen Bloom, who interviewed them. And hidden behind one ordinary face in this flyover-country town is Jim Hoyt: “… the last living of the first four American soldiers who liberated Buchenwald concentration camp.”

Novelist Orson Scott Card wrote, “If you look at somebody and think he or she is normal, that often means you don't know them well enough yet.” Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.”

It just takes some excavating around the details.


  1. Thanks for the mention of The Oxford Project. But just to set the record straight (somewhere, someone made this mistake and it has perpetuated itself: I never returned to Oxford 21 years later because I never left. I've lived here for 31 years.


  2. Many thanks for visiting and for the clarification ... makes me wonder if the project includes a triptych of you?

    I've been interested in your project since hearing Bloom speak last year at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Am eager to catch up on the press links on the project website, and meanwhile look forward to the book's release next year!

  3. I love this post, and oddly I tried to buy a used copy of *Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close* the other day. I opened the book and it was full of pressed leaves and petals. Sadly, it hadn't been priced - so I had to leave it. I'm going back for it, though.

    Orson Scott Card and Mr Flaubert are so right. Which is, perhaps, one reason I write.

  4. post revised to reflect Peter Feldstein's comment