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While it seems that Jonathan Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is pushing the traditional boundaries for what a book contains, books have been changing for the last 600 years. The invention of the printing press marks the beginning of innovation within books, since it allowed authors to duplicate and publish their ideas over and over again. Today books are going digital, as well as pushing the boundaries more than ever.

In the 21st century, two of the most finite resources seem to be our attention and time. We are pulled in so many different directions each day, and thus we look for books that catch and hold our attention. Why read a book that is boring and seems to be wasting your time? One of the unintended effects of the social media boom is the decrease in reader’s attention spans. Books have had to change more rapidly to keep up with the public’s attention.   Very few people anymore read the classics because unfortunately those books do not hold our attention like they used to. Foer’s experimentation with the use of pictures, blank pages, color, red pen, letters, and formatting serve to catch and stimulate the reader’s attention because these devices are so different from simple print. The book is interspersed with letters from Oskar’s grandfather to his son and letters from Oskar’s grandmother to him. Together they tell the story of his family’s history and the pain they share after losing loved ones. The pictures and images within the book are all things that Oskar has collected in his attempt to understand his world. They represent what is going on in Oskar’s mind and add meaning to the story.  One of the images included is of a man falling out of the twin towers, which Oskar enlarges to see if it is his father. Another is of a flock of birds that flew by that is the first thing Mr. Black hears. Through both of these images Oskar  tries to understand the world, and the pictures help the reader to understand what Oskar is thinking.  While some readers may find the images distracting, they compel the reader to stay engaged in the story and to follow the thread.

4 Responses to “Our Changing Attention Spans”

  1. Olivia says:

    I’m glad you pointed this out — the idea that all of odd formatting decisions and the insertion into the text of supplementary materials might have been a tactic of Foer’s to retain the attention of readers, at least in part. Because of my own interpretation of the author’s choices, I hadn’t considered that although the photographs included are quite different from those seen in children’s picture books, they could serve the same purpose: to keep the audience engaged.

  2. Marta says:

    For me it’s such a weirdly fine line sometimes. There were times when I found myself totally enthralled by the same things Oskar was enthralled by (like when stopping to read every individual word written on the test paper in the art supply store), and times when I was forced out of the story by thoughts like, “When did he convince that guy to turn around so he could photograph the back of his head?”
    I agree that it’s certainly innovative, and I appreciated the innovation very much. At no point was it so distracting as to be annoying to me; it was more like it bordered oddly on metafiction in the way that the images and their correspondance to “Stuff That Happened to Me” sort of referenced the text. I wonder if Jonathan Safran Foer is a Kurt Vonnegut fan. Perhaps we’ll see him in his next novel, sitting down next to his characters in a bar and telling them that he’s their creator. 🙂

  3. gray15 says:

    Olivia, I am glad that you can see the point I am trying to make. I agree that the pictures in this book are very different from those in a classical children’s book, but they do keep the reader engaged to a small extend.

    Marta, first off I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who read all the words on the sheet of test paper. I am not sure if Jonathan Safran Foer is a Kurt Vonnegut fan; however that would certainly be strange if he was sitting next to his characters explaining how he created them.

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