John Green and the power of reading generously

John Green’s the sort of guy you expect to be profound.

When my boyfriend and I went to see him at the National Book Festival last Saturday, I knew we’d stumbled into something. At 20 minutes to his scheduled speaking time, the giant tent we were all sweating under was rapidly filling. We couldn’t get any closer than the hinterlands to the right of the stage, but that was all right; there was palpable energy before Green, a popular young adult author, took the stage. I was just glad we’d made it.

Spencer laughed, looking around at the crowd of female teens and 20- to 60-somethings alike. When Green appeared, the tent exploded in cheers and screams — and I turned to grin at my boyfriend. I’d told him little about Green beforehand; just that he was the one author I absolutely had to see this year. “I forgot to mention he’s good-looking,” I added.

In person, Green — the author of books like Looking For Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines — is as effortlessly funny, cool and nerdy chic as you’d imagine. He spoke about writing, life and love — all topics the audience savored. One of his best moments came as an audience member asked him about a quote from one of his works: “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” Green explained he couldn’t take credit for it . . . that his now-wife was the mastermind behind that philosophical gem.

Definitely endeared him to me.

Talking about the gifts readers and writers exchange, Green joked, “You give me two gifts. One is money,” he laughed, “and my family appreciates that.” And the other? The gift of our generous reading. That’s what struck me most about that morning — this idea of approaching a work with an open mind. That’s what he most hoped his readers would bring to the table: this generous spirit, especially with The Fault In Our Stars; the willingness to give a book a chance.

Ignoring the hype. Ignoring negative reviews. Coming into a novel with a desire to take it for what it is — and to enjoy it simply on its own merits. If we’re biased from the start, we open a new book and think, “‘I’m going to hate this,’” said Green. “And when we’re finished, we say, ‘Well, I did it! I hated it.’”

I’m guilty of this. After a book generates buzz, either positive or negative, I’ll occasionally pick it up to see what the fuss is all about. I expect it will be terrible and, surprise! It’s terrible. I’ve wasted my time, annoyed myself and often warn others away from it.

But other times? I surprise myself. I pick up something outside the realm of my “traditional” reading and am shocked to find . . . I like it. Like graphic novels. I recently guest-posted at The Estella Society about this very topic: trying something for the first time with the expectation I’ll hate it, and then shocking myself. Having to admit I actually loved it. That’s sort of how I was with audio books, too — hesitant or even disdainful, but now a complete convert.

And I want to be more generous with my reading. I often find myself dissolving so completely in my book snobbery that I’m not capable of expanding into anything new, and I don’t like that about myself — especially when I get on my high horse with others. How often have I recommended Green’s books themselves, especially to those who think they’re “too old” for young adult fiction?

So that’s my goal for the rest of 2012 — and beyond: reading generously. Giving things a chance. Getting out of my little bookish hole to expand, expand! Trying something new without expecting to hate it. That might mean I’ll be selecting books outside my “normal” scope of literary of women’s fiction, but that will make it all the sweeter.

Because as we speak, I’m halfway through three books: The Worst Hard Time (non-fiction about the Great American Dust Bowl); Paper Towns (John Green, young adult!); and The Paris Wife, my current audio, which is historical fiction based on Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage.

See, I’m diversifying. I can feel it!

Ready for a Jennifer-filled summer

I’m back from New York City! What a weekend. A full report (complete with plenty of photos) will be coming your way tomorrow, but until then . . .

I was reading chick lit long before I ever knew it was chick lit. In my late teens, authors like Jennifer Weiner accompanied me through the murky waters of starting college, beginning and ending relationships and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.

Novels like Weiner’s Good In Bed (not quite what it sounds like!) gave me perspective in some messy personal situations, and I’ve closely followed her work since I first stumbled across one of her books in an old Waldenbooks (remember those?). A coworker had recommended her work when I was searching for a “must read” author, and she didn’t steer me wrong.

When I really love an author, nothing excites me more than a new release on the calendar — and Jennifer rarely lets us down. Though recent releases like Best Friends Forever didn’t have quite grab me like earlier favorites, I’m always eager to see what she’s out with next. Her most recent book, Then Came You, will be released in paperback tomorrow — May 8. Also out tomorrow is Swim, a new ebook short story available for free to all you lucky ducks with e-readers. And the schmucks like me, trying to read via the Kindle app on my iPhone. (It’s so tiny.)

Years back, I met Jennifer at a signing in Virginia — and she couldn’t have been funnier or more gracious. Filled mostly with women and the occasional boyfriend (including my own brave guy), Jennifer’s audience was captivated by her anecdotes and stood patiently to have their books signed. I brought along my original copy of Good In Bed to grab her signature, which is now in a place of honor in my bookcase.

Jennifer will be touring again in support of her next release, The Next Best Thing, out July 3. See if she’s coming to a city near you! (And if you’re in New York City, don’t miss her team-up with Jen Lancaster in June. Jealous.)

Let’s get blurb-ical

Once upon a time, I never noticed book blurbs — and to be honest, I’m not sure I could have told you what a blurb was. Every now and then I might take note of a famous fellow author’s words of praise on a dust jacket, but it wasn’t crucial for me to learn someone else thought a book was great.

As a reader, I was fanciful. I took chances.

My caution runs deeper these days. Wary of spending time and money on a book that might break me out in hives, I do plenty of research before crackin’ out my wallet — and if the overwhelming response from bloggers and reviewers on sites like Goodreads isn’t positive, I likely steer clear.

That’s not always true, of course. If I’m being honest (and you know I will), I sometimes grab a book because I fall a little in love with the cover . . . or because the premise, despite others’ warnings, still intrigues me. Sometimes I read a book knowing it might be horrendous because I want to see what all the fuss is about, or just because I like forming my own opinions. There are books I’ve loved that others have despised, and books I’ve despised that others have built shrines to honor.

Reading is an adventure. You never quite know where it will take you.

But back to blurbing. Defined by LibraryThing as “a super-short review, done before the book is published or reviewed professionally,” blurbs typically appear on a book’s cover. In Alyssa Shelasky’s Apron Anxiety, my current read, Gael Greene’s quote reads, “Hot sex, looking good, scoring journalistic triumphs
. . . nothing made Alyssa love herself enough until she learned to cook. There’s a racy plot and a surprising moral in this intimate and delicious book.”

So I’m halfway through Apron Anxiety — and you know what? Greene’s right. Pretty racy and fun and interesting. I have my beef with Shelasky’s depiction of Washington, D.C., mostly because it is my home, and no it’s not New York but for heaven’s sake NOWHERE is so get over it already or just do what makes you happy and stop feeling so sorry for yourself and oh my God.


I’ll save the rest of that for later.

Blurbers have a tough job. In addition to actually reading a book (hopefully? am I being laughably optimistic?), perhaps at the request of a writer friend or publisher, they’re given the task of writing a pithy summary and ringing endorsement to help sell another’s work. Does a book’s success hinge on a blurb? Probably not. But could a blurb from a well-known author help bolster a book’s credibility or sales? Perhaps — especially if one is a debut author.

But what if the book is terrible? Not every novel is earth-shatteringly good. Sometimes they’re mediocre at best, awful at worst. What happens if the book is legitimately awful, and you’re left with the thankless and painful task of putting your personal “stamp of approval” on something that sucks? Just as with reviewing, my approval of a book others believe to be bad makes me look foolish. Opinions will always differ, of course, but come on — we know when something is just bad.

And then my credibility? Not so credible. If I ran around slapping five-star ratings on everything and sprinkling you with magic fairy dust as soon as visited the site (not sure about the logistics of that, but let’s pretend it’s totally possible), I doubt you would take me very seriously.

So here’s my question: do you put any stock in book blurbs? Perusing the new releases at your local bookstore, would a blurb from your favorite author — in my case, say, Megan McCafferty — sway you to pick up a novel? Have you ever purchased a book based on those endorsements? And on the flip side, have you ever felt misled by a blurb?

I’ll go first: yes. To all of the above. I definitely take notice of book blurbs now in a way I never did before, and seeing an author I like touting another’s work piques my interest. Rarely would I buy a book solely based on a blurb, but it has been done. And will likely be done again. In our fast-paced world, a blurb is a quick way to get my attention and let me know what I can expect from a reader’s perspective . . . in an ideal world, anyway. Sometimes I finish a book, read the blurbs again and think those people are insane. But sometimes I finish a book, peek at the blurb and think, “Yep. So-and-so totally got it.”

It’s a tricky thing, blurbing. I’m not pretending to even know the half of what-all goes on behind the scenes. I don’t work in publishing, and I’m sure the process of finding and blurbing another’s book is far more complicated than emailing a buddy and saying, “Hey — want to say my book is awesome?” And that’s not all for me to know.

My curiosity is all about the reader’s perspective — and how blurbing impacts you. So let’s get blurb-ical. (Physical? That was an Olivia Newton-John song pun . . . I’m very, very sorry.)

Everybody’s free (to write a gushy fangirl letter)

I’ve always been a fangirl. I’m pretty sure it started during my rampant and incredibly serious obsession with Hanson, that flaxen-haired trio of Oklahoma brothers who took the music scene by storm (storm, I tell you!) in 1997 with “MMMBop,” a mostly nonsensical but awesome ditty I’ve been humming for, oh, 13 years.

(That was a really long sentence. Please bear with me.)

Moving forward from my days of Hanson worshiping (and yes, I still love them — and they still tour; I’ve seen them in concert almost a dozen times!), we had our boy band phase — which fortunately fizzled out with ‘NSYNC’s demise. But there have been actors (Josh Hartnett, James McAvoy) and singers (John Mayer, Brandon Flowers), too. And my obsessions are not limited to dudes, either; I’ve gone through quite a few passions for TV shows (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Tudors,” “The Office,” “Teen Mom”) and movies (The “Star Wars” series; “Becoming Jane”).

My point: when I like something, I like something. And I’ll gladly tell you all about it.

The modern incarnation of this, of course, translates to my book love. When I love a book, y’all, I really love a book, and since I have this little blog on which to wax on (and on…) about my favorites, that’s just what I do.

Sometimes, though, I have to take it a step beyond. I have to write a Fan Letter.

There are two things I know for sure: everyone likes to be told they’re awesome, and everyone likes to be told they’re awesome in prose so they can read your words and save them forever, whether they’re in email or letter form. To date, I’ve written fangirl letters to Sarah Strohmeyer, Suzanne Supplee, Margaret Dilloway and Megan McCafferty, among others. In some (fortunate) cases, the authors themselves have contacted me first — and then I get to squee! all over the place as their name appears in my inbox, followed by attempts at not sounding like a lunatic when I reply.

What prompts me to write an email to an author versus just writing a book review talking about how great they are? Well, emotional connection. Margaret Dilloway first wrote me after seeing my review of How To Be An American Housewife, a novel that totally captured my heart and imagination, and I couldn’t resist writing her back to say — again — how utterly awesome it (and she) is. I wrote Suzanne Supplee after finishing Artichoke’s Heart, one of my all-time favorite books, because it really touched my soul and helped me come to terms with some scary emotions I didn’t know I still hadn’t dealt with.

When I have something nice to tell someone, I make it a real point to say it. Too often in life we go unnoticed as we sail through our jobs, home lives, volunteer work. Unlike in school, when awards were doled out for every conceivable thing to make us all feel special, no one comes along to pat us on the back or offer kind words regarding a fantastic job we did on a project or obligation. Or even that we got up and kicked the day’s butt by excelling at every task we had to accomplish, no matter how small they may have seemed.

Basically, I think we should be generous with our compliments and reserved with our insults. And when we have something nice to say, we should say it.

Since I started writing my newspaper column, I’ve archived every single complimentary letter (pictured above) or email I’ve received from readers — and I also have every kind email or blog post sent over from blog readers, too. When faced with harsh criticism or some Debbie Downer, I pop open a folder containing all those glowing words and draw strength from that. Not everyone loves me, sure, but some people do. And those people? They have to count more than the others.

One line from that Baz Luhrmann’s ’90s spoken-word graduation tune “Everybody Is Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” has always stuck with me: “Remember the compliments you receive. Forget the insults.”

Words to live by.

And words I’ll continue to share — whenever the mood strikes me.

Have you ever written fan letters to authors or celebrities?
What prompted you to reach out to them?

Literary Megs, volume four: Meg Rosoff

Sometime in the not-so-distant past, I got on a young adult dystopian kick — and, you know, of course I blame book bloggers for my introduction to a genre that has simultaneously captivated and horrified me. It all started in 2009 with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and quickly progressed to Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, a book which kept me up late at night in a cold sweat. A book I couldn’t stop buzzing about.

Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was a book similar in scope but with a totally different feel. Set in an undisclosed future, it chronicles the life of 15-year-old Daisy, an American teen visiting her aunt and cousins in England when a war breaks out. We never know the nature of the battle, nor what’s really happening; it’s all a blur of Occupation, death, destruction and fear.

In the wake of it all, though, is love — and that’s the part that’s stuck with me. Regardless of whether or not it triggers your gag reflex, Daisy falls in love with her cousin, Edmond, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen incest portrayed in . . . well, in such a believable way. Because Daisy and Edmond didn’t really know each other before her arrival in the UK, right? It’s not as though they were raised side-by-side in the same loving family, only later acknowledging their feelings for one another.

Have I intrigued you yet?

As I wrote in last year’s review, How I Live Now was a powerful read that has stuck with me — especially after my memory was refreshed in July. And who do we have to thank for that but Meg Rosoff, the book’s author?

Rosoff is an American writer based in London, according to Wikipedia, and has published numerous young adult novels since How I Live Now, which debuted in 2004 and garnered the Michael L. Printz Award in 2005. Other titles by Rosoff include The Bride’s Farewell, What I Was, Just In Case and Vamoose!.

Visit her blog and back catalog on Goodreads. And when you can? Pick up How I Live Now — I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Literary Megs” is an occasional feature I do covering — you guessed it! — authors and books related to the name “Meg.” Past posts have featured Meg Cabot, Meggie from The Thorn Birds (my namesake) and Megan’s Island, a childhood favorite of mine.

Reading and roasting at the National Book Festival ’10

It was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I bounded up to this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., an event I’d been eagerly anticipating since having so much fun last September. But unlike last year, I didn’t go into this year’s events with a carefully-scheduled game plan. As per my recent realignment in thinking, I wanted to just play it by ear. See where the wind took us. And, you know, where we could avoid the blazing sun by ducking into one of the massive tents before the U.S. Capitol.

But because I can’t totally shy away from my OCD-like tendencies, Spencer and I wandered over to an information booth to grab a program and create a semblance of a plan for the day. Every event requires some planning, friends, or you wind up wandering aimlessly. And doing nothing in particular.

Suzanne Collins, esteemed author of The Hunger Games and, most recently, Mockingjay, was the first writer I wanted to catch. We arrived at the Teens & Children tent in time to see author Brad Meltzer finish speaking, and he was totally hilarious. Humble, self-deprecating — and he even had me in tears while recounting the story of sharing his recent children’s read, Heroes For My Son, with the very child in question.

Collins was the main event here, though, and Meltzer acknowledged that with chagrin. When she appeared following his talk, gaggles of kids began to scream as if a rock star was rising from beneath the stage in a haze of smoke and screaming guitars. A little boy and girl a few rows ahead of us cheered while waving copies of Mockingjay in the air.

It was definitely an event.

Though she never seemed visibly ill at ease, Collins didn’t exactly come across as warm and fuzzy. And while I can’t say I’d be completely comfortable, witty and charming while sweating on a stage in front of hundreds of eager faces, she didn’t really seem eager to chat with fans. While taking questions after her talk about writing life and the dangers of being too much of a voyeur — particularly in regard to reality television — she almost came across as flip, though I can’t really cite a specific example of why. As we discussed later at a book blogger dinner, I don’t think anyone walked away feeling like she’d endeared herself to them.

Since I was already sweating like a pig and it wasn’t even noon, Spencer and I decided to duck into the nearby National Gallery of Art, one of my favorite places in D.C., to cool off before seeing the main man of my hour (and day): Jonathan Safran Foer. We fortified ourselves with plenty of fluids, some turkey and soup and wandered around the gallery, taking in the sights and people watching. Lord knows some interesting folks wander those hallowed halls, and I cringed after catching a glimpse of a star-spangled fanny pack.

Not to go off on a tangent here, friends, but what’s with the fanny packs? Scores of people circled me with the ugly bags around their middles on Saturday, and I’d really believed — up until that point — that it was some myth, a total stereotype, about Americans. But not so. And I honestly don’t fancy myself some holier-than-thou fashionista, but fanny packs really make me want to gag.

But I completely digress.

I was anxious to get to the Contemporary Life tent in plenty of time for Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2 p.m. talk, so Spence and I braved the heat again after a solid two hours in blessed air conditioning. And we did — in the third row! Seating at the National Book Festival is always an adventure, especially since there’s rarely enough of it for every audience member who shows up for each author. If you resign yourself early to the fact that you’ll probably be standing most of the day, things seem to go smoother — and if you do get a seat? All the better. And getting a seat for my man Foer? Priceless.

After catching the end of Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound, I felt an elbow nudge me. Foer had arrived on a golf cart driven by one of the festival volunteers, and he looked exactly the way I expected: in a collared shirt, casual but still classic; fitted jeans; loafers. His signature glasses and artfully unkempt hair rounded out the look, and I went all stalker/paparazzi on the poor guy by zooming in as close as possible with my point-and-shoot before he even stepped out of the sunshine. Cute, I thought. Definitely cute. Definitely still my literary crush.

But buddy was short.

Your position as Man I Most Love and Want to Smooch is safe, Spencer. In addition to being awesome in a hundred different ways, you’re taller than 5’6″. This works well for me.

I’m a tremendous fan of Foer’s fiction — which includes the stellar Everything Is Illuminated and haunting Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — but I haven’t picked up his latest work, Eating Animals. The latter is non-fiction, see, and I’m used to Foer the Novelist — an adept guy who really pierces you in the heart through prose. Eating Animals is “a characteristically brilliant memoir-investigation, boasting an exhaustively-argued account of one man-child’s decade-long struggle with vegetarianism,” according to Amazon.

And me? Well, I like meat. Chicken, beef, turkey — you name it, I can probably ingest it. Gladly.

I wanted to gaze upon Foer’s gorgeous mug but didn’t want to be lectured like a 2-year-old, told in no uncertain terms that the way I live is immoral, unhealthy or both. I’m open to new ideas, yes, but I was afraid that given the controversial nature of a book dealing with, well, eating animals, I was in for some uncomfortable talk.

But that wasn’t to be, thankfully. Nor did my fears that he’d be aloof, condescending or “above it all” come to pass. I found Foer to be interesting, which I expected — but also approachable, which I did not. Hearing him read passages from the book regarding his grandmother, a survivor of the Holocaust, was moving — and, as always, I was sucked right in by his language. With one foot crossed over the other at the podium, Foer seemed remarkably comfortable and happy to engage in “conversation,” as he called it, when the crowd was prompted for questions. He answered each thoughtfully, especially when asked by a woman in the audience for the meat industry’s reaction to Eating Animals. His response? There was no response from the industry, actually, which disappointed him.

And I’m pretty sure Foer could read me the street names from a road atlas and I’d be all ears, panting and embarrassing myself in front of my own boyfriend.

But now, now — I was a good girl. No panties were thrown. It was tough, friends, but I managed to not act like a raving lunatic. And though I probably won’t be converting to vegetarianism anytime soon, Foer stressed that stopping the practice of eating meat is not what he’s advocating; it’s ending the cruelty of animals, limiting our intake of certain foods that could harm us, and so forth. Basically, stuff that pretty much everyone can agree is a good thing — whether you’re carnivore, omnivore; male, female; human, robot.

Or, well, not robot; robots don’t eat. But let’s roll with it.

So basically, Foer was awesome fun — and I even spotted Jamie of The Broke and the Bookish in the crowd after seeing her updates on Twitter! She snagged a great place in line to meet Foer later at his book signing and recapped her experience here. Yeah, that sickly green tint to my skin? It’s jealousy. Pure jealousy. Outshone only by the slight sunburn I got that day.

Spencer and I veered off the beaten path after Foer’s talk, winding our way over to E Street to check out Penn Camera. Back at the festival an hour or so later, we snagged seats in the Poetry & Prose tent for authors Allegra Goodman, author of The Cookbook Collector, and Jane Smiley, well known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres, among others. Goodman was funny and sweet, talking about her writing process and inspiration behind her latest novel, and even copped to being a collector of cookbooks while never actually cooking any dishes. Smiley was interesting, too, though her very long reading from Private Life, her latest novel, began to melt my brain after a while. It was really hot. I was really tired . . . and getting confused. But it was fun all the same.

We wrapped up our day downtown by hoofing it over to the Elephant & Castle, where we met up with some fabulous book bloggers and partook in some “adult beverages,” as Swapna put it! My skin finally cooled while talking books with some lovely ladies and fellow book bloggers, and again I was struck by how immediately comfortable I am with my bookish friends. Conversation flowed easily as we talked about everything under the sun: our own blogs; our “real” jobs; our families; our homes. Audio books. Favorite authors. Modern-day “classics.” It was wonderful seeing Celeste, Cecelia, Candace, Deborah, Heather, Sondra, Swapna and Julie, and I was equally excited to introduce Spencer to the group. Now he knows this whole “blogging” thing is for real! (See photos of all of us at dinner.)

Thanks, ladies, for a great evening — and thanks to the Library of Congress for a great event. By the end of the day I was sweaty, sticky and exhausted, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Thanks, too, to my dad for driving us all the way downtown — then picking us back up at the end of the night! He’s a trooper, just like my patient boyfriend. Thanks for spending a humid, book-filled day with me, Spence. I know I still owe you for The Pioneer Woman, but you know I’m good for it.

Many (many!) more of my photos from the event are up on Flickr.


Jonathan Safran Foer might be a jerk, but I kind of still love him

An interesting discussion broke out on Twitter yesterday — as interesting discussions are wont to do — between the wonderful Andi of Estella’s Revenge and yours truly. After I noticed the list of attendees for this year’s National Book Festival had been posted, I gleefully announced my excitement over the prospect of seeing Jonathan Safran Foer, an author I’ve respected and admired for years.

Er, well, that’s basically what I said.

(If you want a history of the whole #pantyworthy thing, stop by The Book Lady’s Blog
Rebecca’s the originator. And it was too apt to not include.)

Anywho, friends, I sent out my gleeful tweet and started pondering the ways in which I would get close enough to touch Jonathan Safran Foer’s little writing fingers (is that creepy? Am I weird?) when Andi hit me back.

And this got me thinking. What do I see in Foer? I know many folks share Andi’s thoughts and I’ve certainly read enough interviews/reviews to know many think he’s pedantic, irreverent, conceited. Arrogant. Haughty. And so on.

Usually when someone is generally accepted to be a pretentious jerk, I run so far and fast from their work, you’d think I was headed to a Starbucks offering unlimited pumpkin spice lattes. But Foer? No. Not my Foer.

. . .  And why?

In the summer of 2006, I read Foer’s two novels to date: Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I might not have read them both that summer, but I read them in a very short time period while I was commuting to Washington, D.C., where I had an internship with a city newspaper.

My typing fingers were very busy that summer as I researched articles, made phone calls, interviewed locals and wrote, wrote, wrote. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. At 20 years old, I felt like I was doing something. Going somewhere. Each morning as I left the commuter bus from Southern Maryland and stepped foot on K Street, I felt like a real, serious member of the world. I didn’t think journalism was for me — ironic, considering I’m now an editor and columnist at a newspaper — but I loved it all the same. In between the times I was so nervous about screwing things up, I feared I was having a panic attack.

As I made my daily trek from the suburbs to downtown D.C., I had plenty of time on the bus to do as I pleased — which, when I wasn’t napping, meant reading. It’s hard for me to now remember a world in which I didn’t blog about books, but for a while? Well, I read like a maniac — but never recorded a thing. The details of so many books I read during that time — four or five books a week — have softened, faded and dulled. I can’t tell you the plots, characters or settings. And I can barely recall what I read unless someone asks me about a specific book.

Foer’s novels, though, have remained whole, intact in my memory: souvenirs from my summer adventure. Everything Is Illuminated was a book I devoured over two days. It drew me in from page one, depositing me in a foreign world with a foreign narrator and enveloping me in this whacky, difficult quest. The flashbacks were disorienting; the language could be confusing. Sometimes? Well, honestly, I wasn’t sure what was going on.

But I fell in love. With the book. With the author.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, told from the perspective of a young New Yorker whose father died on Sept. 11, was in a completely different vein — but I loved it just the same. Some of the passages and images included, especially of the “Falling Man,” have haunted me. They hover just behind my eyelids before I fall asleep. It was such an emotional read, a book that has stuck with me. It was also the first novel I’d read that addressed Sept. 11, a subject which was still rough and raw — especially for people I knew, people who lived and worked and played in D.C. It seemed like every local community and town lost people in the Pentagon attacks; several of those we lost attended my high school.

It was hard.

So I did love the books. And, you know, I think he’s cute. (And I know he’s married and I’m all kinds of in love, too, so don’t worry about me waving Foer’s novels around and tryin’ to be a homewrecker.) But what is it that keeps me coming back to them, that makes me remember them with a sense of awe — and even reverence?

Well, it had to be the time period.

When I think of Everything Is Illuminated — actually think about the book — I picture myself propped up in a comfy seat, bent slightly over the creased novel I’d just taken from my work bag. I’m sweaty from walking down the street to catch the bus, the stickiness and nastiness of summer in Washington clinging to my dewy skin. I’m young, relieved to be done with the work day; I’m struggling to move forward, still nursing a broken heart. I reach deep into the novel to take me away, and it’s not long before I’m crying. The first novel to make me cry in public.

Remembering Foer’s books makes me remember that time in my life — a difficult time, but an exciting one. Young, still in college, with a whole lifetime before me — well, it makes me nostalgic. There’s no other way to put it.

Now, I’m not exactly washed up. At nearly 25, I have a job I enjoy, a great family, a handsome and ridiculously awesome boyfriend. I get to write and read for a living. I run this blog, my pretty baby, which has brought so many wonderful people into my life.

But looking back to that summer, well . . . it just makes me feel whimsical. For what was and what I knew would eventually be. I made new friends, new contacts — I worked in a real office. I had my own work number. I was in the city and worked near the White House. It was the year I came of age, if you will. And Foer’s books were a definitive part of that.

Now, whether the guy is actually a pretentious twit? Well, I’ll let you know come September. Don’t let me down, Jonathan. Please don’t let me down.