I am on a reading roll! On Sunday night I finished Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. Chronicling Foer’s journey to the American Memory Championship, Moonwalking With Einstein is half memoir, half Blink, all delightful.
Confession: I have had a big, old, literary crush on Jonathan Safran Foer (Joshua’s older brother) since 2006. My husband and I saw him at Barnes and Noble reading from his then new novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (at the same reading, we saw Ann Patchett read from her memoir Truth and Beauty, another delight). At the end of the evening, Ryan said “I’d have a drink with him.” I agreed, but what I meant is that I’d leave him for Jonathan Safran Foer if he asked (no worries–he hasn’t asked yet).
Now, as this Wonkette post points out, the Foers are, as a family, pretty obnoxious. They’re clearly smug, self-satisfied, arrogant guys. And you know what? That’s OK with me. Have you met my husband? Please, have you met me? Self-satisfied and arrogant are a-okay in my book.
I’ve been sad that the Foer of my dreams hasn’t put out a new novel since Extremely Loud, and was thrilled when I saw a review of the younger Foer’s newest book. I was temporarily disappointed when I realized it was non-fiction. I have a mixed relationship with non-fiction: sometimes I love it. Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin Devil in the White City, Blink, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much–all wonderful. On the other hand, I’ve also started oh I’d say 2 million non-fiction books that never got finished.
But Moonwalking included all of the elements of non-fiction I love:
–I learned interesting things! The book opens with a great anecdote about Simonides and Memory Palaces (the key to memory if you ask Foer and other mnemonists), and continues with little moments of interesting things that will one day come up at a cocktail party (as my high school Physics teacher used to say).
–I can apply some of those things to my life! Blink had moments in it that really made me think about myself as a person and an educator. So did Moonwalking. The bit about the “OK Plateau” is something I’ve been mulling over since I read about it, and I think it’s going to end up being applicable in the classroom and in my “real life.”
–The narration was engaging! This was the best part of Moonwalking. Foer’s voice was humorous, clever and surprisingly self-deprecating. I loved the way Foer alternated between his research and his practice for the American Memory Championship. Non-fiction is most powerful when it combines narrative with information and Foer did that really well.
Of course I took umbrage with some things. It dragged in the middle when Foer really spent a lot of time focusing on research. I was curious about how his progress was going, but he stopped talking about it for about 30 pages (and in a book that’s less than 250 pages total, that felt like a lot).
Ultimately I really liked Moonwalking with Einstein. I learned things I’m going to use in my classroom and in my life, and I decided that I like at least two out of three of the Foer brothers, despite any character flaws they might have. I also finished Looking for Alaska for my book club, which I may or may not blog about before the book club (do you read the blog, book club? Stop me if you d0.) and discovered that Mockingbird, which seems to have been everywhere lately, was in my classroom library.
It’s been a great reading week!