Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.


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A summer which I intend to spend blogging: round two

I am going to start blogging again.

These words are, of course, words that the internet – the poor, content-saturated internet, which must find the idea of sharing and reblogging utterly exhausting – has heard before.

But as I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, a conversation between journalists Mary Hamilton and Adam Tinworth about the importance of blogging started to make me feel guilty. The argument, in summary, was that it is undeniably important to keep writing on the web. It is important creatively, for people who work with words for a living; intellectually, for people who have a lot of ideas and opinions, and for whom writing is a way of refining these; and logically, in a digital world where declaring yourself a writer of any kind without easy-to-find evidence is a pretty avoidable mistake to make.

Also, for reasons I will get to in a minute, I am desperate to write about something that isn’t yarn.

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Find my Friends: magic Marauders Map, or sinister sci-fi?

“I brought you a present,” says my friend Ben, striding confidently into the office of UEA’s student newspaper, Concrete, and presenting me a bar of chocolate. In the middle of one of our fortnightly Sunday evening takeaways – a somewhat tragic, somewhat heartwarming tradition that emerged around halfway through last term – I was surprised and happy to see him. Then again, by 8pm on a Sunday of production weekends, I am surprised and happy to see anyone who has nothing to do with newspapers.

But how did he know I would be there? Not, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so, because that’s the only place I would ever be the day before an issue goes to print. No, he knew where I was because he had tracked me there with an app on his phone.

“Aren’t you glad that you got it?” he asked me a few days later. “I would have had to wait until I next saw you otherwise!”

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The internet is stupid: my existential ParaNorman crisis

So yesterday I did my first film review of the year for Concrete, the student newspaper that someone (for some reason) put me in charge of. I was super excited about it. A lot of what I’ve been doing since becoming editor involves answering emails and passing on the more interesting work to other people so that I can free up time to answer more emails. So when the film editors desperately needed a ParaNorman review at short notice, I jumped at the chance to go back to basics (and get a free trip to the cinema).

It was a pretty good film. There were better animations this summer (bravebravebrave) but overall it was funny and smart and cute.

Now for the angry ranting.

Before I went into the film, my housemate told me it was the first kids’ animation with an openly gay character. Awesome, I thought. I can totally write about that in my review!

In the end, I didn’t think it was really worth mentioning. The two “older sibling” characters are set up as a potential romance throughout the film (by which I mean the seemingly-shallow sister outrageously tries to get the attention of the oblivious older brother whose shoulders are four times as wide as his waist). After all the zombie shenanigans are over, she finally gets the courage to ask him to see a movie with her. He responds positively, and tells her that she’ll really like his boyfriend, who loves chick-flicks.

Awks.

I thought this was pretty cool, but ultimately not really something I wanted to write about when there was so much else going on – the storytelling, the humour, the cute stop animation effect. With only 200 words to play with, Mitch’s sexuality was not really relevant to my enjoyment of the film.

And then I started reading all of the other reviews people had written. My aforementioned housemate found this terrifying collection of responses from parents who were outraged at that one line which had very little to do with the rest of the plot. Let’s illustrate this point with a randomly selected sentence: “had to try explaining it to a nine year old that we hate the sin, love the sinner, and that some boys are just confused by their gender.” Followed by more exclamation marks than could fit in a single line of text.

God dammit, mothers on the internet.

My immediate response was to completely rewrite my own review in defence of a children’s film’s choice to not only include a gay character, but to include a gay character whose sexuality is of absolutely no consequence. Sort of like, you know, everyone in real life who is defined by more than one aspect of their identity, which is in itself a fluid and ever-changing process.

But then, after the second half of my review became a thinly-veiled backlash to the film’s politicised responses, I realised exactly what I had done. Part of what annoys me most about those other reviews is that they let something which shouldn’t even be important colour their whole opinion of the film. So by giving such a disproportionate amount of space to defending the action, I was really doing the same thing.

The fact that Mitch is gay is not a big deal. He admits it freely, and clearly no one else in the film has an issue with it. His line takes up maybe four seconds of screentime, in a film which is 92 minutes long (roughly 5,520 seconds). That means that Mitch’s sexuality makes up 0.072% of the movie.

I’m so mad about this issue that I did maths, you guys.

In the end, for me, or anyone else, to spend most of my supposedly objective review talking about 0.072% of a movie actually does it a disservice. And it politicises something which shouldn’t be political in the first place.

Chris Butler, who wrote and co-directed the film, had this to say on the matter when speaking to Indiewire: “I wanted it from the start, absolutely. It seemed like the best bookend to that whole tolerance thing and to do it as a joke, a kind of throwaway thing, but something that has NEVER been done before. I think we’re telling a story about intolerance, so you have to be brave about it.”

And he’s exactly right. It’s important that gay people are included across the media, and it may be even more important that their sexuality is portrayed as only a small part of their identity. Not every gay character on TV or in movies needs to struggle with coming out and defy ignorant bullies by spreading glitter and rainbows wherever they go. A lot of people just happen to also be gay, and that should be reflected too.

In the end, I took the response to the film’s responses out of my official 200 words. For me to rise to the unfairly negative reviews and focus on that one issue would just invalidate my own argument, and ignore everything else about the film which I enjoyed.

Cue angry blog post instead.


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The Tube and the Tate: 5 things I learned in London

So after my initial coming-to-London post which, reading back, is laced with just a whiff of an oncoming breakdown, I realise I did not publish anything for two weeks. Probably looks a bit worrying, but I can confirm that I was not swallowed up by the hungry jaws of the city. I even got used to my breeze blocks and empty flat, although I never met the owner of the muller corners in the fridge. I can only assume that there actually was a yoghurt-loving ghost in the room next door.

In truth, I just got so caught up in the day-to-day process of going to work, meeting friends who lived or worked nearby, then going home and going to sleep, that blogging was put on a back burner.

Unlike the Olympics, empty seats are a blessing which you taunt you only by their absence.

However, I am back now, and there’s only a week before I’m back at uni in Norwich and things really do get busy. So here’s some things I learnt in London while I was there:

1. I can read pretty much anywhere.

At peak time in the centre of London, the tube is pretty full, and no one around you is happy about it. Sure, there are some tricks to ease the growing sense of claustrophobia (such as going to the end of the platform and getting on the oft-neglected final carriage). However, sometimes even they don’t prevent you from being squashed in with a bunch of strangers. But even in the smallest of spaces, I could still find room to turn the pages of the first book of my pre-reading for third year: Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801). It’s not too bad – it has lots of disease and unhappy marriages, and even some controversial mixed-race unions. (Racy stuff.) Plus, I can now confirm that the questionable decisions of our heroines Belinda and Lady Delacour were just as baffling and socially uncomfortable pressed up against a stranger’s back on a packed Piccadilly train than they were in my room on my own.

2. The Tate gallery is infinitely more fun whist playing spot-the-dick-symbolism.

Now, I’m not one of those people who regularly dismisses and mocks modern art for being “worse than my two-year-old’s”. For one thing, I don’t have a two-year-old. For another, that’s clearly balls, and I actually think a lot of it has the potential to be more emotional and interesting than more traditional stuff.

“Gothic Landscape” by Lee Krasner, painted after her husband Jackson Pollock died in a car crash, was probably my favourite.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not even more fun to point out every phallic symbol you can find amongst all the other pretentious art critics.

3. Camden Market is as good as everybody says.

Slightly overwhelming when I first stepped into the market, I was soon swept up in the atmosphere and tempted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. Maybe it was the magic of the first time, but I would still rather find something there than Primark. My only complaint was that, for some reason, the legendary Goths who apparently spend all of their time there must have got tired of tourist season and found somewhere more hip to hang out. Sad face.

4. Even the booze is better.

Chando’s may sound like a cross between the two most unappetising words in the contemporary English language (“chunder” and “Nando’s”), but it is actually a pub just off Leicester Square, and it was a beauty. I always feel a little awkward at these fancy hipster pubs which sell a hundred different types of independent beers. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of these things, and the pressure of wanting to order something cool is only added to by the fact that, without my glasses, I can’t read the labels of most of the stuff they sell anyway. Am I supposed to ask the bar staff for recommendations? Make something up which so that they think I know about even more obscure and independent beverages than even they stock? Point at the nearest thing and yell “PINT OF THAT” in a sheer panic? I don’t even like beer anyway! In the end, I usually cave and order vodka and coke because I know that everybody in the world is going to stock it. Then I shuffle back to my table in the shame of my unoriginality. But at Chando’s, their independent hipster vodka and independent hipster coke made it completely worth it. No cheap Asda knockoff and 2-for-1 diet cola will be the same again.

5. If I could find a flatmate, a flat and a job to fund myself after graduation, I’d probably be happy.

Any takers?


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Breeze blocks and single beds: I must be back in halls

From the window I can see a bike rack and an air conditioning machine. I am surrounded by breeze blocks and sitting on a narrow bed. Down the hall, there is a stack of about five different ready meals with my name on them.

That’s right, I have fulfilled a life-long dream and moved to London. The capital city. The centre of the UK journalism and media and all the things I want to be a part of.

Except that it’s only for two weeks and I’m spending it in student halls which really make me appreciate how good I had it in my first year at UEA.

For one thing, I had an en suite then. Let’s not just gloss over that like it ain’t no thing.

For another, in my first year of university I met people who would become some of my closest friends living just down the hall. There appears to be evidence of another human being living here (two muller corners in the fridge and some toiletries in the bathroom) but I have yet to see them and it all feels a bit deserted. When I arrived, the man at the desk hadn’t even heard of me. I am sort of beginning to wonder whether this entire building isn’t actually haunted, a separate dimension, or a figment of my imagination.

Basically, if Matt Smith doesn’t show up in a TARDIS pretty soon, I might start getting worried.

It’s okay though – tomorrow I am starting Even More Work Experience, and this time it is in London, so I have my best first impression outfit waiting, a tube map in my bag, and I have Google street-viewed the walk to the office more times than I can count.

Okay, twice.

And now I have to go and do the washing up. Because no matter where you go, there are always things with food in which need to be clean again. Life lessons, people, life lessons.


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Amy goes to the Olympics: Part two

Where we left off: I missed my alarm, got on a tube, and saw a game of handball. It’s probably easiest if you just read part one.

11.08am Just watching people act so energetic had worn me out completely, so I go to buy more coffee in the break between games. Unfortunately, so does everybody else, and there is only one coffee machine, desperately trying to feed our caffeine addictions. This is probably the worst-planned part of the entire day.

11.49am At half time of the second game, Brazil are beating Angola, but it is extremely close once again. I have decided by this point that my favourite thing about watching live handball is the song selection. This was one of the great things about the Opening Ceremony, and apparently a theme across London 2012. They play the line “These girls fall like dominoes” whenever more than one person falls over at once; “I get knocked down but I get up again” when the dominoes stand up and continue to play; “under pressure” for the penalty shots; “we will rock you” seemingly for just anything else.

Pretty sure this is not what the Big Pink had in mind.

12.07pm My stepmum leans across and tells us that she has just realised that the Olympic logo makes the numbers “2012” out of shapes, which is basically why we all love her.

12.47pm Brazil win, but only just. In a typically British fashion, the crowds had adopted Angola as the underdogs about halfway through, and cheered them almost to victory, so that in the end Brazil only won by three goals. This time it was well over a goal a minute.

1.08pm After leaving the Copper Box, we go to World Square and get food. The Thai green curry is pretty good.

1.41pm So is the orbit.

It’s so GIANT.

1.53pm As another example of just how bizarre the experience could be, at this point the speakers – currently playing my beloved and completely mental Nicki Minaj – are drowned out by one of the volunteers busking. I don’t know if it is her break, or if she has been hired specifically to add more of a street feel, but she is singing a song of which the only lyrics are: “Kids are gonna get their feet wet. You’ll be fine, you’ll be dandy” over and over again.

2.05pm I’m not saying it is related to the singing, which was quite good considering it made absolutely no sense, but then there is a downpour and even our umbrellas are not enough to save us.

2.10pm My stepmum and I hide in the ladies toilets, which could have been a lot worse. I mean, they are in a temporary building which is basically a shack, but we’ve all been to festival toilets, so I can’t really complain.

2.34pm We watch Ben Ainslie win GB a gold in sailing on the large screens at “Park Live”. Park Live is basically two giant screens back to back, surrounded by grassy hills so that as many visitors to the park as possible can watch all the sports they don’t have tickets to. This would be weird later, when we watch the cycling with the velodrome in sight.

2.45pm What is more important? Inherent suspicion of almost all displays of nationalistic pride, or free face stickers?

I mean, which did you think it was going to be?

2.59pm  Once we’ve walked around the park a few times, we start running out of things to do. There’s only so long that you can look at cool buildings while knowing that cool things are happening inside that you can’t see. So we finally give in and look around the merchandise shop.

It’s weird.

3.04pm Other attractions include a weird BP-branded building which is set up like another attraction. I don’t know what is in there, but people are queuing for it. I can only assume it is some kind of building full of PR stunts desperately hoping to distract from the fact that they caused one of the biggest environmental disasters in living memory.

We do not go inside.

3.12pm Far more exciting is seeing the Olympic village from a distance. They have all hung their country’s flag from the windows! It looks so fun!

3.30pm ICE CREAM.

3.56pm As if ice cream isn’t enough, the next volunteer busker we see is doing an acoustic Call Me Maybe, which is naturally a highlight of the day.

4.15pm We camp out at Park Live long enough to see Murray win the tennis, and a bunch of cycling. There are a lot of people sitting on the grass doing the same thing. So many that every time you move position slightly you end up in someone’s way and there is a chorus of tutting. And every time someone moves position in front of you and obscures the only part of Murray’s forehead you can see anyway, you become that chorus.

Incredible views at the Park Live experience.

5.56pm We have a train to catch, and we’ve been up and walking around since 7(ish) so we decide to head home.

6.06pm Walking through the gates, there are hundreds of signs saying “Take the fastest route to the City Centre: West Ham!” We begin to follow the signs for West Ham.

6.20pm A sign tells us there is still a 20 minute walk until we reach West Ham. I am reasonably sure that it is only the “fastest route” because you walk half the distance first.

6.40pm We finally get on the tube. I cry inside. Olympic athlete I am not.

9.45pm There are a lot of boring train things, including me reading Oscar Wilde because I’m pretentious, but the most important thing is that we are back in time for Bolt’s race, with five minutes to spare.

9.50pm BOLT!

10.15pm There is a Doctor who trailer on the BBC. I freak out.

10.25pm I watch about a bazillion episodes of Parks and Recrecreation before falling asleep. I only have one series to go. I will probably finish by the end of the week. I need to go back to Uni soon.

It is just the best you guys.

Photos by Geoff Adams. Other that one of Parks and Rec, which is by THE INTERNET.


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Amy goes to the Olympics: Part one

So I recently went to the Olympics to watch handball! And, dutiful blogger that I am, I recorded what time things happened so that I could produce a day-in-the-life and get it online the next day. Four days later, and it’s finally here. It’s sort of like that time I liveblogged all of the Lord of the Rings films for you, but with fewer innuendoes.

Man, maybe I should start again.

7am Waking up in the morning. Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs. Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal.

Well now that song is in your head, what actually happened was that my father knocked merrily on our hotel door and said “Are you ready to go to breakfast?” and I stumbled out of bed, opened the door, squinted at my well-dressed and shiny looking parents through a haze of sleep and unbrushed hair, and said “I do not think that my alarm went off when it said it would.” But not quite as coherently.

7.20am I arrive in the breakfast area just as the rest of my family are finishing up. The toast is cold, and the filter coffee has been out for some time, so I have to balance the time of the morning against the fact that the coffee is really kind of gross. Time of the morning wins, so I just triple the amounts of sugar.

7.45am We arrive at Ilford station. Considering the transport panic (“Don’t travel in London! There’ll be so many people travelling in London! Are you thinking of going to London? THAT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA”) there aren’t that many people around.

7.55am The train arrives. I could have had 10 minutes more sleep.

8.13am Getting off at Stratford is fine, and as we approach the park everyone is incredibly friendly. All the volunteers welcome the crowds as they walk past, and one lady had a megaphone and was telling everybody that it was a beautiful day, we should all smile, we should get our tickets ready, we wouldn’t be allowed inside without tickets or a smile. It sounds annoying. It was actually quite cute.

This is my brother Jack and I. We are channelling the Olympic spirit of jazz hands.

9am After walking through the park, which is pretty impressive, we eventually reach the venue for the handball. It is called the Copper Box. It basically looks like a giant box made of copper.

9.16am To warm up the crowds, the host (who was wearing a flatcap and shorts, despite being over eight years old, and not a Victorian orphan) gets people dancing on the big screens if they were being individual enough. My brother and I make damn sure we appear on that screen, while my stepmum conveniently chooses that moment to investigate the loos.

It is probably the closest I will ever get to being on TV.

Although looking at it again, there’s nothing about this outfit that isn’t perfect.

9.30am Worn out from all that positive energy and cheesy dancing, the handball game actually starts. I should point out here that I had absolutely no idea what handball was, or how you played. It turns out that the ball is not actually made of the hands of the losers, or even zombies, both of which had been previously suggested. Instead, the female Swedish team come bounding in and high-five the Republic of Korea, and then they all start running up and down to get warmed up. There are so many ponytails. They have so much energy. It is all so wholesome. I am exhausted just watching.

11am Eventually I managed to get a good idea of how game worked. Basically the aim was to throw the ball into the goal, except you could only hold it for a certain amount of seconds, and run for a certain number of steps. If you broke those rules, you had to give up the ball and everyone would run to the other end of the court/pitch/arena/prison. Eventually Korea won, but it was very close, and there ended up being 60 goals in total, making it far, far more interesting to watch than football.

And it’s okay, because apparently the Swedish handball team were spotted that night helping Usain Bolt to celebrate his 100m gold medal. So I’m sure they were fine.

Just like football, but with your hands. And better.

Photos by Geoff Adams.


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Sport completely baffles me: 7 reasons why I love the Olympics

Now, I’m not about to say that the Olympics have been without fault. I mean, there was the virtual ignoring of the critical mass arrests, any kind of nationalism will always make me a little uncomfortable, and all the problems people had with corporate interference don’t go away just because athletes started winning medals.

But, considering my inherent lack of interest in any kind of sport (PE was basically an excuse to talk about last night’s TV while “in defence”), I have always loved the Olympics. And since I’ve also always loved London, this year just brings those things together into one big party. It’s sort of like that time I found out Starkid’s Darren Criss would play Kurt’s love interest in Glee, before it got crap. Two totally unrelated but awesome things suddenly fused into one.

Here are seven reasons why, even though sport confuses and frightens me, I am still constantly glued to the Olympics.

1. It is full, in the words of Aidan Burley, of “leftie multicultural crap”. Countries coming together under one flag, (almost) everyone being sporting, that fantastic opening ceremony which was like a socialist wet dream. Free healthcare! Free internet! Free Kenneth Brannagh in a hat!

“Mitt Romney, this is for you.”

2. Not knowing a thing about sport means that everything seems amazing. People diving in perfect synchronicity? Doing somersaults on the uneven bars? Understanding the rules of judo? I don’t know how any of them do any of it.

I would give a medal purely for not falling and dying.

3. It is not the traditional, but the weird obscure sports that everyone gets excited about. No one could care less about the football, but canoeing? That got up to 4.5m viewers yesterday, with cycling up to 8.1m. That is some nail-biting stuff.

Look at them go! There are waves everywhere!

4. Social media goes crazy. Everyone is in a good mood, and there are so many opportunities for hilarity if not much is happening with all the sport. Anything which can lead to this cannot be a bad thing.

There’s just no reason not to bring it up again.

5. The opportunity to play a once-in-a-lifetime drinking game, during which you drink every time someone says “once-in-a-lifetime”. Played during the opening ceremony with some success.

Apparently this actually did happen and wasn’t just in my mind.

6. You can make a tonne of Hunger Games references. I mean, come on, it’s happening in the capital and “the Games” are all anybody talks about. All they need is for Katniss to say something inappropriate, a camouflage event for Peeta, a few children murdering each other, and it will be perfect.

I just knew this would exist somewhere.

7. It’s all about storytelling. The Olympics coverage from the BBC is really good at presenting the athletes as individuals, and they all have families, sacrifices, rivalries, dreams – and you actually care whether they achieve them or not. I have never had any interest in judo before, but when Gemma Gibbons won her semi-final I actually teared up a bit. At SPORT. This coming from someone who didn’t even cry at Toy Story 3, and has been branded “soulless” ever since. And if that doesn’t prove something, I don’t know what does.

I dunno. It just got to me.


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Not quite the same thing: HBO’s Newsroom and my week at work experience

Stay classy.

This week, two significant things have happened to me so far:

1) I finally started work experience at my local paper.

2) I finally started watching HBO’s The Newsroom.

Now, I should point out that by “started watching”, what I mean is I watched all five episodes available so far in just two nights. For some reason, I can’t stand that much TV in a row when I’ve got nothing to do with my time, but going out and having a purpose makes me feel perfectly justified in coming home and doing nothing.

Plus, I need to entertain myself while I finish knitting the tea cosy I promised my aunt and uncle six months ago.

ALMOST THERE.

Anyway, it was only logical that while I am doing journalism again for a week, I should also start watching TV about journalists. You know, as inspiration in case the residents of my town suddenly decide to overthrow their local council and govern themselves in a quaint ex-manufacturing town revolution. Power to the people! If you don’t mow out our publicly-owned grass right, we will mow YOU right! (Note: I am pretty sure this hasn’t happened yet, and that if it did they would have better slogans.)

Despite my optimism, my newsroom and HBO’s portrayal of an American broadcasting newsroom are a little different. While Will informs America on primetime TV that BP has caused the biggest environmental disaster in many years, I inform the local area that a questionnaire is being sent out to pensioners and disabled people asking what they think of their free bus pass. I don’t write about the results, mind you. Just that it’s being sent out and here is how you can have your say.

There are some other key differences: Will gets paid millions; I do this for free (in fact, I am beginning to have nightmares where endless faceless figures chant “It will look great on your CV!” as they dangle a career on a stick in front of me, and I am left eating raw potatoes for all of my adult life). Their team tries to come up with the most accurate and moral way of informing a nation about complex international events; I try to think of puns about woodchipping. The staff in America are caught in a series of complex love triangles and rivalries; we throw grapes at each other across the desks.

(Side note: what is it with America and cute floppy-haired Jims tortured by unrequited love? I keep expecting Steve Carrell to show up and do an inappropriate impression of Gadaffi on national TV.)

Pam, is that you?

Basically, there are highs and lows each way. The point I’m trying to make is that I really enjoy them both so far. I love being at a proper local paper, and I’m actually learning a lot about what makes good news articles. And The Newsroom is also pretty fantastic. Did I mention it has Dev Patel being an adorable nerd? Because it does.

Plus it is well-written and intelligent and saying some cool things about journalism, even though a lot of journalists apparently hated it. But if my life does not end up like Mackenzie MacHale’s, I will just be really sad.

Maybe now that I’ve been spending so much time reading about local council decisions, I will also get around to catching up on Parks and Rec.


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I talk about John Green a lot: a review of Jonathan Safran Foer

I have been struggling for a couple of days to write a blog post about Jonathan Safran Foer’s two novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I absolutely loved them both – halfway through reading each, I declared it to be my New Favourite Book, slightly illegitimising my own statement – but when I tried to explain why, I couldn’t.

But, dedicated new blogger that I am, I kept struggling on, determined to share my Safran Foer epiphany with the world in a well-written and structured post which would inspire people to open up a new tab, head straight to Amazon and order them both. But I couldn’t. I should have known that I couldn’t – when trying to explain the book to my housemate a few days before, I had said, “He just – he uses all these – it has all these, like, different ways, you know?” Needless to say, I am far more eloquent on paper (or rather, through screen) than I am out loud, and my housemate was left looking confused, and also amused.

But even through-screen, I couldn’t really get my thoughts across. The literature student took over and I just banged on about “narrative voice”, put the word “about” in quotes (a pretentious habit picked up in a Contemporary Writing class), and reverted to rather dry phrases like “non-traditional methods”. Now, that would all be fine if I was writing an essay about the two books, and I kind of hope one day I’ll get the chance to, because writing essays about things you love ought to be the whole point of writing essays, and often sadly it isn’t. But I was writing a blog post, and kind of boring even myself.

In the end, crippled with post-book sadness and frustrated that I couldn’t accurately portray my mid-book rapture, I just started copying out whole chunks of quotations in the hope that they would do my work for me. Spoilers: this is also not how you write a good review.

And then I just gave up completely and wrote a post about Fifty Shades of Grey for someone else’s blog instead, because it is a whole lot easier to just make fun of all the stupid stuff in the world than it is to write something meaningful. Finally, I decided to just put the review aside and come back to it later, and instead went about my daily life, giving my various siblings lifts to various places, answering emails about Concrete (my university’s student newspaper, which I am editor of and without which this summer I feel bereft of all purpose), and moving on to the next book waiting in the pile – in the form of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

This was also a good book. I mean, it wasn’t Safran Foer good, but it was pretty great. It’s a Kids With Cancer book, but the kids are doing their utmost to avoid the Kids With Cancer stereotypes, and frequently point out that most of those stereotypes are a load of crap. It did really well at portraying Kids With Cancer who were actually just kids who wished they didn’t have cancer any more, because they are too young and it’s not fair and the universe can be kind of terrible. But they were also incredibly funny, and the book made some beautiful observations about life, while acknowledging that life can often kind of suck. I enjoyed it a lot.

And it was talking about The Fault in Our Stars that I finally realised what I wanted to say about Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. My dad asked, as I was around 20 pages from the end and hadn’t moved in a while, probably looking quite distressed, how it was. I told him that it was sad, “but then it is a book about cancer.”

“Oh. So not a comedy then?”

“Actually, it’s really funny. Just not right now. The best sad books are also really funny.”

It was a slightly pretentious-literature-student comment to make (what the hell gives me the right to decide what makes the best sad books? Maybe what makes the best sad books is being sad ALL OF THE TIME, with no humorous respites to remind you of the beauty of life whatsoever) but it made me realise that it was also exactly what I wanted to say about Safran Foer.

Because both his books were also immensely, heart-breakingly sad. The first was about (or maybe “about”) the Holocaust. The second, 9/11. These are not fun topics. Neither, I don’t need to tell you, is cancer. It doesn’t take a literature student, pretentious or otherwise, to make this observation.

But it was the humour of all three books I am writing about which made me love them the most. And it was Safran Foer’s humour which I enjoyed more – the difference between “I really like this sad-funny book” and “this is my New Favourite Book, no really this time, I can’t even put it into words, please just read it and find out for yourself.”

It was all in the language. Everything is Illuminated is narrated – partly – by someone who learned English through a thesaurus (“all of my friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name”), while Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is narrated – partly – by a nine-year-old boy who can’t stop inventing (“… or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of “Yellow Submarine”, which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d’être, which is a French expression that I know.”)

Safran Foer created totally unique and hilarious characters, who were also completely traumatised and deeply sad. But it wasn’t one-minute-you’re-laughing-the-next-you’re-crying. The laughter and the sadness were all mixed up into one, each trying to conceal the other, adding to the other, taking away. I’m getting pretentious again, but I sort of can’t help it. I really loved these books.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, especially, stuck with me. It’s very visual – there are photos and diagrams; two pages of numbers and punctuation as a man who can’t speak tries to communicate what may be a lifetime’s worth of thoughts down the phone to his wife, but we’ll never know; partially-overheard conversations with huge gaps missing in the text; a flip book of a man falling from the World Trade Centre in reverse, so he appears to be flying upwards.

These could easily come across annoying, gimmicky or too Literary (capital L), but I enjoyed them – and they worked just perfectly at their own points in the novel, adding just enough to make it stand out from all the Good Books I’ve read to become Maybe My New Favourite Book. I absolutely adored it, and if I could, I would force everybody I know to read it just so that I could look them in the eye and say “I know, right?”

But then again, I’ll probably change my mind in a couple of weeks.