Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything has the potential to inspire.

Jonathan Safran Foer has had stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Conjunctions. His first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, was published in 2002 and quickly became an international bestseller. A movie based on the book was released by Warner Independent in 2005 and starred Elijah Wood as Jonathan Safran Foer under the direction of Liev Schreiber.

His next novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was published in 2005 and went straight onto national and international bestseller lists. In 2007, he was selected by Granta for their “Best of Young American Novelists II” issue, and in 2010 he was included on The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list of the best young writers in the U.S.

Foer is the editor of an anthology inspired by the bird boxes of Joseph Cornell, A Convergence of Birds, which won the 2007 V&A Illustration Award, and his libretto Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence was performed at the Berlin State Opera House in September 2005.

Eating Animals, a work of nonfiction,  was an instant New York Times and international bestseller upon its release in 2009 and is currently under option as a documentary. In 2012, his book The New American Haggadah was a runaway success. He is at work on a novel to be published in 2015.

Why are you participating in the Cultivating Thought series?

We live in a world of fewer bookstores, and fewer libraries, and more and more junk asking for our attention. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of a program that brings thoughtful texts, for free, to people with a few minutes to sit and think.

Tell us about your two-minute read.

I liked the idea of a highly concentrated, intimate thought experiment. Something that could be pondered while eating alone, or discussed while eating with others. The details of our lives — our answers to seemingly esoteric, inconsequential questions — can be so much more revelatory than the Big Facts about us.

Who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors?

Everything has the potential to inspire, but I’ve found music and poetry to be my most trusted sources. One might ask why I’m not a musician or poet. I ask myself this most days.

What’s the best book you've read in the past year?

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. It did what  all great books do: reminded me of things I didn’t know I knew but had always felt, while also generating new knowledge and feelings.

Two-Minute Personality Test

by Jonathan Safran Foer

What’s the kindest thing you almost did? Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you? Are bonsai cruel? Do you love what you love, or just the feeling? Your earliest memories: do you look through your young eyes, or look at your young self? Which feels worse: to know that there are people who do more with less talent, or that there are people with more talent? Do you walk on moving walkways? Should it make any difference that you knew it was wrong as you were doing it? Would you trade actual intelligence for the perception of being smarter? Why does it bother you when someone

How many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life?

at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone? How many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life? What would you tell your father, if it were possible? Which is changing faster, your body, or your mind? Is it cruel to tell an old person his prognosis? Are you in any way angry at your phone? When you pass a storefront, do you look at what’s inside, look at your reflection, or neither? Is there anything you would die for if no one could ever know you died for it? If you could be assured that money wouldn’t make you any small bit happier, would you still want more money? What has been irrevocably spoiled for you? If your deepest secret became public, would you be forgiven? Is your best friend your kindest friend? Is it in any way cruel to give a dog a name? Is there anything you feel a need to confess? You know it’s a “murder of crows” and a “wake of buzzards” but it’s a what of ravens, again? What is it about death that you’re afraid of? How does it make you feel to know that it’s an “unkindness of ravens”?