Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of three award-winning and internationally best-selling novels: Everything Is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Here I Am. Two of his novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, were adapted into films. Foer won The Guardian Book Prize for his debut novel, was included in Granta’s “Best of Young American Novelists” issue as well as The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list of the best young writers in the United States. His books have been published in over 30 languages.
I’m writing this from the “Genius Bar” of the Mac Store—the epicenter of the opposite of genius. I was un-genius enough to erase a folder I was un-genius enough to name “Documents,” which contained more or less everything I’ve written since I became literate. The last time I did something like this was about a decade ago. I had a good friend—no longer a friend, sadly—whose family owned the largest and most diabolical security firm in the world. They were the guys who recovered the data from Saddam Hussein’s computers. So they were good enough for me. I dropped off my laptop, and a week later was given a stack of about 200 CD-ROMS, or whatever they were then called. “What’s on these?” I asked. “Everything,” I was told. Everything is usually an overstatement, but for this case, there should have existed a more impressive word. Not only did the discs contain every file I’d ever written, and ever draft of every file I’d ever written, but a still of every screen I’d ever looked at: Google searches, Amazon purchases, Ebay browsing, e-mails-in-progress, thousands of front pages of the New York Times. . . . If that had been everything, it would have been an awesome everything. But there was more. Image after image after image I had never seen before: I remember a black-and-white photo of Paul Celan’s deep purple eyes and the road map of a town on the Costa Brava; I remember the brickwork of Alvar Aalto’s “Experimental House” and tangled parachutes; I remember the hands of the Swedish rug designer Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom (identified by the caption: “Marta Maas-Fjetterstrom, weaver of dreams”). . . . I hadn’t ever seen those things, but could have. It was a slide show of a possible life, or of my dream life, or subconscious. (Or, as it turned out, of my future life.) I thought about making a book of those images; it would have required a spine as wide as you are tall.