Nicola's Reviews > Tree of Codes

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer
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Jan 13, 2011

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bookshelves: fiction, poetry, gift

It feels fateful that I received this book as a gift on the same week that I finally moved Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions off my to-read shelf (and onto my GTFO-of-my-life shelf), deciding that I am not the type of person who can be bothered wrangling meaning from an epic, free verse poem written from two contradictory perspectives about a time traveller.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes is similarly gimmicky: Foer has cut extraneous material out of his favourite book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, in order to create something new. And by “cut out”, I mean literally cut out. It’s a gorgeous book to handle, the shredded pages transforming something mundane into something deeply tactile and strangely exciting.

I’ve always liked books as objects. It’s probably the reason I still don’t have a Kindle. I’m one of those people who went through a phase of ordering the books on her shelves according to the colour of their spines, rather than by author or genre. I’m also drawn to art involving books. (At UC Berkeley’s Moffitt Library, there’s an amazing ‘flying books’ sculpture, which I always found made heading down into the school’s bowels for a study session a slightly less arduous experience.)

Tree of Codes can happily take its place as book-based art, but when read for meaning, there’s simply not much to it. It’s poetry – and lovely poetry at that – but would anyone be quite as interested if Foer had simply published a ‘straight’ volume of poetry?

There’s a thin line between postmodernism and gimmick. I found Everything Is Illuminated wonderfully postmodern; Tree of Codes feels more baldly like a gimmick.

(Key difference between this and Only Revolutions, though: at least it didn’t annoy me.)
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