New York's latest literary sensation, Jonathan Safran Foer, who has small hands and brown eyes and a brilliant debut novel to his credit, had dinner and at least three Stolis on the rocks on Saturday night at the Queen City Grill in Belltown. The next morning, his book Everything Is Illuminated appeared for the first time on The New York Times best-seller list.
Foer, 25, began his reading at Elliott Bay on Saturday with a story about trying to get a beer late Friday at the W Hotel. The woman at the bar wouldn't take his out-of-state license and demanded another form of ID. Foer had a copy of his book with him; he showed her his name on the cover and his picture on the inside flap. She looked at the picture, and then at him, and then back at the book, and then, skeptically, she said, "Well, what's it about?"
Jonathan Foer is about to be, but is not yet, famous. According to Francine Prose (the most aptly named lit critic ever): "Not since Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange has the English language been simultaneously mauled and energized with such brilliance and such brio."
At Queen City after the reading, Foer energetically mauled with brilliance and brio the goat cheese appetizer, during the consumption of which it became clear that Foer had no idea how to eat roasted garlic. Educated at Princeton and at work on a second novel and a nonfiction piece for The New Yorker, he watched with wonder as someone used a miniature fork to dig out a clove from a roasted garlic bulb; "How did you know how to do that?" he asked. He loved it and kept saying, "Who ordered this?"
Foer is disarmingly boyish. He's also very cute (albeit straight, I'm sad to report, and, as of a month and a half ago, taken). Everything Is Illuminated was his thesis at Princeton; Joyce Carol Oates was his adviser. "She said to me, 'The secret to art, and it's no great secret, is that it has to be interesting.'" Foer says he thought, "Man, what a letdown," but the advice changed his life.
Someone asked whether the story about the book jacket photo at the hotel bar was all made up. (It wasn't.) Someone else said he should tell that story at every city he visits.
Foer smiled and said, "I might."
Jonathan Safran Foer wants mail. In every city he visits, he hands out blank postcards on which he tells people to draw, or write, their self-portrait. Send a self-portrait to him at P.O. Box 508, Jackson Heights, N.Y. 11372-0508.