Jonathan Safran Foer, the award-winning author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, will present a reading and discussion of his novel at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23rd, in the Santa Monica College Pavilion, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica.

The event and parking are free. The novel was published by Houghton Mifflin last year and released this month in paperback.

Following the reading are a question-and-answer session, a book sale, and book signing.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the featured book for Santa Monica Citywide Reads 2006.

Set in New York after September 11th, 2001, the novel follows nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who loses his father in the Twin Towers collapse and searches for the lock that a key found in his father’s closet fits.

“When I start a book, I don’t do much thinking about the plot, but I follow my instincts,” Foer said. “It’s not until I’m far into the book that I know what I want to write about, and towards the end of this book, I couldn’t avoid being drawn into writing about September 11th.”

Citywide Reads is sponsored by the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Public Library, with support from Friends of the Santa Monica Public Library and Santa Monica College Associates.

The program encourages people who live in, work in, or visit Santa Monica to read the same book and come together to discuss it in public book clubs and related events held throughout the city.

Foer’s talk at Santa Monica College is part of the college’s Literary Series and is co-sponsored by the Santa Monica Public Library, the college’s English Department, and the Santa Monica College Associates, a private organization that funds speakers and other special programs on campus.

“I have loved libraries since I was a kid and I write nearly all of my work in libraries,” Foer said. “Citywide Reads will bring a diverse group of readers to the book and this is what I want, for people of different backgrounds or people who normally would not pick up this book to read it.”

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Schell roams New York’s five boroughs to look for the missing lock and meets an assortment of people from different generations and backgrounds who are all survivors in some way.

Among these people are his grandparents who survived World War II and the bombing of Dresden, Germany and a woman from Hiroshima, Japan.

“This novel offers a view of the brave new world of post-September 11th New York,” said Carol Jugo, chair of the Santa Monica High School English Department and a member of the Citywide Reads Advisory Committee. “Like all great stories, this one has places for laughing and places for crying.”

Foer has been able to capture a balance of tragedy and humor through Schell, who as a young boy has a myriad of interests in invention, jewelry and gemstones, entomology, archeology, all things French, percussion, writing fan letters, pacifism, acting, vegan diets, rare coins, and Beatles memorabilia.

Schell’s journey through New York teaches him about love, loss, and how to heal.

“There is nobody in the world like Oskar,” Foer said. “I wanted to create a character that could be a vehicle for a lot of emotion, and I pulled a few traits from people I know like my little brother, myself when I was a boy, my cousin, and some friends.”

The 29-year-old Foer was born in Washington, D.C. and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his novelist wife Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) and newborn child.

His father was a jeweler before becoming a lawyer and antitrust advocate. His mother works in public relations and his older brother and younger brother are both writers.

Jonathan Foer graduated from Princeton University with a degree in philosophy and studied with author Joyce Carol Oates.

Foer’s first novel, the bestseller Everything Is Illuminated, was published in 2002 and won many awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year, the National Jewish Book Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and the Guardian First Book Prize.

Everything Is Illuminated is the result of Foer’s 1999 trip to the Ukraine to research his family tree and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the result of Foer’s love for New York.

“I was in Queens on September 11th,” Foer said. “I was in Spain for three months and returned to New York on the 8th or 9th. I was excited to be home.

“You know how people think it is cool to see their neighborhood in a movie, well I was just in love with New York.

“Then, all of a sudden, this horrible thing happened that changed New York and everyone.”

Foer said a few people have lightly suggested that he not write a novel about September 11th, but he believes more creative works about that day should be produced.

“People should be able to write books and create art about anything,” Foer said. “Obviously, tragic events are sensitive, but this is also why books and art should be done about September 11th, so we don’t forget what a tragedy it was.”

The American Place Theatre, a nonprofit off-Broadway organization, has adapted Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close into a one-hour play.

Through its Literature to Life program, the theater will present a professionally staged adaptation of the novel at bookstores, schools, and libraries in select cities on Foer’s paperback book tour.

Other works in Foer’s portfolio include short stories in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Conjunctions. He also edited an anthology of writing inspired by Joseph Cornell’s A Convergence of Birds, and contributed to The Future Dictionary of America and Joe.

More than 75 authors contributed to The Future Dictionary of America, which takes the form of a dictionary of words Americans may need to know in the coming years.

For Joe, Foer wrote a story to accompany photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s pictures of art by sculptor Richard Serra.

Foer said his literary style comes from a preference to write a book he would want to read rather than write a book just for the desire to write it.

“I would not be able to continue with writing a book that I didn’t want to read,” Foer said. “My thoughts about the story come from knowing that people would want to read the book when it is published.”

Free public book discussion for Santa Monica Citywide Reads began Monday, April 3rd, and will end Saturday, May 6th.

Moderator-led discussions of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in Santa Monica will be held:

n 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20th, at Borders, 1415 Third Street Promenade;

n 2 p.m. Saturday, April 22nd, at CafÈ Bolivar, 1741 Ocean Park Blvd;

n 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29th, at the Fairview Branch Library, 2101 Ocean Park Blvd;

n noon Monday, May 1st, at the Main Library Bookmark CafÈ, 601 Santa Monica Blvd; and

n 11 a.m. Saturday, May 6th, at the Ocean Park Branch Library, 2601 Main St.

Special Citywide Reads events in Santa Monica include:

n “An Afternoon with Jonathan Safran Foer;” 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23rd, at the Santa Monica College Pavilion, 1900 Pico Blvd.

n “The Future of Fiction,” in which David Kipen, director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, and four Southern California prose fiction arts grant winners discuss Foer’s style and the future of fiction; 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4th, at the Main Library Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium, 601 Santa Monica Blvd.

Citywide Reads Web site, or call the Santa Monica Public Library at (310) 458-8600.