Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On Saul Bellow.

I've always been a voracious reader, but Saul Bellow is one of those authors, maybe the author, who taught me to read. Like Bellow himself, I started with Dangling Man, beginning at the beginning with a book that later read like his Notes From Underground, an outline of things to come. Introducing the peculiarly Bellow variety of self-loathing, misogyny, passion, and impatience for the mundane. Except it turned out, as I read more, not to be peculiarly Bellow. It's peculiarly the mark of a whole collection of writers of a certain generation and upbringing: Chaim Potok, who later taught me in college, and who wasn't the best writer of the group but who might have been the greatest human; Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was different from the others in that he could actually write for children; Allen Bloom, who maybe should have written more fiction; Philip Roth, who may be the most similar but who, American Pastoral aside, isn't a fraction as good. The one who might have been as talented but who didn't produce nearly the body of work was Ralph Ellison, who comes from a different tradition of alienation but whose Invisible Man nevertheless patterns with the rest. Among others, too, Bellow, warts and all, was the best.

More than any other author Bellow was the one who got me to consider enduring other literature majors to major in literature. I ended up making different choices, but it was despite More Die of Heartbreak, which I'm now determined to reread.

He was a member of the ominous-sounding University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought. He won the Nobel Prize. But mostly, to me, he was the guy I started reading in high school and never stopped. We've lost an American icon, an icon of literature, and I've lost an icon of my adolescence.



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