Happy Birthday Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow is perhaps my favorite fiction writer. He is definitely in the top three, but I have returned to his work much more frequently than any of the other writers I fully admire: Joyce, Ashbery, Wallace, Nabokov, Faulkner, McCarthy–to name a few. There is a tender yet haunting chuckle that underlies his style and I cannot help but reread nearly every paragraph I read. Moreover, each of his novels has served me at important times throughout my writing career and my life career, so to speak. I recall reading Herzog when I was studying abroad at Trinity College Dublin and how much it meant to me to always be around books and to feel the lives behind their penmanship. There is a tense confrontation with Modernism in this novel and I believe I fully began to understand my place in the Humanities and its academic residue through Herzog. A quote:
“The light of truth is never far away, and no human being is too negligible or corrupt to come into it.”
The second book that really drew me in was the shorter work, Seize the Day. If anyone is looking for a fast meditation on the struggle a man undergoes in the face of all of failure’s defined facets, then this would justify the search. A quote:
“Uch! How they love money, thought Wilhelm. They adore money! Holy money! Beautiful money! It was getting so that people were feeble-minded about everything except money.”
Then came Humboldt’s Gift, which is forever in my top ten books of all time. There is a remarkable interchange of dark comedy and the weight of intellectual sincerity that occurs here. The novel is about the poet Delmore Schwartz, who was a good friend to Bellow and also great friends with my favorite poet, John Berryman. I really don’t want to knock off a plot synopsis here or delve into the merits of certain resounding themes. So, again, a quote:
“So Humboldt behaved like an eccentric and a comic subject. But occasionally there was a break in his eccentricity when he stopped and thought. He tried to think himself clear away from this American world (I did that, too). I could see that Humboldt was pondering what to do between then and now, between birth and death, to satisfy certain great questions.”
After these works, I thought I was completely Bellow-satisfied, but then came another work that sits in my top ten, The Adventures of Augie March. This novel blew me out of the water. Whenever I thought that the city of Chicago was too stressing, I remembered how Bellow comments on it being terrifying for outsiders and haunting for the natives. Few novels I’ve read come close to holding such highly sustainable prose and  well textured narrative than Augie.  Lastly, a quote:
“I am an American, Chicago born–Chicago, that somber city–and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate…”
I celebrate Saul today and I have been enjoying the biography by James Atlas as of late as well. Him with His foot in His Mouth is also a meticulous and jovial collection of short stories that deeply explores the motifs well apparent in his work as a whole. There is so much more to say, but I must now go read some Bellow as to fully dig into this, his day.
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