Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Saul Bellow Dies

OK, i swear i won't do another entry about somebody dying anytime soon, but i couldn't let Saul Bellow's death pass unnoticed.

When i was still in college i made a trip to Chicago with my then-girlfriend, eventual wife Emily. I wanted to show her downtown Chicago, so we stayed at a place on, i think, Ontario. We walked around downtown, going to the top of the John Hancock building, stopping at the Water Tower, etc. But for the most part we walked up and down Michigan Avenue. I know we went to most of the stores, but the one place i most remember is Brent's Book Store. I bought a book, but i don't remember what it was, and i also picked up a small pamphlet written by the store's proprietor, Stewart Brent. It was a list of his 100 favorite books. I'd heard of about half of them, although i'd read only a handful. One of the books that i'd never heard of was Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow.

For some reason the title intrigued me and i did some research on Mr. Bellow. I was surprised to find that he'd won the Nobel Prize. Clearly, i was not a lit major. I bought a paperback copy of Humboldt's Gift, which i read in a few days and i read Dangling Man and Henderson the Rain King soon thereafter. To be honest i was probably a bit too young to really appreciate Bellow's work at that time, except for Dangling Man, but his brash, midwestern characters had an appealing mixture of the familiar and the exotic.

Over the years i've read everything that Bellow wrote, and he's among my 3 or 4 most favorite authors. He was never universally acclaimed, and i think the Nobel Prize might have actually hurt his standing in a strange way. I've seen several comments of this sort: "It's hard to believe that Bellow won the Nobel prize, while (insert author here) was snubbed". Had Bellow remained a bit more obscure, no Nobel, fewer National Book Awards, no Pulitzers, i think he'd have been more dear to the literati.

Come to think of it, i need to get some new favorite contemporary authors. A few are already dead, and others are getting up there (e.g., Peter Matthiessen is almost 80, though he might be immortal).

No comments: