Posts Tagged ‘Saul Bellow’

The Comfort Zone

November 2, 2014

I’ve been poorly and therefore resting over the last few days, and resting means reading. When I’m ill, I usually go back to old favourites, which means SF, detective fiction and the like. And that got me thinking: I’m not that adventurous in what I choose to read. I don’t stray beyond the genres I’m familiar with, and comfortable with. When I go to a bookshop, I head for the same sections. The newest thing I took on board was probably travel writing, about a decade ago.

So what? I could argue, I know what I like and I stick to it. But I’m not satisfied with that as a response especially when, in a house surrounded by thousands of books, I sometimes find myself feeling bored and unable to choose what to read next. And it’s not because I’ve read them all: there are sizeable piles of waiting-to-be-reads sitting about the place.

When I’ve tried being adventurous, I’ve sometimes been disappointed. Don DeLillo bored me. Saul Bellow was OK but I can do without him. When I was a teacher, sometimes students would introduce me to something new: I was persuaded to buy and read ee cummings’ poems, and was very grateful for the arm-twist. Apart from that, scanning my reading log tells me I’ve discovered and enjoyed Neal Stephenson (but he is SF-ish anyway) and Miklos Banffy (but he’s an Eastern European writer anyway).

I’m conscious, as I get older, that time is limited. Not that I’m about to fall off my perch imminently (at least I hope not) but I have moved on from thinking ‘yes, it would be nice to re-read that one day’ to ‘I’m probably not going to have the time or inclination to revisit that one, so out it goes’. So, do I have a jaded palate? Is this inevitable at my stage in life? Is there anything left for me to try, or to discover? Or do I just need to get out more?

Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie March

July 22, 2013

41n4v7CMz9L._AA160_I failed to tackle Bellow at university, while reading for my master’s degree. Finally, I caught up with him, and I don’t really think it was worth it…

In the introduction to my edition, Martin Amis decides that this is ‘the great American novel’. Sorry, but in my mind that title goes to Heller‘s Catch 22. So, what, didn’t I like about this novel? I persevered because I wanted to see how it ended up, but it just petered out, maybe resolved because the eponymous character had finally got married. But I wasn’t convinced by that. It’s a bildungsroman, but I couldn’t really work up any interest in any of the characters for large parts of the story. There were a lot of dreadful, rich people in Gatsby mode who went for each other like rats in a sack, leading existences totally divorced from reality on Planet Earth, and which rather furthered my picture of the United States being a strange place inhabited by stranger people. I think the idea of the American Dream is an interesting one to explore, rather hackneyed now, though perhaps less so in the 1950s, so I can’t blame Bellow for that. But the idea that anyone can, through their own efforts, rise to the top of the pile, is responsible for some of the worst excesses in our world; it hardly furthers human happiness, except fleetingly for a few, perhaps.

Bellow’s use of English (American?) was interesting at times; some of his description, especially when accretive, verged on the poetic, and I liked it a lot. But I was overpowered by the pancake erudition, dozens of references to all sorts of classical and historical and political figures and ideas spread out before the reader in a very show-off fashion, and, to my mind, totally unconvincing in the mouth of the first-person narrator.

I’m glad I read the novel, but I won’t be spending any more eyeball-time on him.

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