Bowdoin Reads

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Saul Bellow: Letters
by Saul Bellow

Over the winter break, on a road trip that took me and my wife from the southern tip of Florida to Chicago, I read Saul Bellow’s recently published letters. They were perfect for digesting in bite-sizes on planes, in hotel lobbies, at highway rest stops, and even at breakfast when there were (rare) lulls in conversation. Bellow, of course, is the great American novelist of the second half of the twentieth-century, author of such comic masterpieces as The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, and Herzog. It comes as no surprise that the author of Herzog, a novel in which the cuckolded protagonist writes desperate and hilarious letters to people like Heidegger, Spinoza, and President Eisenhower, is a gifted letter-writer himself. Written to childhood chums, wives (he had five), girlfriends (many more), publishers, agents, and fellow writers (including John Berryman, Ralph Ellison, Robert Penn Warren, John Cheever, Philip Roth, and Martin Amis), the letters span Bellow’s entire life, from his early days as a down-and-out aspiring writer to his later years as a Nobel Prize-winning public man. Like his novels, the letters are honest, devastatingly perceptive, and above all funny. After the breakup of one of his marriages, he writes, for example: “The trip to Puerto Rico has had to be called off for psychiatric reasons. Illness in the family. Someone near to me. Myself.” What comes through most powerfully in these letters is Bellow’s belief in himself as a writer, his dedication to the craft of writing, language, and the imagination, his eternal youthfulness, and his unfailing humanism. As an example of the latter, let me quote one more letter: “I am against falling into despair because of superficial observations . . . Actually, I’ve never stopped looking for the real thing; and often I find the real thing. To fall into despair is just a high-class way of turning into a dope. I choose to laugh at myself no less than others.”

3 comments | Find in library

Submitted by jpearlm on Thu, 01/27/2011 - 8:18pm.
Great looking dog!
Submitted by twelsch on Fri, 02/04/2011 - 12:13pm.
Are you teaching Reginald P. how to read? My dog is in my Bowdoin Reads picture, too.
Submitted by pmyshral on Mon, 02/07/2011 - 5:23pm.
Reggie is my favorite dog in the world, but I am not so sure about the book.