Saul Bellow is Dead
April 5, 2005 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Novelist Saul Bellow is dead. "Goodness is achieved not in a vacuum, but in the company of other men, attended by love." Interviews: 1965, 1982, 1987. Partial bibliography. Saul Bellow Society. Wikipedia entry.
posted by Mo Nickels (53 comments total)
I like Henderson the Rain King and Herzog, I'll have to re-read them. Oh, and

posted by fixedgear at 5:16 PM on April 5, 2005

Dear God, I'd like it a lot if you could just stop with the killing. You know, just take a break like. I know that what lives must also die. But, you just don't have to do the death thing in such wild abundance ... you know? Ease back and pace yourself. We'll like you better; really we will.

posted by Wulfgar! at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2005

"At this time he had no messages for anyone. Nothing. Not a single word."

A great writer. A great loss.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2005

. for one of the 78 Nobel Laureates associated with my dear ol' school. Here's his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
posted by rustcellar at 5:19 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by underer at 5:22 PM on April 5, 2005

Sorry. I've been overcome with grief and didn't notice you there rustcellar.
posted by underer at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by amberglow at 5:33 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by exlotuseater at 5:42 PM on April 5, 2005


I've never read his work, and I've always been meaning to...
posted by muddgirl at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by eustacescrubb at 5:56 PM on April 5, 2005


posted by painquale at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by jbrjake at 6:07 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by .kobayashi. at 6:16 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by Joey Michaels at 6:20 PM on April 5, 2005

I think Henderson the Rain King is one of the finest books I've ever read.
posted by annathea at 6:22 PM on April 5, 2005

Enough with the obituaries already. God rest Saul's soul, but do we really need a post every time someone passes? I am a little conflicted here as I generally think you can just pass over the posts that don't interest you but we have had an awful lot of obituary posts lately. Am I just being crotchety?
posted by caddis at 6:24 PM on April 5, 2005

Yes. It's not as if this post is just one link to an article, anyway. The interviews make it something more than an obit-post.
posted by underer at 6:37 PM on April 5, 2005

I started reading The Actual but at the time it seemed a bit subtle for me (I was 19 maybe?), but I think in a few years it and others will resonate more with me.

Caddis, maybe a lot of people are dying lately? :)
Seriously, though, maybe we need an ObitFilter.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:39 PM on April 5, 2005

a lot of people are dying lately. chill.
posted by amberglow at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2005

You noticed that too, huh?

Terry Shiavo, The Pope, Mitch Hedberg, and Saul Bellow. The subway to the afterlife must have some interesting coversation going on, dude.
posted by jonmc at 6:54 PM on April 5, 2005

Consensus: I am being crotchety.
I will chill on this one.
posted by caddis at 7:03 PM on April 5, 2005

You're right, jonmc, that's a weird conversational mix. We just need a neatfreak Nascar driver, a gay scientist, and a Japanese CEO to kick the bucket and we'll have a pretty good sitcom.
posted by painquale at 7:12 PM on April 5, 2005

Jon- And Billy Bass, of Guitar Wolf.

(A lot of famous people are dying right now. Lots of regular folk have been dying for a while...)
posted by klangklangston at 7:13 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by helvetica at 7:16 PM on April 5, 2005

We just need a neatfreak Nascar driver, a gay scientist, and a Japanese CEO to kick the bucket and we'll have a pretty good sitcom.

And a funny fat guy.

Somebody keep an eye on Louie Anderson.
posted by jonmc at 7:17 PM on April 5, 2005

Somebody keep an eye on Louie Anderson.
Okay. Do you want me to aim for his heart or his head?
posted by underer at 7:31 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by jonmc at 7:35 PM on April 5, 2005

funny fat guys are always dying tho--it's like a requirement or something. Don't forget Dangerfield--he just went too.
posted by amberglow at 7:40 PM on April 5, 2005

Dangerfield wasn't that fat and he croaked a while ago. Louie is the last funny fat guy we've got left, as far as I know.

Unless, you count Lewis Black, extremely funny but only mildly chubby.
posted by jonmc at 7:45 PM on April 5, 2005

actually i saw him on 42nd street a while back--not chubby at all, and short.
posted by amberglow at 7:55 PM on April 5, 2005

Well, then amberglow, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is clear: find us a funny fat guy!
posted by jonmc at 8:23 PM on April 5, 2005

I hadn't noticed that the funny fat guy population has been decreasing. John Goodman's still around, but his funniness is more distinguished.
posted by painquale at 8:27 PM on April 5, 2005

Sad sad news--Bellow was a giant. He still taught the occasional class when I was at the U of Chicago. I remember seeing a photograph of him in his office in some magazine profile. On his coffee table he had a copy of the tabloid the Weekly World News.

I gave away my copy of Henderson the Rain King, I would so like to quote the passage where the African king tells Henderson how the earth was created and why there is evil. God made the earth from clay, the king says, and modeled all the creatures. Then He set the world in motion with a hard smack from His hand. And ever since, humans pass on the blow to one another, pass on the hurt that God gave Man. Henderson is horrified. We don't have to pass along the blow he said, we can break the cycle. The king laughs, all the best men say that, he replies, but it isn't true. The hurt of life is too great, no man can contain it.

Sorry for the crappy paraphrase.
posted by LarryC at 8:31 PM on April 5, 2005

Bellow was a giant.

Yeah, but we're not counting Lewis Black, and Bellow was definitely smaller.
posted by painquale at 8:33 PM on April 5, 2005

I saw Ian McEwan at a reading recently -- someone asked him about influences and after the usual noises about the impossibility of the question nominated the "triumvirate" of Roth, Updike, and Bellow as responsible for basically making the novel an American property in the mid-to-late 20th century -- and of course his new book takes as epigraph a long quotation from Herzog.

I blush to admit he's one of those towering writers I've never read. Been meaning to for a long while. But haven't. Sad that it takes the one-two punch of McEwan's talk and now this to shake me into action. Still. Anybody wanna advise me on whether to start with Herzog or Augie March?
posted by BT at 8:36 PM on April 5, 2005

I once had a chance to go to a Passover seder with Saul Bellow, but I didn't know at the time he was going to be there, and declined. I thought of it every time that Like Father, Like Clown, the Simpsons episode with Saul Bellow, was on. Very sad that he is gone.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:47 PM on April 5, 2005

My favorite author - bar none.
posted by xammerboy at 8:50 PM on April 5, 2005

BT... start with Augie March, then to Henderson the Rain King, then to Herzog. I think this is the first writer whose death put me in tears (and, unless a friend goes, the only one who ever will). Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad and... sad.
posted by minnesotaj at 8:50 PM on April 5, 2005

I love Augie March, a lot. And it requires that sort of affection to get all the way through it. You might want to read Herzog first.

On Preview: Or you could do it chronologically, as minnesotaj suggests. Either way, you should read him.
posted by underer at 8:56 PM on April 5, 2005

I've never read Bellow and have meant to for a while. It's sad when some giant dies and you only know him from the obituaries.
posted by Hildago at 9:06 PM on April 5, 2005

This is why I hate that I can't read anymore. I remember that twenty years ago I read these books one after the other - Herzog, Henderson, Augie March and maybe one or two more that I can't remember. Now I can't remember anything about them or why I liked them. I want to think the characters lived large and passionately, like in no other books, but I'm not even certain about that. But if someone asked me who the greatest American writer is I'd say Bellow without hesitation (followed by Roth). I just wouldn't be able to explain why. Awhile ago I picked up Herzog in the library and started reading the first page, thought I should reread this again, didn't I once think this was the greatest read, I want to feel that rush of ideas and life again, I want to feel it's important to be reading again, but it all just seemed too involved for my unfocused mind.

Anyway, I don't see anything sad about such a death. He lived to be an old man, and he left a legacy that few people do. We'd all like to think we'd live on in some way after we die; great artists get to do so.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:15 PM on April 5, 2005

try re-reading them when you're in the mood, TTZ--it's always wonderful to notice and discover new things about books you've read before--and we change as well, so that feeds into it.
posted by amberglow at 9:22 PM on April 5, 2005

I still get a big kick out of Humboldt's Gift and I've read it half a dozen times. I had trouble getting into his other earlier stuff, and once he started writing on geriatrics he pretty much lost me. The book I kept meaning to reread is Herzog, though my forgetfulness is clearly more a reflection on me than on the author or the book. (That I get more forgetful all the time might have something to do with my diffuculty appreciating his more recent works.) His earliest novel (as far as I know), The Dangling Man, made me wince -- and I winced harder at those parts that reminded me of me; his next after that, The Victim, struck me as too "occasional" to be Literature -- maybe if he'd waited five more years. (Incidentally, how many American Mefites realize that before the Holocaust most "Caucasian" American Gentiles did not think of Jews as White? That "issue" was just being settled when I was in elementary school, and the '67 and '73 wars had a lot to do with it; now of course they're as White as the Irish or the Serbs.)

The funny thing is I had the impression that Bellow had died a few years ago, and I was surprised to find that Mailer is still alive. Again, I must be getting senile. Anyway, as TimTypeZed said, I don't find it sad, for the reasons he noted, but I'm not happy about it either.

(One obituary I won't mind reading is Christopher Hitchens', but then unlike Bellow he doesn't know he's not writing nonfiction.)

In closing, I wish my neck weren't too fucked up for me to stand on my head: it's getting to the point where I could that prostate-strengthening maneuver I read in Humboldt's Gift.
posted by davy at 9:30 PM on April 5, 2005

Eh. I was never very impressed. Most mid-century pulp is more moving.
posted by dame at 10:22 PM on April 5, 2005

100 things to do before you die. #78 write the great american novel. or, read the great american novel.
posted by stbalbach at 10:50 PM on April 5, 2005

posted by sninky-chan at 3:18 AM on April 6, 2005

The best class I ever had with Saul Bellow at B.U. was the one where he was absent and we had a sub stand in. The guy may have been a great writer, but he was also a pompous jerk.

I hope they use a really big headstone so he can't get out.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:44 AM on April 6, 2005

I met him once when he barged into a prof's office while I was meeting with him. Bellow demanded staples, then began to hint that the prof in question's class (History of the Book) was a vast waste of time. My prof couldn't decide if he should kiss up or defend his field of scholarship.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:33 AM on April 6, 2005


(My favorite paper was published by the Society).
posted by tr33hggr at 7:23 AM on April 6, 2005

posted by matteo at 9:12 AM on April 6, 2005

what are the chances?...

Channel 4 (UK) has just broadcast the Simpsons episode blahblahblah refers to in his post; the one where Bellow is mentioned...

posted by blogenstock at 11:30 AM on April 6, 2005

I think this is the first writer whose death put me in tears

Funny. I heard an interview with him today on the radio, and I actually was in tears. He isn't even one of my favorites. I must be having my .
posted by mrgrimm at 6:56 PM on April 6, 2005

A day has passed.

Herzog is a fine fine book, IMO. However, he created a overly sweet narrative about Israel, that was OK until he validated a silly book:

>"Every political issue claiming the attention of a world public has its 'experts'-news managers, anchor men, ax grinders, and anglers.  The great merit of this book is to demonstrate that, on the Palestinian issue, these experts speak from utter ignorance.  Millions of people the world over, smothered by false history and propaganda, will be grateful for this clear account of the origins of the Palestinians.  FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL does not grudge these unhappy people their rights.  It does, however, dissolve the claims made by nationalist agitators and correct the false history by which these unfortunate Arabs are imposed upon and exploited."

He published great fiction, and I'm only pointing this out because things like this should not be forgotten -- even in the remembrance of a great writer.
posted by gsb at 11:11 PM on April 6, 2005

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