29 Jan 2012

Smart Women Should Consider Saul Bellow

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We are always looking for the book it is necessary to read next– Saul Bellow

One of our book clubs decided to limit our 2011-2012 selections to prize winning authors. The result is an ambitious reading list including Susan Sontag, John Updike, Nadine Gordimer, and of course, Saul Bellow. While some of our conversations involve why these authors won the Pulitzer, National Book Award, and most notably, the Nobel Prize, we also wondered whether the form and content of these works remain relevant in the 21st century.

In the case of Saul Bellow, the answer would be a resounding yes. The universal questions that Bellow’s characters wrestle with, and in the case of Humboldt’s Gift and its highly-energized narrator Charlie Citrine, include the soul, death, money, and culture.

According to a Los Angeles Times review published in 2009, “Humboldt’s Gift, is both a crazy mess of a novel and an abiding testament to the vital exuberance of Saul Bellow’s genius.” And in Jeffrey Eugenides smart introduction to the Penquin edition, he writes that Bellow “elevated language and, by doing so, reversed the spirit’s atrophy. That’s what reading Bellow feels like. What makes Bellow’s prose better than just about anyone else’s is that it is touched, in every clause, by enlightenment.”

Sentences like, “Ah Humboldt had been great—handsome, high-spirited, buoyant, ingenious, electrical noble. To be with him made you feel the sweetness of life. We used to discuss the loftiest things….to talk to him was sustaining, nourishing,” excite and draw the read into the meditations of Charlie Citrine. In fact, these meditations take the form of a conversation with the reader until the end of the novel when Charlie formally says goodbye to Humboldt.

For this blogger, what makes Humboldt’s Gift  a ‘must read’ is the humanity of  its narrator. He lives in the real world, one that we know and also struggle to understand. He makes mistakes and chides himself—his regrets speak to all of our regrets especially those relating to love and friendship. But on his sofa, Charlie explores what makes our lives worthwhile and wrestles with how we might discipline ourselves to make the right choices at the right time.

If you haven’t read Humboldt’s Gift, you should consider it for your book club. It’s not a fast read, but it’s great fun while seizing the serious questions about the meaning of life. We all have a little of Charlie Citrine in us, and in the end, that’s a good thing.

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.
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