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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Eugenides and Herzog

A friend over on Facebook was wondering the other day whether she had maybe picked up the wrong book when she decided to read Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, which, admittedly, can start a little slow. No, several of us advised, stick with it. You have to attune yourself to Bellow's pace. Give it time.

So today I stumbled across a link on Mark Sarvas' The Elegant Variation to a piece by Jeffrey Eugenides on Bellow's Humboldt's Gift, another wonderful novel that takes, in this age of gussied up novellas and skin-thin memoirs, a little more attention span to digest. I haven't read Humboldt's Gift in years, and the piece makes me want to dig it out of the stacks in the garage (yes, like a library, we have stacks). From Eugenides' piece:

"Of course, there is a danger, with a great stylist, that the sentences will outclass what the sentences are about. Not with Bellow. Bellow gets the mix between form and content about as right as possible. His sentences pack maximum sensual, emotional and intellectual information into minimum space — all the while generating an involving, deeply moving story."

What I like about this, beyond the nudge to go re-read Bellow, is that the appreciation is out there at all. So much of contemporary book coverage (scant as it is) is tied to the marketing juggernaut of what's new. That's the nature of the beast -- the new is the news, to state the obvious. But it's refreshing to be reminded of the arc of literature itself, and that it's not always about the latest writer from Brooklyn.
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