This comprehensive collection illuminates Bellow’s sense of his own identity and his changing world.

THERE IS SIMPLY TOO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT

COLLECTED NONFICTION

A nonfiction collection celebrates the centennial of Saul Bellow’s (1915-2005) birth.

Nobel Prize winner Bellow was a prolific writer of nonfiction: essays, reviews, interviews, talks and memoirs. Organized by decade, the 57 pieces in this volume, edited by Taylor (Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay, 2012, etc.), trace both Bellow’s writing career and his outspoken opinions on politics, literature and intellectual life in America during the second half of the 20th century. After publishing Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947), “two very correct books” that he thought would establish his credentials as a novelist, Bellow won his first National Book Award in 1954 for “a speculative biography,” The Adventures of Augie March. Critical acclaim for that novel established his reputation; many more prestigious awards followed, as did opportunities to publish his views. Some of the most interesting pieces here are autobiographical. Born in Canada to Russian immigrants, growing up in Depression-era Chicago, Bellow knew early in his life that he wanted to be a writer. “I felt that I was born to be a performing and interpretive creature,” he wrote, “that I was meant to take part in a peculiar, exalted game.” As a young man, he looked up to such critics as Edmund Wilson, who supported him for a Guggenheim Fellowship, but by 1975, he had changed his mind dramatically: “Critics use strength gathered from the past to pummel the present,” he announced scornfully. Nevertheless, Bellow found himself in a critic’s role throughout his career, deriding novelists who were didactic and those more interested in being intellectual over telling a good story. He also bristled at being categorized as a Jewish writer: “I was a Jew and an American and a writer and I believed that by being described as a ‘Jewish writer’ I was being shunted to a siding.”

This comprehensive collection illuminates Bellow’s sense of his own identity and his changing world.

Pub Date: March 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01669-3

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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