Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 3, 2017

Sensational Snippets: The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow

the-adventures-of-augie-marchMy first book for 2017 is Saul Bellow’s Great American Novel, The Adventures of Augie March, and if this is an omen for my reading year, then I am in for a wonderful time!

I am savouring this book.  There have been so many examples of brilliant writing I have wanted to share in a Sensational Snippet, but I haven’t wanted to stop reading to do it.  But this one must be shared because it speaks to the very reason why we read…

Augie is getting by in Depression era Chicago, and his ‘job’ for the time being is to steal books to order.  It’s not working out well because he’s supposed to offload them the day he steals them but he reads them first.  It would have been better if he were asked for books about mathematics, thermodynamics, mechanics because he wouldn’t have been tempted by them, but the books on theology, literature, history and philosophy threaten to derail the enterprise.  He hadn’t realised he was a reader, and now he is…

Anyhow, I had found something out about an unknown privation, and I realised how a general love or craving, before it is explicit, or before it sees its object, manifests itself as boredom or some other kind of suffering. And what did I think of myself in relation to the great occasions, the more sizable being of these books? Why, I saw them, first of all.  So suppose I wasn’t created to read a great declaration, or to boss a palatinate, or send off a message to Avignon, and so on, I could see, so there was nevertheless a share for me in all that had happened.  How much of a share? Why, I knew there were things that would never, because they could never, come of my reading.  But this knowledge was not so different from the remote but ever-present death that sits in the corner of the loving bedroom; though it doesn’t budge from the corner, you wouldn’t stop your loving.  Then neither would I stop my reading.  I sat and read.  I had no eye, ear or interest for anything else – that is, for usual, second-order, oatmeal, mere-phenomenal, snarled-shoelace-carfare-laundry-ticket plainness, unspecified dismalness, unknown captivities; the life of despair-harness, or the life of organisation-habits which is mean to supplant accidents with calm abiding. Well, now, who can really expect the daily facts to go, toil or prisons to go, oatmeal and laundry tickets and all the rest, and insist that all moments be raised to the greatest importance, demand that everyone breathe the pointy, star-furnished air at its highest difficulty, abolish all brick, vault-like rooms, all dreariness, and live like prophets or gods? Why, everyone knows this triumphant life can only be periodic. So there’s a schism about it, some saying only this triumphant life is real and others that only the daily facts are. For me there was no debate, and I made speed into the former.

from The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, Penguin Modern Classics, 2001, ISBN 9780141184869.

Do yourself a favour and get a copy: The Adventures of Augie March (Penguin Modern Classics)


Responses

  1. “I sat and read. I had no eye, ear or interest for anything else.”
    Sadly that has been quite true for me for many years.

    • Sadly? I think it’s wonderful!

      • You would. Other people are not so generous.

        • No? Well, Augie soon finds that life conspires against him as well…

  2. Sounds delightful!

  3. Oh, I have a copy of this on my shelves…

    • Maybe you could have a year of US Lit??

      • Um, no thanks. About 10 years ago I realised all I read was American fiction with a smattering of Brits and quite a few Irish, so I made a conscious decision to read more widely. I am not well read (I didn’t study English lit & have read about 3 classics), but is it any wonder if all I read was one US novel after another since my teens to mid-30s?

        • *chuckle* You, not ‘well-read’?? I think your readers would disagree with that!

  4. […] unrealised, seems refreshing even though the book was written more than half a century ago.  The Sensational Snippet that I posted about the possibilities of sharing the great moments of nobility through reading […]


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