May 2005


Just Who Was This Bellow Fellow?


With the passing of Saul Bellow last month at age 89, here are just a few of the quotes we read that sang his high praises. Note the last one in particular, by a guy named Phillip Roth, who ought to know a little something about literary achievement:

• “He also redefined the novel, broadened it, liberated it, made it warm with human sense and wit and grand purpose.”

• “His voice was instantly recognizable and inimitably his own; at once highbrow and streetwise, lofty and intimate— a voice equally at home ruminating on the great social and political ideas of the day…”

• "If the soul is the mind at its purest, best, clearest, busiest, profoundest, then Bellow's charge has been to restore the soul to American literature."

• “…along with William Faulkner, Bellow provided "the backbone of 20th-century American literature."

And it struck us immediately, that we had never even read so much as a single sentence by this great writer. Where have we been?

The “whys” and “wherefores” of such oversight could be a reflection of our personal reading habits, combined with the fact that Bellow had not cracked the required reading lists at the high schools and colleges in our day. Hemingway? Orwell? Hugo? Salinger? Of course! All “required.” But Bellow?

And yet, in a book we recently ran across ranking the greatest novels of all time, his highly acclaimed and major bestseller Herzog (1964), sits ahead of such classics as A Farewell To Arms, 1984, Les Misérables, The Catcher In The Rye, to name a few.

So we picked up a copy of Herzog from a used bookstore (The Iliad Bookstore in North Hollywood…great place by the way), and hunkered down to read this excellent novel.

In addition to the talents of Mr. Bellow, on display in this fabulous book, what also struck us is that:

once upon a time, a novel so thin on plot, and conversely, so richly developed in thought— with references to the likes of some history’s most renowned philosophers: Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Spinoza, Hegel etc.— could ever have made the best seller lists of America!

From here we plan to go on soon to Humboldt’s Gift (a Pulitzer Prize winner of 1976) and his breakout novel, The Adventure’s of Augie March (1953).

We intend to get to know this Bellow fellow well.

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What the Dickens?

And speaking of novelists, this one is so well known and has been so widely read for the last 135 years, that there are plans to build a $116.6 million theme park around his life and works— Dickens World. That’s right. We’re talking Charles Dickens.

This brief item, as reported by the New York Times last month, is no joke. Construction will begin soon in the Chatham area, 35 miles from London, and is scheduled to open in April 2007.

We could not help wondering, that if this were to start a trend, can the following literary themed entertainment venues be far behind?

Homer’s Odyssey World with its “star crossed” boat ride that goes on for most of the day.

Poe Park, featuring the world’s scariest roller coaster The Pit and the Pendulum.

Catch-22The Conundrum Park! (with its obvious ad slogan: “Easy to get in, but just try getting out of it!”).

Moby Dick Adventure Land with its famous Final Voyage— a ride in which, would be “Ahabs”, strapped atop the back of white whale-like cars, do a 150 foot drop and go under water three times! (not recommended for pregnant mothers… or even those thinking about getting pregnant for that matter).

“Uncle!” Ok. Enough. You get the idea.

And feel free to send along some of your own concepts. We’ll be sure to share them with our readers next month.

Dante’s Inferno anyone? Sorry. We couldn’t resist a parting shot.


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John Paul Two; A Poet Too


With the election of Pope Benedict XVI (the first papal name of three or more syllables in 83 years), much has been speculated on his personality and ability to carry on the legacy of John Paul II. Or will this be a case of “Good Pope/Bad Pope”? In any case, we’ll leave that discussion to the pundits, historians and theologians.

But the one bio note that was frequently glossed over and yet caught our eye concerning the previous Pope, was that among the many things he did in his rich life, John Paul II was also a poet. Which raises a blunt man-in-the-street question: “Yeah, but was he any good?”

We decided to have a look and see for ourselves.

Admittedly, our expectations going in were not the greatest. Would his poetry be filled with lots of sentimental homage to God? Or flat-out prayers disguised as poems? He was after all, a Pope in progress. And we don’t mean Alexander either.

In picking up a collection of his poetry (The Place Within: The Poetry of John Paul II ; translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz; Random House 1982), we did indeed find lots of that “religious stuff” (“Forgive my thought, Lord, for not loving enough”.) But we found a lot of “other stuff” in there as well. And you know what? The man could write. .

For example, check out the following poem— no doubt inspired by one of his previous life experiences as a common laborer in a repressed society. Note the particularly poignant line: They stole my voice; it’s the cars that speak.

The Car Factory Worker

Smart new models from under my fingers:
whirring already in distant streets.
I am not with them at the controls
on sleek motorways; the policeman’s in charge.
They stole my voice; it’s the cars that speak.

My soul is open: I want to know
with whom I am fighting, for whom I live.
Thoughts stronger than words. No answers.
Such questions mustn’t be asked out loud.
Just be back every day at six in the morning.
What makes you think that man
can tip the balance on the scales of the world?

And then there’s this startling poem written at least thirty years ago, when he was still vibrant and in excellent health. It is so prescient, given the pain he would come to suffer at the end of his life.



I would not carry it. And now this pain—
how much longer is it to last? —
feebly accepting at first, now like the moth
slowly eating its way through the fabric
of imagination, or like rust
wearing out iron.

Oh, to flow out of this cryptic canal
beyond the pain’s lock. There is a life
so great and simple, and its depth
does not end for me. For our reality
is more magnificent than painful.
Oh, to balance it all at last
with a gesture, mature and certain!

Not to return again and again,
but to walk on, at the daily pace of hours,
carrying that whole subtle structure
so easily disturbed
within the frontiers of the brain,
itself more affected by fatigue than pain.

And to be more with Him,
more with Him, not merely with oneself.
Push aside the terror of things to be done,
may a simple act be enough.

The two closing lines, in their acknowledgment of man’s limitations and need for humility, perhaps bear repeating:

Push aside the terror of things to be done,
may a simple act be enough.

Karol Wojtyla…rest in peace.


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Fun ‘N Games—Americana Style!

Welcome to the merry month of May; a month this year in particular, that celebrates the American belief in the God-given right to drink, gamble and drive cars at unbridled speeds.

Here’s a “trifecta” of three more of the more venerated fun ‘n games venues in our country.

1) It starts off May 7th with the 130th “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs— the Kentucky Derby!

Horse racing in Kentucky actually dates back to 1789, but the first official opening of this track for this event, was May 17, 1875.

The first derby winner was Aristides and ridden by an African-American jockey Oliver Lewis. In fact the first 13 winning jockeys of the Derby were black. Interesting when you consider, that Jackie Robinson didn’t “break the color line” in Baseball —America’s Pastime— until 1947.

2) Next up— Viva Las Vegas!

Here’s one you won’t want to miss: on May 15, 2005, Las Vegas will celebrate its 100th Birthday. And we quote:

“The Centennial Celebration Committee has promised to commemorate our 100th Birthday as only Las Vegas can by hosting a party that is bigger and brighter than the neon lights on the Las Vegas Strip!”

We can’t even begin to imagine what Sin City has in store for us God-fearin’ people.

3) And finally, on Memorial Day weekend, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway— an event a mere 84 years old— the Indianapolis 500! (“The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”).

Perhaps the most fascinating factoid about the Indy 500 has to do with, not surprisingly, speed; i.e. the difference between “then” and “now”:

• Ray Harroun, who won the first race in 1911, averaged 74.59 miles-per-hour.

• Last year’s winner in a rain-shortened race, Buddy Rice, averaged 222.024 miles-per-hour.

(Or, almost as fast as the average California driver on the “15” Freeway heading up to Vegas.)

But in all seriousness folks, a word of caution: if you drink, don’t drive… or bet.

If you must, please, make sure that you have a designated driver or a designated bookie.

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