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Salman Rushdie on Saul Bellow’s books


Salman Rushdie talks about some of his favorite Saul Bellow books in this outtake from “The Adventures of Saul Bellow.” Rushdie says, “These are some of the great masterpieces of American literature.”


- So I guess it was in my 20s, there was a period when I suddenly became very interested in what was happening in contemporary American fiction, and so I began to read a lot of it, of various different kinds.

I mean, not only on the one hand Bellow, but on the other hand Thomas Pynchon and writers like that, so.

And I suppose, I was trying to remember which was the first book that I read, but I suppose it must have been 'Herzog.'

And I guess the two books that made a real impression on me, I mean, 'Herzog' is a wonderful book, but I think that 'Augie March' and 'Humboldt' were the two that really meant a lot to me.

And even now, I mean, if I find myself picking up Bellow, it would probably be either 'Humboldt' or 'Augie March' that I would have a look at.

- [Interviewer] What do you read?

I don't know, there's a thing about the great books that you could just open them at random and read a paragraph and they help you in some way.

So, and certainly when I'm writing a novel myself, I tend not to read a lot of fiction.

I mean, I have a habit of reading a little poetry every day, just as a way of getting myself to pay attention to language.

But there are some writers that sometimes I do just pick up and read a paragraph, and I think 'Humboldt's Gift' is one of the books that I use in that way.

I mean, I don't read a chapter.

I just open it, look at something, close the book and proceed.

But again, it's a very funny book.

I mean, it's in parts a very dark book, but particularly as the character of Humboldt declines in the book.

But he's a cruel and funny character as well.

And his relationship with Charlie Citrine is essentially, well, it's a tragic comic relationship, but it's a comic relationship.

I've always loved that Humboldt's contempt for Charlie's French award, he gets the Chevalier and Humboldt refers to him throughout as the 'shovel ear.'

It's just, it's a wonderful comic little device.

And the book is full of those things.

- [Interviewer] What do we get from, can we use a dose of rift, salsa?

- Well, the point about Bellow is that he's enormously enjoyable, that he is a great storyteller.

And his books are, those particularly, I would say those three books, 'Herzog,' 'Humboldt's Gift' and 'The Adventures of Augie March,' they're crammed full of story, incident, comedy, observation.

There's hardly a paragraph in which there isn't something that explodes off the page and makes you think again.

And so, yeah, I mean, I think these are some of the great masterpieces of American literature.

And the trouble with saying great masterpiece is that there's a way in which it puts people off reading.

'Cause a great masterpiece is something that sits on a shelf and gathers dust.

But actually these are just terrific books.

And I think I would envy somebody who had never read 'The Adventures of Augie March' because they would still have it ahead of them to read.

Sometimes you hear writers say, oh I've never read such and such book, which is one of your favorite books.

And you think, lucky you, because now you could have that experience of reading it for the first time.

And I think anyone who, I mean, I would be very surprised if people picking up 'Augie March' or 'Humboldt's Gift' were not immediately absorbed by the world of the book 'cause it's very attractive.

♪ Alls get in trouble with Saul Bellow ♪


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