The History of Literature #205 – Saul Bellow

LOGO-COVERS

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) was born in Quebec, immigrated to Chicago, and became one of the greatest of the great American novelists. In 1976 he won the Nobel Prize for writing that displayed “the mixture of rich picaresque novel and subtle analysis of our culture, of entertaining adventure, drastic and tragic episodes in quick succession interspersed with philosophic conversation, all developed by a commentator with a witty tongue and penetrating insight into the outer and inner complications that drive us to act, or prevent us from acting, and that can be called the dilemma of our age.”

In this episode, Jacke and Mike take a look at one of their favorite authors, discussing the highs and lows of the “first-class noticer” and his larger-than-life presence in the literary world.

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. (We appreciate it!) Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

Music Credits:

“Frog Legs Rag” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #12 – The Tickets to the Premiere


It was during my study-abroad year in Bologna that my friend Roberto and I decided to write a musical. Not just for fun, not just for some school play or party or anything immature like that—no, we were going to be great and famous writers of musicals. Wilson & Benedetti!

And why not us? Roberto had been playing piano for a million years and had perfect pitch. I had just written a poem. We had both been IN musicals. We liked WATCHING them.

This is all it takes, people. Twenty-year-olds studying abroad have boundless optimism. None of it’s earned, of course, but that’s okay. It’s just there.

One problem: all the good subjects had already been taken. Our predecessors had covered everything we could think of. We needed a theme. Needed a setting. Some kind of story. Luckily, as the word guy, I had a brilliant idea:

ME: I’ve come up with an idea for our musical. No one’s ever done it. Brand new!
ROBERTO: Excellent! What is it?
ME: Okay, so I’ve been reading a lot of Simone de Beauvoir. Just finished The Second Sex.
ROBERTO: Um, okay…
ME: And I’ve been reading a lot of Nietzsche. Some interesting combinations there.
ROBERTO: You want to write a…Nietzschean feminist musical?
ME: With bouncy tunes!

It’s embarrassing now to think how excited we were. Embarrassing to think we even tried. But can you blame us? We were twenty years old. TWENTY.

Think of life as a world of doors. When you’re young, you’re told you can open any door. Right? Just find the one you want…and walk right through! They’re all open to you! We tell college graduates that, even though it’s really not true at all. And five-year-olds? Forget it. With five-year-olds we lie and lie and lie. You want to be a movie star? See you on the big screen! An astronaut slash professional baseball player? Godspeed, little one.

For two twenty-year-olds, roaming through Europe, living like carefree kings on Eurorail passes and a stipend, fueled by red wine (legal here! a whole year early!), well, what were going to dream of being? Accountants? Dental hygienists? Of course not! We would be writers of a musical. Naturally. Of course.

We took a picture to commemorate the day we began:

Continue reading

More Free Fiction: The Race by Jacke Wilson

More free fiction below… Enjoy!  – Jacke

The Race: A Novella

Excerpt from Chapter Seven

When I was young, my class took a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. On the way back from Chicago we stopped at a McDonald’s, and along with the meal everyone received a Monopoly game piece. It was a small square piece of cardboard with the monocle man – Uncle Pennybags – on the front and two perforated tabs running down each side. On the back were rules and the red text in the Monopoly font. And the magic words:

WIN $1,000,000

Everyone else tore theirs open. A couple of kids won – a small fries, an apple pie. I put mine in my pocket and got busy with other things. I had a meal to eat, friends to hang out with – I don’t know why I didn’t open mine. I just didn’t.

I was astonished by the reaction. On the bus, everyone went crazy with the rumor – I hadn’t opened mine yet! What was in there? What was I waiting for?

For some reason this made me decide not to open it. I didn’t want to be on display. I figured I’d open it later. So I refused.

By the time we returned to the school parking lot I was surrounded by other kids.

“When you gonna open it?”

“Yeah, when? Come on.”

“I might not,” I said. “I might never open it.”

“Come on. S’amillion dollars.”

They could not fathom my refusal. People got angry. They did not forget about it. I waited. Days went by, then a week, then another, until I began to realize that it meant more unopened than opened. It was a one in 80 million chance of winning the big prize – infinitesimal odds I could live with defying – and who cared about the smaller prizes? Not opening it was worth more than a small Coke.

I kept it in my wallet. I never brought it up. Once in a while a rumor would spread that I’d opened it, and I would produce the piece to verify that I hadn’t.

I became a freak: the kid who turned down a million dollars. The rumor spread to other schools. At parties I’d be pointed at – yeah, that’s the guy. The guy with the Monopoly thing. Never opened it. He’ll show it to us if we bug him about it.

The toughest kid in school grabbed me one day and shoved me against a locker. Continue reading