“… let the soda crackers be soda crackers, and the wood shavings wood shavings.”

hendersonYesterday,  I stumbled across my old copy of Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow.

“What a fun, charming, and entertaining book!” I recollected.  “I loved it!  I’m going to blog the hell out of this book on Monday.”

The plan was to write something light and witty about how fun the book was to read, how much fun I had reading it, how I thought it was just generally a fun time all the way around, etc.  But it’s been a year or two since I read it, so I decided to take a quick tool around the internet to make sure I remembered it correctly.  To my horror, the first page I found was this one.

“Ugh!” I thought.  “The book this article is about sounds terrible! I don’t remember anyone ‘demythologizing the romantic disappointment inherent in the contemporary existentialist preoccupation with death’ in the book I read.  I mostly remember Henderson mucking about with lions and having an absurd experience with a multitude of frogs.  Maybe I’ m thinking of a different book.”  Unfortunately, a quick visit to Wikipedia confirmed my worst fears: the “Henderson the Rain King” in the Literary Encyclopedia entry was the book I’d read years ago.  At the time I stupidly thought I was having fun enjoying a great book, but in reality, I’d been painfully slogging my way through some schmo’s comment on the utter failure of nihilistic stoicism.

Luckily, further reading on Wikipedia turned up this essay by Saul Bellow himself, published just a few weeks before Henderson came out.  It’s a great piece- one that you might want to consider sending to some of your old English teachers, by the way- but if you don’t feel like reading it, I’ll sum it up for you:  Henderson the Rain King is a thrill-a-minute rollicking good time, and everybody should just relax and enjoy their reading and stop sucking all the joy and humanity out of perfectly good books.

-Norm De Plume

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Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 5:35 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A lovely and valuable essay. I’ve bookmarked it, and have no doubt I’ll have need of it when I teach high school English. Thanks!

  2. This was the book Ross Feld picked for the only First Wednesday discussion he did here. He was crazy about it.

    The BYU prof is the perfect illustration of why I was never tempted by an academic career no matter how spectacular the fringe package.

    Somebody with time on his hands needs to dig up the interview with the great Doris Lessing in which she explains how offputting she finds book discussions. She thinks it’s ridiculous to talk about what a book is about.

  3. Edmund will be one of the English teachers who WON’T need to have the Bellow essay tattooed upside down on his stomach. Forget No Child Left Behind. Our nation’s education policy should be A Thousand Clones of Edmund.

    Nemo, reading that BYU thing made me question my decision to learn to read in the first place.

  4. Anybody read the introduction to “Understanding Poetry” by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph. D. lately? Bold stuff!


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