Book #3 of 75. Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow.

Winner of the 1976 Pulitzer Prize, and included on Boxall’s list 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die, Humboldt’s Gift should be easily recognized as a “classic.”  It feels like a book that needs to be respected rather than a book that gets to be enjoyed.  In my opinion, Bellow tried to tackle some interesting/important subjects but didn’t get much past getting the ball rolling.  Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing. 


PLOT- It didn’t feel like the plot was a very important part of this novel.  If it was, it failed.  I usually don’t mind having a book full of characters that you hate, but it just didn’t work for me here.  About 100 pages into the novel, I realized that there was nothing that could save the plot.  Not only would this book be uninteresting, but it feels like the author wants it that way.  For the literary types with more upstairs than I have, perhaps the lack of plot was symbolic of something, but I didn’t enjoy reading it.    3/15    

CHARACTERS- Vivid characters.  They were exposed not through much background, but only as the main character saw them.  You start feeling like you understand the characters through the warped worldview of the main character.  All the characters minus some of the minor ones are all very hateable.  I actually found myself rooting for them to fail tremendously.     5/10

WRITING- I like having to re-read a sentence because of the complexity and/or poetry of it.  There are flashed of that here.  I guess winning a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize are indicators that you know how to write well.  I’ll trust the experts.  11/15

WORLDVIEW EFFECT-  How did this book contribute to my worldview?  There were some interesting things to consider here.  I think a major theme of the book was money.  It seems to be driving the entire story….and all the characters involved.  The lesson here is old, but interesting to see how it applies in the “art” world.  A second theme in the book is intelligence/knowledge.  I found a review in the LA Times that said that the main character, “..knows everything he’s supposed to know and nothing he needs to know.”  I can relate to that.  The main character makes a mess out of his life because of it.  And a third theme is marriage/love.  Do you need to link the two?  There are lots of negative examples in this book in this regard.  Some of the themes here are important and worth exploring, but it was hard to know where the author was taking these themes.    7/15

SETTING/LANDSCAPE- I enjoy the description of Chicago.  There isn’t a lot of description of the landscape, but you can feel the sleaze of Chicago.  The scenes that took place in Europe didn’t feel European.   5/10

“CAN’T PUT IT DOWN” EFFECTIt took me about a month and a half to finish this.  There were times that I would put a whole hour into the book and feel like I had just finished a marathon.  It was hard, boring reading.  Toward the end of the book I started reading it more just so that I could put it behind me.  1/10

ENDING- In the first part of the book you get the feeling that the book can’t possibly end well, and since there is no plot there won’t be any expectations for a good ending.  The main character doesn’t seem to learn anything from the mess of his life, and those around him stay as annoying as ever.  2/10

VOICE- First person from the main character, who is an intellectual type.  The book often broke out into thoughts or discussion from the main character that were sometimes interesting, mostly annoying.  It was interesting to see how the main character processed certain things that came up in his life.  4/5

PACE- Slow.  With no plot, I can’t really thing of how to comment on the pace.   2/5

OPENING LINE- “The book of ballads published by Von Humboldt Fleisher in the Thirties was an immediate hit.”  Sets the tone well, lets you know the time and the character whom the novel is named for.  Not very interesting though. 1/2

RECOMMEND TO WIFE?-  Nope, too boring and too inapplicable. 0/2

RECOMMEND TO KIDS?– No, too boring and too graphic. Main character was a perv. 0/2

RECOMMEND TO PEERS?No, I generally don’t want my peers to hate me.  0/2

RECOMMEND TO PASTOR?- No, not much to glean here in my opinion.  At times Bellow starts discussing spiritual matters, but in the context of everything it doesn’t fit.  0/2

Total Rating- 41/100


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