Bracing for Amis too is a late essay of Bellow’s, ‘Wit Irony Fun Games’ – ‘quite possibly the last thing he ever wrote’ – that insists that ‘most novels have been written by ironists, satirists, and comedians’. Amis concludes, ‘The novel is comic because life is comic.’

Readin’ that line in this review of Martin Amis, The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump – Essays and Reportage, 1986–2016, by Christian Lorentzen over on Literary Review

So I says, let’s get a copy of this late essay of Bellow’s and see what he has to say.  I’ve never read much Saul Bellow.

Sure enough it’s pretty good!  Here in “Wit Irony Fun Games” he talks about Lincoln’s humor:

This, in an essay about FDR, gives backstory I didn’t know to the story of the attempted assassination:

In this essay, Bellow says his famously controversial comment about “who’s the Tolstoy of the Zulus” was all a misunderstanding:

He likes Zulus, and Papuans as well:

Papuans probably have a better grasp of their myths than most educated Americans have of their own literature.  But without years of study we can’t begin to understand a culture very different from our own.  The fair thing,, therefore, is to make allowance for what we outsiders cannot hope to fathom in another society and grant that, as members of the same species, primitive men are as mysterious or as monstrous as any other branch of humankind.


James Fallows calls my attention to this article, from Chicago Magazine in 2007, about then-Senatorial candidate Obama’s Democratic convention speech.

The best bits, for the busy executive:

Obama composed the first draft in longhand on a yellow legal pad, mostly in Springfield, where the state senate was in overtime over a budget impasse. Wary of missing important votes, Obama stayed close to the Capitol, which wasn’t exactly conducive to writing. “There were times that he would go into the men’s room at the Capitol because he wanted some quiet,” says Axelrod. Once, state senator Jeff Schoenberg walked into the men’s lounge and found Obama sitting on a stool along the marble countertop near the sinks, reworking the speech. “It was a classic Lifemagazine moment,” says Schoenberg, who snapped a picture of Obama with his cell-phone camera.

(Photo not included, regrettably.)  Kerry’s folks made Obama take out a line:

After the rehearsal ended, Obama was furious. “That fucker is trying to steal a line from my speech,” he griped to Axelrod in the car on the way back to their hotel, according to another campaign aide who was there but asked to remain anonymous. Axelrod says he does not recollect exactly what Obama said to him. “He was unhappy about it, yeah,” he says, but adds that Obama soon cooled down. “Ultimately, his feeling was: They had given him this great opportunity; who was he to quibble over one line?”


On Tuesday, the day of his speech, Obama was up before 6 a.m. He gobbled down a vegetable omelet en route to the FleetCenter for back-to-back-to-back live interviews with the network morning shows. Next, he rushed off to speak at the Illinois delegation breakfast and then to a rally sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters. Afterwards, he returned to the arena for another hour of TV interviews. There was barely time for lunch, a turkey sandwich that he ate in the SUV while being interviewed by a group of reporters.

Always, always tell me what everyone ate.

(both photos from Chicago Magazine, uncredited.  Michelle’s skeptical face in that first photo!)

More Jack Delano

Chicago Railyards, 1942