1971 -- Mr. Sammler’s Planet

In 1968, in response to a letter admiring his short story, “The Old System,” Saul Bellow speculated that his correspondent belonged to a minority group:

It was kind of you to write. A few people responded to it as you did. Most, I suppose, don’t know what to make of it. Afraid it may not be the THING? Afraid of being Square? Worried that Susan Sontag might not like it? To this we seem to have come.

Bellow was writing Mr. Sammler’s Planet at the time, and many critics found in it a similar sort of mood. It was the third of Bellow’s NBA winners, these written over a seventeen-year span but their heroes aging at a faster rate. As the buoyant Augie gave way to the messed-up, middle-aged Herzog, so he yielded to the seventy-something Sammler, an Old World scholar poking his furled umbrella at the shrill, left-leaning and new-loving Sixties. Sammler gets out of bed on the wrong side in Bellow’s opening paragraphs, perching there hopelessly and pretty much permanently:

You had to be a crank to insist on being right. Being right was largely a matter of explanations. Intellectual man had become an explaining creature. Fathers to children, wives to husbands, lecturers to listeners, experts to laymen, colleagues to colleagues, doctors to patients, man to his own soul, explained. The roots of this, the causes of the other, the source of events, the history of structure, the reasons why. For the most part, in one ear and out the other. The soul wanted what it wanted. It had its own natural knowledge. It say unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.