Saul Bellow’s first nonfiction anthology is not a “reliquary,” the author says in a preface, abjuring sainthood, but simply a “gathering of some of the more readable essays” he has produced over the years. Given the guiltless recyclings of so many of his contemporaries, the disclaimer sounds archaic, as does his apology for having written on occasion for money. But then Bellow has always held himself to a high standard, and been held to one by others, though today few remember the time when, as Norman Podhoretz once wrote, “the validity of a whole phase of American experience was felt to hang on the question of whether or not [Bellow] would turn out to be a great novelist.” His scramble up Parnassus has been accomplished with the Williamsburg Bridge strapped to his back. A writer so burdened may be forgiven for admonishing us that his warmed-up leftovers do not amount to sacred remains.

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