One Book, One Chicago: Augie March

Love this one, too:

I was struck by the reading fever. I lay in my room and read, feeding on print and pages like a famished man. Sometimes I couldn’t give a book up to a customer who had ordered it, and for a long time this was all that I could care about. The sense I had was of some live weight driven into tangles or nets of hungry feeling; I wanted to haul it in. Padilla was sore and fired up when he came to my room and saw stacks of books I should have gotten rid of long ago; it was dangerous to keep them. If he had restricted me to books on mathematics, thermodynamics, mechanics, things probably would have been different, for I didn’t carry the germ of a Clerk Maxwell or Max Planck in me. But as he had turned over to me his orders for books on theology, literature, history and philosophy, and I copped Ranke’s History of the Popes and Sarpi’s Council of Trent for the seminary students, or Burckhardt or Merz’s European Thought in the Nineteenth Century, I sat reading. Padilla raised hob with me about the Merz because it took so long to finish and a man in the History department was after him for it. “You can use my card and get it out fo the library, ” he said. But somehow that wasn’t the same. As eating your own meal, I suppose is different from a handout, even if calory for calory it’s the same value; maybe the body even uses it differently.

Anyhow, I had found something out about an unknown privation, and I realized how a general love or craving, before it is explicit or before it sees its object, manifests itself as boredom or some other kind of suffering. And what did I think of myself in relation to the great occasions, the more sizable being of these books? Why, I saw them, first of all. So suppose I wasn’t created to read a great declaration, or to boss a palatinate, or send off a message to Avignon, and so on, I could see, so there nevertheless was a share for me in all that happened. How much of a share? Why, I knew there were things that would never, because they could never, come of my reading. But this knowledge was not so different from the remote, but ever-present death that sits in the corner of the loving bedroom; though it doesn’t budge form the corner, you wouldn’t stop your loving. Then neither would I stop my reading. I sat and read. I had no eye, ear, or interest for anything else–that is, for the usual, second-order, oatmeal, mere phenomenal, snarled-shoelace-carfare-laundry-ticket plainness, unspecified dismalness, unknown captivities; the life of despair-harness, or the life of organization-habits which is meant to supplant accidents with calm abiding. Well, now, who can really expect the daily facts to go, toil or prisons to go, oatmeal and laundry tickets and all the rest, and insist that all moments be raised to the greatest importance, demand that everyoen breathe the pointy, star-furnished air at its highest difficulty, abolish all brick, valutlike rooms, all dreariness, and live like prophets or gods? Why, everybody knows this triumphant life can only be periodic. So there’s a schism about it, some saying only this triumphant life is real and others that only the daily facts are. For me there was not debate, and I made speed into the former.

Don’t forget about the panel discussion today featuring Professors Domenico Ferri and Stephen Burnett, hosted by Professor Judy Rivera-van Schagen! It starts in half an hour in room 203.

One Book, One Chicago: Augie March

The reason I picked this one should be obvious (from the beginning of Chapter VII):

From here a new course was set–by us, for us: I’m not going to try to unravel all the causes.

When I face back I can recognize myself as of this time in intimate undress, with my own and family traits of hands and feet, greenness and grayness of the eyes and up-springing hair; but at myself fully clothed and at my new social passes I have to look twice. I don’t know how it all at once came to me to talk a lot, tell jokes, kick up, and suddenly have views. When it was time to have them, there was no telling how I picked them from the air.

The city college Simon and I attended wasn’t a seminary in charge of priests who taught Aristotle and casuistry and prepared you for European games and vices and all the things, true or not true, actual or not actual, nevertheless insisted on as true and actual. Considering how much world there was to catch up with–Asurbanipal, Euclid, Alaric, Metternich, Madison, Blackhawk–if you didn’t devote your whole life to it, how were you ever going to do it? And the students were children of immigrants from all parts, coming up from Hell’s Kitchen, Little Sicily, the Black Belt, the mass of Polonia, the Jewish streets of Humboldt Park, put through their course sifters of curriculum, and also bringing wisdom of their own. They filled the factory-length corridors and giant classrooms with every human character and germ, to undergo consolidation and become, the idea was, American. In the mixture there was beauty–a good proportion–and pimple-insolence, and parricide faces, gum-chew innocence, labor fodder and secretarial forces, Danish stability, Dago inspiration, catarrh-hampered mathematical genius; there were waxed-eared shovelers’ children, sex-promising businessmen’s daughters–an immense sampling of a tremendous host, the multitudes of holy writ, begotten by West-moving, factor-shoved parents. Or me, the by-blow of a traveling man.

Normally Simon and I would have gone to work after high school, but jobs weren’t to be had anyway, and the public college was full of students in our condition, because of the unemployment, getting a city-sponsored introduction to higher notions and an accidental break into Shakespeare and other great masters along with the science and math leveled at the Civil-Service exams. In the nature of the case it couldn’t be avoided; and if you were going to prepare impoverished young folks for difficult functions, or if merely you were going to keep them out of trouble by having them read books, there were going to be some remarkable results begotten out of the mass. I knew a skinny, sickly Mexican too poor for socks and spotted and stained all over, body and clothes, who could crack any equation on the board; and also Bohunk wizards at the Greeks, demon-brained physicists, historians bred under pushcarts, and many hard-grain poor boys who were goint to starve and work themselves bitterly eight years or so to become doctors, engineers, scholars, and experts. I had no special eagerness of this kind and never had been led to think I should have, nor gave myself anxious cares about being revealed a profession. I didn’t feel moved to take it seriously. Nevertheless, I turned in a faritly good performance in French and History. In things like Botany, my drawings were cockeyed and smudgy and I was behind the class.

One Book, One Chicago: Augie March

This fall’s One Book, One Chicago choice is Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, which is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman of a young man growing up in Chicago back in the day, with one of Chicago literature’s most famous opening lines–“I am an American, Chicago born–Chicago, that somber city–and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving of the knuckles.”

When I read it, I didn’t think too much of the plot or the characters to be honest, though Augie was interestingly drawn–reminded me of a young Rabbit Angstrom years before there was a Rabbit Angstrom, but I loved seeing the picture of life in historic Chicago, and the language, my word, Saul Bellow could write a sentence…gorgeous passage after gorgeous passage. Stunners.

To celebrate, I’m going to post some of my favorite passages this week, leading up to Thursday’s panel discussion of the book featuring Professors Domenico Ferri and Stephen Burnett, hosted by Professor Judy Rivera-van Schagen.

Next Up!

Next up! is a regular feature on Sundays, showcasing HWC (and beyond) events in the coming week. Use the “Comments” section to provide updates and additions!

Here we go…welcome to week 10!

Monday, 10/24: Loop Players Present: Mousetrap ($3 Preview Performance–7:15pm, rm 103)

Tuesday, 10/25:  Loop Players Present: Mousetrap ($3 Preview Performance–7:15pm, rm 103), CAST Pedagogy Subgroup meeting (2, rm 1046)

Wednesday, 10/26: Loop Players Present: Mousetrap (7:15pm, rm 103)

Thursday, 10/27: One Book, One Chicago Panel (12:30-2:30, rm 203); Loop Players Present: Mousetrap (2:00pm, rm 103)

Friday, 10/28: Loop Players Present: Mousetrap (7:15pm, rm 103)

Saturday, 10/29: Loop Players Present: Mousetrap (2:00pm, rm 103)

Add the stuff I missed in the comments…