Saul Bellow, Our Contemporary
The authors whose books we read when they are new and we are young are bound to occupy a place in our lives that is different from that of other writers. They are our contemporaries. The air they breathe is the same air that we breathe. The history they experience is our history, too, and if their “take” on it differs in some ways from our own, it is nonetheless the same history. We recognize the arguments, the atmosphere, the very texture of events as familiar territory, for the world that is evoked by these writers is in so many respects continuous with our own. The jokes do not have to be explained.
As we—and they—grow older, however, our relation to these writers undergoes a significant change. We come to expect both more and less from them—more, because of the congruence of our joint experience and the sense of identification it engenders; less, because of our growing sense that, like many things in life we did not fully understand when we were young, they will prove in time to be disappointing. It is then that doubt sets in and we come to see such writers as—well, as writers, to be judged on their merits like other writers, writers who have now slipped out of the enclosed circle of our experience to become public literary figures. We may still read such writers with keen interest, but we no longer grant them a special place in our lives.
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