I could never tell him apart from the other ones, Asch and Abramovitsh and Aleichem and the rest. And those titles like “Gimpel the Fool,” straight from the old country? Well Singer, and the translator of “Gimpel the Fool,” some guy named Saul Bellow, get as much life and humanity into a dozen pages as I’ve ever found in a piece of literature of any length. Then you flip to “A Day in Coney Island” and get all of modernity too, and keep turning to one story after another in a crescendo of astonishment and gratitude.
Speaking of Bellow, the last novel I fell profoundly in love with was Mr. Sammler’s Planet, about an elegant old survivor in New York in 1969, values changing all around him and cohorts leaving his planet for the moon. The book is tighter than Augie March and Humboldt’s Gift, stuffed with plot and incredible characters. I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Mr. Sammler’s Planet made me feel the streets again, hear the hiss of the apartment radiators and the traffic on Broadway.