I've been thinking about how Bellow was both a great thinker and a great writer. The two aren't necessarily linked. There are truly great writers - say, Cormac McCarthy - who are limited in ideas. And there are great thinkers who have a limited ability to communicate their thoughts. Writers who are also great thinkers are rare. Shakespeare would be the greatest example in the English language. Saul Bellow was also such a man.
The British writer Ian McEwan eulogized Bellow recently in the New York Times. He closes with this lovely paragraph:
Writers we admire and re-read are absorbed into the fine print of our consciousness, into the white noise of our thoughts, and in this sense, they can never die. Saul Bellow started publishing in the 1940's, and his work spreads across the century he helped to define. He also redefined the novel, broadened it, liberated it, made it warm with human sense and wit and grand purpose. Henry James once proposed an obvious but helpful truth: "the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer." We are saying farewell to a mind of unrivalled quality. He opened our universe a little more. We owe him everything.If you're looking for a place to start, try Humboldt's Gift.