How to start a piece

Louis Menand is, IMHO, the best living literary critic. Perhaps that’s because he’s the most readable. At any rate, I will read anything he writes, on any subject.

One of his gifts is that, like Hemingway, he lures the reader in at the very beginning. Here he is doing it in a recent New Yorker essay on Saul Bellow:

Herzog is the book that made Saul Bellow famous. He was forty-nine years old when it came out, in 1964. He had enjoyed critical esteem since the publication of his first novel, “Dangling Man,” in 1944, and he had won a National Book Award for “The Adventures of Augie March” in 1954. But “Herzog” turned him into a public figure, a writer of books known even to people who don’t read books—an “author.” At a ceremony honoring the success of “Herzog” at city hall in Chicago, Bellow’s home town, a reporter asked the mayor, Richard J. Daley, whether he’d read the novel. “I’ve looked into it,” Daley said.

You get enough people saying that and you have a best-seller…

See what I mean? Read on.