Don DeLillo: a beginner's guide
Picador's handy starter guide to the books of Don DeLillo from Underworld to Zero K.
Don DeLillo is one of the greatest living American novelists. Over the last forty-five years he has produced fifteen novels and three plays, many of which are considered to contain some of the finest writing of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Anyone new to his books could be forgiven for not having a clue where to start. Luckily Picador Senior Editor, Kris Doyle, is on hand to offer some expert advice.
Don DeLillo is one of America’s most important and influential writers. He is perhaps the quintessential American novelist. Why? He engages with the history of his country and predicts its future with a freakish accuracy; he catches the voices, fears and hopes of the full range of Americans; the capaciousness of his work only serves to highlight his omnicompetence.
DeLillo has interrogated consumerism, intellectualism, terrorism, the family, death, the power of violence, the impact of the Atomic Bomb; the list goes on. The importance of America, especially in the global events of the twentieth century, would ensure his relevance to readers everywhere, even if it weren’t for the fact that we in the West live in an increasingly homogenised culture, an increasingly American culture.
But for me, what makes him special isn’t all of this grand-sounding stuff.
The feeling I love most when reading is perhaps best called extrusion, that delightful rush that comes when the pull of a writer’s words on the page draw you towards a new experience: the quick expansion of consciousness, the shock of recognition, the delicious and surprising hit of emotion.
Some writers choose to think in macro terms and some at the micro-level of the sentence; DeLillo can do both. At his best, I think he’s one of few writers who can do them simultaneously. DeLillo writes books that are smart, funny, perceptive, moving, relevant and true because he can think big and write small. He gives himself more opportunities than most writers to bring the reader’s consciousness up to join him because of the fearlessness with which he explores the terrain of the world he finds himself in and the equal fearlessness of the way he deploys language to offer us his visionary remaking of it.
Every book feels like an act of deep thinking and we rush to meet him because he’s always out in front, there on the horizon, aiming for the bright edge.