Tom Wolfe
Awaiting the King

Philip Roth

My good friend Chuck Whittington was into Philip Roth, which is what introduced me to him as a young twenty-something (he was not one of those figures we learned about in high school American literature).  I think, like many, I began with Portnoy's Complaint and read it at a good age for doing so.  It was exciting and unlike anything I'd previously read (also true for many readers it seems).  This was an era when I decided I needed to brush up on contemporary American writers and so started reading Roth, Updike, Morrison, etc.

My favourite Roth are two short stories in Goodbye, Columbus--"The Conversion of the Jews" and "Eli, the Fanatic."  I reread the first of these the other day after the news of his death.

Over the last two decades I have read a Roth novel every few years.  I've never gone out and bought a new copy of one, just picked them up at used bookstores and church and library book sales as I've encountered them.  I thought The Human Stain was okay.  I loved American Pastoral, his best novel that I've read.  The Plot Against America was enjoyable.

But I hated Sabbath's Theater and couldn't finish it.  Turned me off from trying to read more broadly in his canon.  Also not long after trying to read it I started subscribing to The Atlantic where I enjoyed Christopher Hitchens' eviscerating reviews of each Roth novel as they appeared.  I've, thus, read none of his work published in this century.

A few years ago I read The Counterlife, which was very good.  It is set in Israel/Palestine in the 1980's and explores from a fractured identity the complexities of issues surrounding that region.  That novel has been influential in my own understanding of the conflict, and I recommend it to people.

One of these days I'll read more of his novels from the 1970's and 80's.  Since I'm a Library of America subscriber, I assume that eventually I'll get mailed one of their volumes.


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