Philip Roth - Where to begin?

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
I saw someone reading 'Portnoy's Complaint' on the train today, and remembered, "oh yeah, I wanted to read some Philip Roth books, but I don't know which ones are supposed to be the best".
Suggestions?

Mike Dixn (Mike Dixon), Friday, 7 January 2005 18:41 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That one. Or Goodbye, Columbus

Ken L (Ken L), Friday, 7 January 2005 19:12 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

With Roth (who is my absolute favorite novelist), I think it's more important where not to start: Letting Go, When She Was Good, The Breast, Our Gang, Great American Novel, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, The Prague Orgy, Deception, I Married a Communist, The Dying Animal. It may seem strange that I can claim to love an author while thinking that so many of his books ought to be skipped (at least at first). But Roth is one of those writer's who's great when he's good and sucks when he's bad. Ken's right that Goodbye Columbus & Portnoy's Complaint are two good places to start, but so are Sabbath's Theater, American Pastoral, The Counterlife, Patrimony, and The Ghost Writer. I envy your having not read him. I haven't been blown away by an author like I was by Roth for a few years...

David Elinsky (David Elinsky), Friday, 7 January 2005 19:50 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

his new book "the plot against america." is also a great read!

Emilymv (Emilymv), Friday, 7 January 2005 20:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I wouldn't recommend that you start with Portnoy. I think the tone of it can be grating and might give you a false impression about te rest of his books. If it turns you off it might stop you form reading the other books.

Moti Bahat, Saturday, 8 January 2005 23:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

The Breast is the best to start with. Kafkaesque in a Woody Woodpecker way.

anonymous poster, Sunday, 9 January 2005 03:36 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Goodbye, Columbus was his first book, a collection of short stories. Portnoy's Complaint was a blockbuster novel, a frequently hilarious, much read and discussed explicit modern day rake's progress, as told by one Alexander Portnoy. Roth has claimed that he and some others that came of age were "pioneers of the sexual revolution" and in a way he is right- if there had been no Portnoy's Complaint, there would be no American Pie.


At some point early on, Roth was taken to task by Irving Howe for misusing his talent and "betraying his obligation to the Jews," and the success-de-scandale of Portnoy made many feel the same. The meta-plot thickens. The protagonist of The Ghost Writer, Nathan Zuckmerman, was a fictionalized version of Roth, creator of ofPortnoy-proxy (Gilbert) Carnovsky, hero of a novel of the same name. Note the three-layers, or is it four, I can't count! Zuckerman has reappeared over and over in Roth's work, and to top it off, Roth has even named characters Phillip Roth ! (More than one in one novel?) In autobiography The Facts, Roth gives a suprisingly Mom,Apple Pie and Chevrolet account of his childhood, although he does recount the scarifying story of his first marriage, his first wife being the basis for the protagonist of his surprisingly successful "goy" novel, When She Was Good. In the last section of The Facts, Roth is taken to task, by none other than alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman, for his whitewash of, well, the facts.


The hero of the The Breast is another Roth doppelganger, David Kepesh, protagonist of The Professor of Desire.

A very interesting portrait of Roth appears in Janet Hobhouse's excellent autobiographical novel The Furies, here he is called "Jack."

Ken L (Ken L), Sunday, 9 January 2005 05:48 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

came of age in the 50s

Ken L (Ken L), Sunday, 9 January 2005 06:16 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Start with Portnoy's Complaint, or at least read it before you read the Zuckerman books.

Ray (Ray), Monday, 10 January 2005 09:13 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Portnoy's Complaint.

Puddin'Head Miller (PJ Miller), Monday, 10 January 2005 10:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

one year passes...
are there any interviews online in which roth defends the end of the plot against america? deus ex machina!

mark p (Mark P), Monday, 20 February 2006 04:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

The Radzetsky March!

kenchen, Monday, 20 February 2006 16:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

(Just kidding.)

kenchen, Monday, 20 February 2006 16:03 (twelve years ago) Permalink

The Human Stain is a great gateway to older Roth, I think.

My own Roth experience was utterly skewed by Operation Shylock. I read it first - and came away thinking of Roth as an annoyingly dense postmodernist who expects you to be up on his interviews and biography before reading his books.

joseph cotten (joseph cotten), Tuesday, 21 February 2006 02:31 (twelve years ago) Permalink

five years pass...

Roth won the Booker Prize and a judge has withdrawn from the panel in protest.

Judge Callil said that "he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe".

Ha!

And, is it just me or does Roth kind of sound like an ass when he says "I hope the prize will bring me to the attention of readers around the world who are not familiar with my work" ? http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/release/1501

Romeo Jones, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 14:42 (seven years ago) Permalink

(Oh, and this is the "Booker International Prize," given for a body of work.)

Romeo Jones, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 14:45 (seven years ago) Permalink

Haha, literary beefs are the silliest. I was going to say 'funnest' but they normally lead to years of tedium iirc, starting in the Guardian this Saturday.

That's a reasonable response imo - it's either that or marvelling at gaining approval of one's peers. (thanks for the cheque' probably better than both though)

Ismael Klata, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 14:56 (seven years ago) Permalink

carmen callil otm

thomp, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:21 (seven years ago) Permalink

i somewhat agree, i often cant remember which of his books ive read and which i havent; tho i like most of them, so i guess im into smothering

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:27 (seven years ago) Permalink

i like roth but calling nemesis a masterpiece, like that judge did, is reallllllly pushing it

just sayin, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:29 (seven years ago) Permalink

"he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book"

I'm sort of interpreting this as "he writes about American Jews too much".

Matt DC, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:47 (seven years ago) Permalink

think that's a bit unfair, matt - it's not entirely surprising that the founder of virago might have problems with philip roth without framing this as a 'jewish question'

Ward Fowler, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:57 (seven years ago) Permalink

well matt are you saying he doesn't

thomp, Wednesday, 18 May 2011 16:07 (seven years ago) Permalink

I'm sort of interpreting this as "he writes about American Jews too much".

woulda assumed it was the lusting-guy thing that was his heavy motif?, but maybe not

i think the 'bring me to the attention of other readers' thing is neat - sort of a 'the reason why this award is valuable is that it spreads awareness of literature' kinda thing

mailbox of snakes (schlump), Wednesday, 18 May 2011 16:31 (seven years ago) Permalink

Well, and he's won a zillion American prizes and hasn't won the Nobel, and whenever he talks in interviews he's talking about Camus (big point of reference for Nemesis) and the Russians, so if he wants to be read in the context of those, then this can help do that.

more horses after the main event (Eazy), Wednesday, 18 May 2011 21:03 (seven years ago) Permalink

six years pass...

This guy is unjustly reviled by people of my generation who haven't read him.

Treeship, Monday, 10 July 2017 18:15 (one year ago) Permalink

Which is fine I guess. There are plenty of other authors to read. But the harshness of people's attitude toward him suprises me.

Treeship, Monday, 10 July 2017 18:22 (one year ago) Permalink

it's generally not a great idea to "revile" writers you haven't read

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Monday, 10 July 2017 18:48 (one year ago) Permalink

I love the Bech series

calstars, Monday, 10 July 2017 18:54 (one year ago) Permalink

I love "American Pastoral"

Well bissogled trotters (Michael B), Monday, 10 July 2017 19:29 (one year ago) Permalink

At his peak during the 1980s thru 1998.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 10 July 2017 19:44 (one year ago) Permalink

American Pastoral is amazing I agree. It helped me understand what happened to my mom's family in the 60s and 70s and why my grandparents -- who were liberals -- blamed the counterculture and not the war.

Treeship, Monday, 10 July 2017 19:57 (one year ago) Permalink

read Portnoy's, Pastoral, and Everyman. while i admired elements of each, ultimately not a fan. there's this overbearing woe-is-me-ism that i just do not connect with at all.

circa1916, Monday, 10 July 2017 20:03 (one year ago) Permalink

Isn't the Bech series Updike? xp

Treeship, Monday, 10 July 2017 20:08 (one year ago) Permalink

read Portnoy's, Pastoral, and Everyman. while i admired elements of each, ultimately not a fan. there's this overbearing woe-is-me-ism that i just do not connect with at all.

― circa1916, Monday, July 10, 2017

I always direct newcomers to The Ghost Writer, a lovely odd sliver of a book. The first few Zuckerman books are wonders. There is no woe-is-me in these books.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 10 July 2017 20:18 (one year ago) Permalink

Millennial's sure hate Updike

Well bissogled trotters (Michael B), Monday, 10 July 2017 23:37 (one year ago) Permalink

Shit, yes Bech is Updike of course.

Started Goodbye Columbus tonight

calstars, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:09 (one year ago) Permalink

i forget if i mentioned it somewhere but i read roth unbound a few months back and it was reallly good, roth is fascinating

johnny crunch, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:16 (one year ago) Permalink

treesh, is it women or men who unjustly revile him?

johnny crunch, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:21 (one year ago) Permalink

Mostly women but some men. The perception is that he is self-obsessed and a misogynist. It's bad enough that I felt too self-conscious to buy a copy of the Human Stain today at my place of work (a bookstore).

Treeship, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:25 (one year ago) Permalink

Nb still going to buy it tomorrow

Treeship, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:30 (one year ago) Permalink

I love him and think he writes with compassion, humor and insight about Americans of the past few generations. I am deeply hostile to the idea that novels should embody some particular ideology.

Treeship, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:32 (one year ago) Permalink

Read The Ghost Writer!

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 11 July 2017 02:34 (one year ago) Permalink

^^ha I just read The Ghost Writer & Zuckerman Unbound and enjoyed as much as the later, weightier Zuckermans. novella length & abrupt endings worked in their favor.

busy bee starski (m coleman), Tuesday, 11 July 2017 03:07 (one year ago) Permalink

i haven't read it, but in the wiki to leaving a dolls house he does come off horribly tbh...lots of ppl cant separate the work from the man or his image obv

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaving_a_Doll%27s_House:_A_Memoir

Subsequently, Roth sent Bloom a "fusillade" of faxes one evening demanding return of everything he had provided during their years together including $150 per hour for the "five or six hundred hours" he had spent going over scripts with her[3] and levying a fine of $62 billion for Bloom's failure to honour the pre-nuptial agreement.[5] Bloom also writes of Roth demanding the return of jewelry given as gifts during their relationship, however his priority seemed to be money. "Just send a cheque" he wrote. Roth concluded by offering to give Bloom the $104 per week that had been paid to the maid in New York, which he claimed was Bloom's "sole contribution to living costs that averaged between $80,000 and $100,000 per year."

johnny crunch, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 11:44 (one year ago) Permalink

I feel like I'm a bad Jew but I've only read The Dying Animal. It seemed like parody of what to expect from a Roth novel: obnoxious but horny old man scores with beautiful-but-unknowable girl, misery ensues. I enjoyed it, but it was ridiculous.

I hear good things about "Married A Communist", anyone tried it?

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 16:20 (one year ago) Permalink

I hear good things about "Married A Communist", anyone tried it?

I like those late '90s novels to varying degrees, but they were a new peak.

i haven't read it, but in the wiki to leaving a dolls house he does come off horribly tbh...lots of ppl cant separate the work from the man or his image obv

Considering that "Philip Roth" often met Nathan Zuckerman in his novels and was interviewed by Zuckerman for a memoir called The Facts I guess I don't blame him.

the Rain Man of nationalism. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 11 July 2017 16:45 (one year ago) Permalink

Zuckerman Unbound especially seemed uh nakedly autobiographical

I Married A Commie was one of that peak period's best imo, the red scare viewed through relationship of two brothers

busy bee starski (m coleman), Tuesday, 11 July 2017 17:00 (one year ago) Permalink

'communist' is one of the handful ive not read, its also sposed to have considerable autobiographical stuff & shots @ bloom

johnny crunch, Tuesday, 11 July 2017 17:22 (one year ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Read The Ghost Writer on recommendation of this thread, loved it - thanks.

Chuck_Tatum, Sunday, 13 August 2017 21:17 (one year ago) Permalink

five months pass...

cool, David Simon is making a plot against America miniseries.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 16 January 2018 14:14 (ten months ago) Permalink

plot against America is the least of his works id like to see adapted

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 17 January 2018 15:59 (ten months ago) Permalink

four months pass...

cross him off the annual nobel shortlist

mookieproof, Wednesday, 23 May 2018 03:36 (six months ago) Permalink

PAA mini could be great if someone wrote a real ending

Simon H., Wednesday, 23 May 2018 03:39 (six months ago) Permalink

rip

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 23 May 2018 03:47 (six months ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.