From My Library – Staff Blog

What Should I Read Next?
Read Phillip Roth… and read what he reads.

The iconic author and American treasure Phillip Roth was featured on the cover of the January 28, 2018 NYT Book Review. And although the 84 year-old Roth famously retired from writing in 2011, it’s quite clear he still has plenty to say as the (former) novelist shares his thoughts on Trump, #MeToo and retirement in a terrific interview by Charles McGrath.

Any book or short story or essay by the prolific Roth is worth your time, but some of his own works that must be considered required reading are:
Goodbye Columbus of course, his 1959 novella that first gained him the attention of the world, an irreverent and humorous portrait of American Jewish life for which he received the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.

The humorous and sexually explicit Portnoy’s Complaint, a psychoanalytical monologue of “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor,” filled with “intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language“, which lifted his profile significantly after its publication in 1969.

His Pulitzer Prize winning 1997 American Pastoral, and I Married A Communist set in the McCarthy era and published in 1998.

And his amazing, autobiographical and frighteningly prescient The Plot Against America published in 2004. It is an alternative history in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated in the presidential election of 1940 by Charles Lindbergh. But as Roth points out, “there is surely one enormous difference between the political circumstances I invent there for the U.S. in 1940 and the political calamity that dismays us so today. It’s the difference in stature between a President Lindbergh and a President Trump. Charles Lindbergh, in life as in my novel, may have been a genuine racist and an anti-Semite and a white supremacist sympathetic to Fascism, but he was also — because of the extraordinary feat of his solo trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25 — an authentic American hero 13 years before I have him winning the presidency. Lindbergh, historically, was the courageous young pilot who in 1927, for the first time, flew nonstop across the Atlantic, from Long Island to Paris. He did it in 33.5 hours in a single-seat, single-engine monoplane, thus making him a kind of 20th-century Leif Ericson, an aeronautical Magellan, one of the earliest beacons of the age of aviation. Trump, by comparison, is a massive fraud, the evil sum of his deficiencies, devoid of everything but the hollow ideology of a megalomaniac.(emphasis is mine)

There are so many worthy to choose from, and you might consider his non-fiction as well, but take a moment to read through Adam Gopnick’s portrait “Philip Roth: Patriot” in November 13, 2017 New Yorker magazine. A well-done piece that explores how the writer came to embrace the contradictions of a national identity.

Among other wonderful revelations in McGrath’s article and interview, when Roth is asked what he does with his long days now that he is no longer writing, he answers, “I read.” And despite his celebrated career of writing fiction he finds himself reading non-fiction.

So let Philip Roth take you on a journey with some of what he’s been reading lately. He starts with Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates… and others by the prolific Coates.

And from reading Coates he learned of The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter. Which sent him to American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan which he describes as “a big scholarly history of what Morang calls ‘the marriage of slavery and freedom’ as it existed in early Virginia. This title is not in our collection but you could give other works by Morgan a try.

And Morgan led him to the Essays by Teju Cole, but not before made a major swerve of his own and read Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the world became modern about the 15th-century discovery of Lucretius’ subversive poem, On the Nature of Things… which, of course, compelled him to read the poem itself: On the Nature of Things.

And that led him back to Stephen Greenblatt’s book on “how Shakespeare became Shakespeare,” Will in the World and finally, in the midst of all of that, Roth read and enjoyed, perhaps surprisingly, Born to Run Bruce Springsteen’s amazing autobiography. But maybe that’s to be expected because, as Orville Prescott notes in his 1962 NYT’s review of Roth’s “Letting Go”, the power and ‘grip’ of Roth’s stories (even back those 50+ years) is that, “(he) writes out of his passionate interest in his fellow human beings“… and so does the Boss.

What Should I Read Next?
The Hunting Accident by David L. Carlson & Landis Blair and
Josephine by Kevin Sacco

Celebrate Graphic Novels

These two titles embody what graphic novels can and should be… compelling, original, emotional, artistic and more. Like many of the genre’s greats, they masterfully carve plot and narrative arch, and develop characters with psychological depth. This hybrid-form is captivating in its ability to merge words and graphics in original and arresting ways, illuminating new perspectives and leading us into fresh territory.

The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry is a beautifully rendered epic that makes it clear that fact can trump fiction. Publisher’s Weekly said, “The subtitle barely captures the scope of this ambitious debut graphic novel, a mix of biography, history, social commentary, literary analysis, and more…Blair’s exceptional pen-and-ink work, which mixes the tangible world with the psychological, brings all the strands together seamlessly and powerfully.”

It was a hunting accident that much Charlie is sure of. That’s how his father, Matt Rizzo–a gentle intellectual who writes epic poems in Braille–had lost his vision. It’s not until Charlie’s troubled teenage years, when he’s facing time for his petty crimes, that he learns the truth. Matt Rizzo was blinded by a shotgun blast to the face but it was while participating in an armed robbery. Newly blind and without hope, Matt began his bleak new life at Stateville Prison. In this unlikely place, Matt’s life and very soul were saved by one of America’s most notorious killers, Nathan Leopold Jr., of the infamous Leopold and Loeb.

Josephine goes a step further and offers a moving personal memoir that speaks volumes in pictures alone. Kevin Sacco brings us a wordless Civil Rights-era tale of a young boy with a complicated family life who accompanies his family’s domestic – Josephine – from his Upper West Side comforts to her neighborhood haunts in Harlem. This journey subtly imbues the boy with a world view as full of blacks, whites and grays as the story’s art. At the heart of this narrative is the bond the boy shares with Josephine – until a sinister plot twist casts a dark shadow on their relationship.

What Should I Read Next?
Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

Another fabulous staff-selected recommendation for your consideration.

Heather, the Totality Heather, the Totality, the first novel by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, is a peculiar artifact. Weiner has said that the book was inspired by a moment he witnessed on Manhattan’s Upper East Side: He saw a very young, very beautiful schoolgirl step into a fancy apartment building and unwittingly receive a glance full of “sex and murder and everything all at once” from a construction worker. What, he wondered, would have transpired if the girl’s father had seen the way the workman looked at his daughter?

Mark and Karen Breakstone have constructed the idyllic life of wealth and status they always wanted, made complete by their beautiful and extraordinary daughter Heather. But they are still not quite at the top. When the new owners of the penthouse above them begin construction, an unstable stranger penetrates the security of their comfortable lives and threatens to destroy everything they’ve created.

Take this short, gripping ride with the Breakstone family that Michael Chabon calls, “a tour de force of control, tone, and razor-slash insight.” Nick Cage says, “I cringed and shuddered my way through this short, daring novel to its terrible inevitable end. Each neat, measured paragraph carpaccios its characters to get to the book’s heart-one of Boschian self-cannibalizing isolation. A stunning novel. Heather, the Totality blew me away.

READ THIS BOOK and then read Laura Miller’s thoughtful Slate review.