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message 1: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments In all seriousness, where do I start? I have American Pastoral and that is apparently supposed to be like the best novel of all time, but it also seems to be part of a 9 book series. So, I don't want to like mess up and miss everything from previous books if I read it first.


message 2: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
. . . you might start near the beginning with goodbye, columbus or portnoy's complaint, but truly roth's sweet spot is in the 90s-- sabbath's theater, the human stain, and american pastoral are his greatest works for my money . . . if i had to pick one roth book, it would certainly be american pastoral . . . you don't need any background on nathan zuckerman to get the full force of the masterpiece--and it IS a masterpiece--one of the best 10 or 15 novels i've ever read . . .


message 3: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments Thanks for responding. Are the other two that you mentioned also books that one can read without missing anything mentioned in previous works? I will definitely go back to the beginning when/if I'm blown away, but I want to read the masterpieces first when possible.


message 4: by Jesseye (last edited Sep 26, 2010 07:06PM) (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments I've started AP. I'm not too far in, but I like it. I was wavering as it is a slow starter, but he officially sold me with the first paragraph of page 35. It was so beautiful and true that I can't help but have high expectations for the novel.


message 5: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
. . .yeah, all three of those books read as stand-alones . . . AP gets better and better--i'll look forward to your thoughts . . .


message 6: by Jesseye (last edited Sep 27, 2010 12:24AM) (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments So far, I'm @ page 92 and it is reminding me of a warmer and more American Javier Marias. There's this thing that Marias does where he makes it feel like there is an excess of action when, in reality, there are small islands of it surrounded by beautiful still prose extending out from those islands. I obviously don't know if the book keeps that up throughout yet, but it is a style that I'm quite fond of.

I ordered the two other Roth books that you mentioned, I Married a Communist, and Plot/America. So, I definitely plan to delve further. If all of his books are even somewhat close to this good, I will probably read all 30.

I've also heard that both Marias and Roth resemble Henry James at points. So, I'm thinking he will have to be one of the next few authors that I check out after Roth.

(Edit: @pg.148. Wow, disregard what I said about minimal action. This is absolutely slanderous towards the 60s counterculture, but I can't get too worked up over that. I have relatives who were of that era and I've encountered some pretty sick former fellow travelers/casualties. So, while my politics are clearly far to the left of Roth's, I can at least admit that a Rita is not only possible but even probable. Though, if a reader thinks that she is the rule instead of the exception, they are doing themselves and their worldview a disservice. Luckily, its Roth's job to write a compelling book, not to make sure that every racial, sexual, and political group within the confines of it is represented by its best possible member.)


message 7: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
YES! I have been waiting for somebody to bring up Philip Roth around here.

The Human Stain stopped me in my tracks in the early aughties. I read it three times in a row. Roth's ability to capture complex social conflict combined with sustained top shelf eloquence kills me.

I also like American Pastoral and The Plot Against America, and I plan to read more someday.

Very interesting comparing Henry James and Roth. I can feel some kindred themes there. I might go back to Henry James, because it has been years for me.

Jesse, best wishes with Roth, and I'll be watching for your reactions. Jonathan, happy belated birthday! Another inspirational libra to add to my list!


message 8: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments I just finished it and I was quite impressed. In general, a Sebald or a Marias is more to my liking. However, I can honestly say that:

a. Roth is the most American author that I've ever read
b. AP is the most American novel that I've ever read
c. Even though I tend to go for things with a more European sensibility, I can't bring myself to say that AP was "less good" than anything that I've read by Sebald or Marias.
d. It was just a lot more warm blooded and American, while sharing a style that involves a sort of strut back and forth through time, which is what I love most about their (and his) works. (Well, that and long winding impossibly constructed sentences. All of my own sentences used to be like that in my teens until I finally had to tell myself that, while I can pull it off from time to time, I don't have the skillset to employ the technique in excess, aside from on the most rare of occasions, and even then, still quite sparingly and with a more than healthy dose of restraint. (<----Sentences like that, but longer and better.))

Are most of his books this "American" or was this kind of a very specific avenue that he went down for his (aptly titled) American trilogy?


message 9: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Jesse wrote: "Roth is the most American author that I've ever read
b...."


I have heard this exact conclusion before. I was working in London, and one of my British colleagues was the one who insisted that I take the time to read Roth in the first place. He suggested that I was missing out on a truly American literary experience.

I fell in love with THS and forgot about him saying that until now.

Hopefully someone who has read his entire body of work will chime in on your question. I haven't read anything pre-Zuckerman, and I don't intend to right now. My next Roth will be Everyman.


message 10: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Jesse wrote: "I just finished it and I was quite impressed. In general, a Sebald or a Marias is more to my liking. However, I can honestly say that:

a. Roth is the most American author that I've ever read
b...."


Well, I dislike Roth intensely, but I've made my case enough times that I don't feel like I need to do it again.

I would love to know exactly what you mean by "American" when you are using it as an adjective, though. What are the qualities that make a novel more "American?"


message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike (LayNBack) | 15 comments I was wondering the same. American in a European context can be used in so many ways. In the context of chauvinism and poverty, Europeans love a Miller, Hemingway and Bukowski even though they might think chauvinism very American. I do no see Roth in the same category. However, it is very obvious that what Sweden sees as "American" in the context that you are saying, is more David Duke or Andrew MacDonald...do you not know how much they hate Republicans? Any chance they get a Democrat gets the Nobel Peace Prize (Carter, Gore, Obama) to spit in the face of "America". I wouldn't be surprised if Franzen got it this year b/c of the controversy over him being a left-wing writer...


message 12: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments I mean "American" in the sense that, at least in this novel, the guy can't bloody get over talking about "America." If he was a guy I knew in real life instead of an immensely talented writer, I would get annoyed and stop hanging out with him. I've lived in the US for 30 years and I've never heard anyone in my entire life go on and on about "America" to the extent that his narrator did. I assume people like that exist, but they definitely exist in a world quite different than mine.

Additionally, please note that I specifically read the book in the context of having got in an argument (one sided, him arguing) with this guy who was irate that I said that Americans were whiny about Roth or Updike not winning while "unknown" authors like Le Clezio (read 12 of his books after he won, is great) and Muller (tried to read 1, but I have no interest in a story about everyone taking a bath in grey water that is described with repetitive sentences for narrative effect). Consequently, the debate about why he wouldn't (or would he?) win was a specific topic relevant to my reading because it was a question that I wanted to answer for myself.

In fact, I actually thought that Roth would be awful. I was wrong. He writes about things that generally bore me, but he does so with such skill that it makes reading about them worthwhile.

The Acadamy chair or whoever, that Horace guy, said that American writing is too insular. I almost agree. Most is. In general, I don't dig that many American (US-love plenty of ones from south of the border) authors. So, I'm cool with them not winning. And, I kinda give him points for copping to the fact that the prize isn't for well off American men ever anymore. It doesn't have to be and it can still be a good prize. I just uh don't think anyone can try to tell mle Herta Muller is better than Philip Roth from the standpoint of quality. On page of Roth employs more talent than a Herta Muller book. However, even though I don't like her writing, I'm still glad that the money went to someone who could use it instead of a rich guy like Roth.

(And, as far as my tastes go, Eurofic is usually more enjoyable than USfic.)

(Written on a cell, so please disregard bad grammar and redundancy as editing is not possible)


message 13: by Elizabeth, bubbles (last edited Sep 29, 2010 07:06AM) (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
First, Patty... if it isn't too much trouble, will you please post a link to your other commentary about Roth? I missed the Roth stuff here. Maybe it was on the MySpace files? I'm sure I'd learn a ton from you guys who don't like his work. I have noticed him mentioned negatively a few times.

I feel like modern literature has to be categorized in a lot smaller geographic and cultural groups than "America" and "Europe." Also, novels can be so drastically different. It isn't the same as something like baroque Flemish painters. It is such a jumbo shrimp world these days. The number of individual influences, information sources, and cultural enclaves is huge and the world is so small these days in terms of accessibility. Does any country really own anybody outright?

Anyway, Jesse, if you thought that much of Roth's skill with American Pastoral, do not waste any time; run down to the library to get The Human Stain.


message 14: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (last edited Sep 28, 2010 10:46AM) (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
In a nutshell: I don't agree with the messages/opinions that he conveys via his novels; I find his Zuckerman convention tiresome; I think his writing is often redundant, heavy handed and boring; I think his ideas are cliche; and the greatest offense of all, in my opinion, is that he is patronizing to his readers.

I'll dig around and find a couple of our conversations about Roth. Many people whose opinions I regard highly love him.


message 15: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I'm with Patty here. On all of it. I think we read Everyman and while I tried really hard to get into it... I really did... eh. It was OK but honestly what I remember most is his terribly lame description of what was supposed to be "adventurous" sex with his second wife.


message 16: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Ha ha! That sounds icky! Maybe I got in and out at exactly the right times. I think The Human Stain was a wake up call for me when I picked it up in 2002, because I had been away from real fiction for a long time.

Compared to the internet cartoons, flash videos and random humor blogs I was ingesting and creating at the time, Philip Roth seemed like a masterpiece oasis in the virtual desert.

I hate to admit that here, but honesty is the best policy, right? :) I am doing my best to make up for lost time.


message 17: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
Shel wrote: "I'm with Patty here. On all of it. I think we read Everyman and while I tried really hard to get into it... I really did... eh. It was OK but honestly what I remember most is his terri..."

everyman was terrible . . . this is where roth jumped the shark in my opinion . . .


message 18: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments Patty wrote: "In a nutshell: I don't agree with the messages/opinions that he conveys via his novels; I find his Zuckerman convention tiresome; I think his writing is often redundant, heavy handed and boring; I ..."

I actually agree with a large portion of this, yet still liked the book. Message/opinion has to be pretty bad to throw me off. He's no Marias, though.


message 19: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
There are a few old threads about Mr. Roth, I haven't had enough coffee to hotlink them all here, but you can find them by scrolling down in the list:

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fu...


message 20: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Jonathan wrote: everyman was terrible . . . this is where roth jumped the shark in my opinion . . .

I picked up American Pastoral a few months ago and, true to form and my experience with Roth, I really couldn't make it past the third chapter. I kept telling myself it's like medicine, it's good for you, he's an important writer... didn't work.

Was it Martyn who posted that article where Roth won one of those snarky awards for writing the worst sex scenes ever?

Normally I wouldn't judge writers or their work by how they write only about certain subject areas like that one. But this may be the area in which Roth's stuff just ... breaks for me.

Much of Roth's work really is about a shifting perspective on that part of being human... and for all that, it's really just horribly done. Every sex scene of his I've read seems to have a) a childlike glee that it's happening! with no deeper feelings than that and b) it's almost... abstract. Descriptions of parts. Again, no emotion, no perception other than parts touching. I get the impression that it's "everyman" sex and not specific to the character. Maybe to appeal to a wide cross-section of readers? I don't know.


message 21: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments I'm starting I Married A Communist. The plot looks rather good, not that the plot will probably make or break it.


message 22: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
I just finished Portnoy's Complaint. I am glad I know the Philip Roth outside of A. Portnoy. I could see some of the technique that I love, but without any real brilliance. Plenty of lust...no luster.

Really, I felt like I was stuck in a roundabout with an arrogant chauvinist narrating the same sights over and over again like Chevy Chase's European Vacation.

I'm generally glad I read it, because he was courageous enough to create.


message 23: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments Yeah, my Mom (the person who initially gave me the impression that Roth was bad) still refuses to believe me that he is good due to having read that book _in the 60's_. At this point, I've read Ghost Writer, Married/Communist, Plot Against, Pastoral, Human Stain; and just started Zuckerman Unbound (which has to be the most boring book title in the history of the world).


message 24: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "I just finished Portnoy's Complaint. I am glad I know the Philip Roth outside of A. Portnoy. I could see some of the technique that I love, but without any real brilliance. Plenty of..."

. . .hilarious, elizabeth!


message 25: by Robert (new)

Robert Corbett (robcrowe00) | 169 comments Sabbath's Theater is his great achievement as far as I am concerned. It digs deeper into the immigrant experience than any other Roth I know of, and it includes the messy and exorbitant parts of post-war life that Roth has explored ad nauseum, but not through the narcissistic lens of Zuckerman. I am no fonder of Zuckerman than I am of Rabbit Angstrom, though Z. is much funnier. And Portnoy is a joke -- it ends with a punchline. The comedy is not nice, but it is meant to be comic. The other Roth I really like is The Counterlife. I consumed American Pastoral quickly, but thought it was deformed by the fact that it was very inaccurate about what the New Left actually did. In general, Roth for me is better when he is not trying to prove something, but tapping back into his ambition to write about his world the way Thomas Wolfe wrote about his. (For virtually everyone of his generation except perhaps Bellow, Wolfe was the model of the Great American Novelist--Jack Kerouac's first book, The Town and the City was Wolfian.)


message 26: by Les (new)

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments I have yet to read many of Roth's novels, but American Pastoral is my favorite thus far. AP is the book that really made me think he is brilliant. Zuckerman works for me and seems to be the best way for Roth to present his ideas and stories.

I have found the last several shorter novels lacking the genius that is found in Roth's earlier novels. I hope he has at least one more gem in him. The worst of these recent novels was The Humbling. I am curious if anyone read it and enjoyed it or found something redeeming it. I thought it was schlock, cliched, and kind of pointless. If someone else read it and appreciates it, I would love to receive some insight on what I may be missing.


message 27: by Noreen (new)

Noreen | 6 comments Robert wrote: "Sabbath's Theater is his great achievement as far as I am concerned. It digs deeper into the immigrant experience than any other Roth I know of, and it includes the messy and exorbitant parts of p..."

Roth read at The Center for Fiction (where I work) recently and gave us a little piece for our website about Thomas Wolfe's huge influence on him. In fact, it's in a section called "The Writer that Made Me a Writer." The evening began with a discussion of Roth's work by Nathan Englander, Scott Raab, and Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation), followed by a reading from his memoir, Patrimony. The video of all that is up on the site too. Obviously, Nathan, Claudia, and Scott are all fans--we weren't going to put people who hated his work in the room with him--but they have some interesting things to say, especially about Sabbat's Theater.


message 28: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Excellent leads for some great reading, watching and thinking. I'll be spending some time with this soon. Maybe I'll try reading Sabbath's Theater and rereading Look Homeward Angel back to back.

Look Homeward Angel is a novel that often comes up in my family's rhetoric, so I read it when I was too young to grasp it entirely.


message 29: by Les (new)

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments I have always been a huge fan of Wolfe's without actually reading much by him. I started Look Homeward Angel twice only to realize I was not up to the task at the time. My plan is to read that one soon, but that has been a plan for a long time. I have read biographies, correspondence,and short stories, but have yet to tackle one of his monsters. He seems undervalued at this point, but maybe my experience sheds some light on why? What I know of Wolfe's writing seems odd that he would have such influence on Roth.I am definitely interested in Noreen's website.


message 30: by Martha (new)

Martha Kate | 198 comments I think I've had an ambivalent relationship with Roth almost my whole life (I'll need to check Patty's link to see how I felt a few years ago). I remember reading Goodbye, Columbus in college and falling truly, madly, deeply in love. I followed it up with Portnoy's Complaint and was sorely disappointed (I think it just dated itself really quickly). Years later, I read American Pastoral and was again blown away, embracing Roth as the greatest living American writer. The I yawned through Indignation. I think I'll embark on Sabbath's Theater as soon as I clear the current decks (anybody read the new Cleopatra bio?) - thanks for sparking interest again.


message 31: by Elizabeth, bubbles (last edited Mar 21, 2011 05:05AM) (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Martha wrote: "I think I've had an ambivalent relationship with Roth almost my whole life (I'll need to check Patty's link to see how I felt a few years ago). I remember reading Goodbye, Columbus in college and f..."

I would love to read Sabbath's Theater along with any of you. Let's keep in touch.

Is there a list somewhere of potential group reads? Maybe one of the moderators could list it there as well.


message 32: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 641 comments Mod
I too am a fan of Roth. when he's on he's on but when he's off, everything from Everyman on he's mediocre. American Pastoral was my first exposure to Roth and also my favorite (that often seems to happen to me).

I am definitely down to read Sabbath's Theater at some point in the near future with anyone interested. I am still slogging through Moby Dick and a few others though so I might need a couple of weeks before getting to it.


message 33: by Martha (new)

Martha Kate | 198 comments Hey Dan & Elizabeth,
I'd love to take this on with anyone who's interested. I have a couple of books in the queue (my book group is reading West of Here!), but I'd love to tackle Sabbath's Theater by mid-April. Would that work?


message 34: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 641 comments Mod
Yup, it'll work for me.


message 35: by Les (new)

Les  (lthmpls) | 116 comments Dan's comments about Roth's writing being hit and miss ring true for me. The hits are so good though that I am a major fan of his work and will endure the lumps.

I too am hoping to not let The Whale kick my ass (at least to the point of giving up). After that happens, I am definitely in for Sabbath's Theater.

I should maybe follow these up with some Silverstien, Seuss, or Snufkin to let the brain rest. :)


message 36: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments I'd add another vote for Sabbath's Theater as his best, and throw a curveball by adding Operation Shylock as his second best. However, I think OS might be better appreciated after you're more familiar with him, and may be more of a fan's favorite type deal.

In general, while I wouldn't call any of his stuff bad, I would say he had 4 particular exceptional phases (in order of how exceptional I view them at this particular moment in time and while I'm in this particular mood):

1. Operation Shylock (or maybe even Patrimony) - Human Stain (expansive and exploring his upbringing and culture (more than usual)
2. Portnoy's Complaint - The Great American Novel (testing boundaries/experimenting, working some shit out-basically, fun books)
3. Ghost Writer - Counterlife (playing, enjoying himself, IMO)
4. The Last 5 and possibly what comes next (mature, less self-referential than anything he has produced in decades, sometimes pointing backwards and sometimes pointing towards death; to and extent(ish))

Ask me tomorrow, if you want a different opinion. I liked all 31 of his books, so someone who didn't might be a better point of reference.


message 37: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Jesse wrote: "I'd add another vote for Sabbath's Theater as his best, and throw a curveball by adding Operation Shylock as his second best. However, I think OS might be better appreciated after you're more famil..."

Jesse, congratulations on your study.

I can't wait to read ST. Anybody still interested in group reading it this month? The Pale King is staring at me, but I could put it off. Somebody -say when- for Sabbath's Theater, and I'll be there.


message 38: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 641 comments Mod
I'm still up for it but have a serious case of reader's block (four books started! argh). I'll be ready to start ST by the 25th.


message 39: by Martha (new)

Martha Kate | 198 comments End of the month sounds good to me.


message 40: by Jesseye (new)

Jesseye  K (jessyjayekaye) | 38 comments An alternate take on what I referred to as phase 4:

http://quarterlyconversation.com/what...


message 41: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 641 comments Mod
So our buddy Phil was featured on PBS' American Master's. Here is a link to the show: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmaste...

I've not yet watched it but am planning to do so immediately.


message 42: by Elizabeth, bubbles (new)

Elizabeth (RedBrick) | 221 comments Mod
Lots of great moments in this profile, but I really liked one of the experts. I tried to wrap my mind around what it would have been like to read Portnoy as a 12 year old girl.


message 43: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 641 comments Mod
I forgot to mention it above, but it was Elizabeth's genius idea for me to look for the streaming version of the program.

It was quite an interesting show. I've not really heard Roth talk about his career (or anything for that matter) prior to this show.

I can't imagine reading Portnoy as a twelve year old boy, let alone as a twelve year old girl. There's plenty there to scar a kid.


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