The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first page.

Philip Roth was born in 1933, the son of first-generation Jewish immigrants. His experiences as a Jewish man in America inform most of his writing, which comprises political commentary, semi-autobiographical character work, humor, identity, mid-century life, and many other themes. I was born in 1973, the daughter of two Midwestern people who were themselves the children of Midwestern people, who were also the children of Midwestern people. You’ve got to go back a ways before my ancestors came from somewhere other than the Midwest.
Before beginning this marathon, I’d read three Philip Roth novels in my lifetime: Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America. I loved all three. Admittedly, it has been quite a long time since I read them (and I do intend to read them again where they fall in the chronology). Embarking on this project, I can’t help but worry – what if I end up absolutely hating Philip Roth? What if it’s all too much? I can just about guarantee that there’ll be books of his that I don’t care for. That’s just the nature of writing. But what if I end up trudging through this output like some crazed literary Bataan Death March, desperately trying to finish one of his books so I can read something else for a change?

 

I guess that’s the chance I’m taking. But my beginning is optimistic.

According to the Kindle, I am 12% finished with Goodbye, Columbus. This book seems like good luck to start with, as I live in Columbus! The novella of that title (the book is actually a novella and five short stories) doesn’t take place in Columbus, but still. Seems like an omen.

People are scared by Big Literary Authors, with their big words and thick tomes and heaps of awards. Roth certainly has heaps of awards, but he’s decidedly lacking in big words and thick tomes. One thing I find compelling about Roth is how accessible he is as a writer. He doesn’t erect a wall of words between himself and the reader, it’s just you and him there together in whatever story he’s telling you. Goodbye, Columbus is no exception. It’s a…how do I put this? A friendly book, so far. I’m a writer myself, and sometimes I just have to stop and sigh over Roth’s quiet economy of expression.

When it was all over, Simp refused my offer of a ride home and indicated with a quality of speech borrowed from some old Katherine Hepburn movie that she could manage for herself; apparently her manor lay no further than the nearest briar patch.

Look at that. Simp is a walk-on character, no more than an extra, and yet in that sentence Roth has given her practically an entire internal life, while at the same time bestowing on the narrator a voice and a point of view. And he does this with every damn sentence.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry about coming to hate The Roth.

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One response to “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first page.

  1. Had to say that I would avoid using the word “erect” in any discussion of Philip Roth. Just saying. 🙂

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