Philip Roth

In the continuing effort to reveal just how uncool I am in literary circles, let me admit that I have yet to read a Philip Roth novel or short story. Perhaps my prudish nature caused me to avoid an author whose subject or at least subtext is often sexual desire. Or perhaps going to high school and college in Central Indiana I was simply unaware of the importance of a cosmopolitan Jewish author like Roth. After all I didn’t read Bellow either.

The reason I bring this up is that Mr. Roth turns 71 today. For those who like me are seeking more information, The Philip Roth Society has a nice short bio. For those of you who have read Roth or are familiar with his body of work, what book would you start with? Would you start with perhaps his most famous work Portnoy’s Complaint or perhaps the more recent American Pastoral? Or perhaps a lesser know work? Heck, maybe you aren’t a fan and think it would be better to just skip Roth altogether? Anyway, I would be interested to know what people think of Mr. Roth so feel free to weigh in.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. Start with Goodbye, Columbus. Then go to Portnoy, and then back to When She Was Good. This will give you an idea of Roth in all of his modes. As with many writers, his later work won’t make as much sense if you aren’t familiar with where he began.

  2. I think Roth is one of those rare cases in which the prize-awarding bodies got it right. American Pastoral is, to me, Roth’s best book. It’s not my personal favorite (that would be The Ghost Writer), and its politics irk me in places (though not nearly so much as in The Human Stain), but, if you wish to experience a brilliant writer writing brilliantly, American Pastoral is the place to start.

  3. I’ve only read The Great American Novel and I Married a Communist. I’ve started on a few others, but they all seem to be rather similar. I liked the Great American Novel better of the two.

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