Philip Roth Books to Read First
If you've never read Roth, places to start. (I get asked this pretty often.)
- •Goodbye, Columbus (1959).His first. If you're under 26, it's an impressive first book of stories, sharp, poignant, well-structured. If you're over 26 it's like "How could someone that young write so goddamned well."
- •Portnoy's Complaint (1969).Obviously. Brilliant verbal performance that seems like it must've been produced in one sitting; actually the product of ten years of meticulous drafting. Masturbation and incest fantasies as the key to modern Jewish men.
- •The Ghostwriter (1979).One of his shortest and best. Where Roth's debts to Henry James and Bernard Malamud meet his fantasies about Anne Frank surviving.
- •Operation: Shylock (1993).Postmodernism! Two characters named Philip Roth. History and absurdity, overlapping. Israel as broken, mythical fantasy. Plus the most devastating description of chronic back pain in literature.
- •American Pastoral (1997).A masterpiece from Roth's late stage, and one of the best novels about the American '60s and its legacies. Which is saying something. (Also glove-making.)