philip roth

Philip Roth, an American Master, on his birthday

Philip RothA great thing about living in New York City is being able to go watch the new PBS American Masters 90-minute documentary titled, Philip Roth: Unmasked for FREE at Film Forum. Today–and Roth’s 80th birthday as well–is the last day it’s playing, so check for times. Otherwise, your second option is to wait till 29 March for the premiere on PBS.

This doc is definitely worth a watch. Regardless of your opinion about Roth or his writing, it really is hard to deny that he is a very prominent and successful 20th century American writer. His novels are always exhaling a breath of zeitgeist. The film mostly concerns itself with interviewing Roth with some peripheral chatting with friends and the very strangely airy and otherworldy, Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) who was the only element that took me out of the whole fascinating film.

Roth was witty and open in the interviews and it was intriguing to see that he still stay friends with people from high school and college who remain his readers while he has a novel in progress. The more humorous bits were when he talked about his very loving and normal parents (the antithesis to the Portnoy mother & father). A funny anecdote he told was before Portnoy’s Complaint was to be released, he brought his parents in from New Jersey to New York City and prepared them for the book by telling them that they might be hounded by journalists and, of course, be compared to the fictitious parents within the novel. He parents left and got into a cab. When Roth asked his father later what happened, he said that his mother started to cry and say that her son had “delusions of grandeur” and that nothing big would come of Portnoy’s Complaint.

In the wake of Roth’s announcement that he is retiring from writing, The Guardian put out an article of Roth’s picks for his best novels. The article concludes with,

Referring to fellow writers including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, EL Doctorow and William Styron, Roth said he “ran with some very fast horses … Now, the Nobel prize committee doesn’t agree with me. They think we’re provincial. But I suspect they’re a little bit provincial.”


Anne Carson has been showing her face lately

Anne Carson’s black and white visage has been popping up a bit lately. Yesterday, I caught her on the front page of the New York Times website and now, today on the train, I was catching up on the double issue of New York magazine that included an article on Carson’s new book, Red Doc>.

Carson is one of those people who has slashes included in their profession: poet/translator/writer/professor. I really have a soft spot for The Beauty of the Husband, which can fall into the slashie category (is it a poem? a novel? what is it?). Carson, herself, subtitles this book “a fictional essay in 29 tangos.” Is it a dance routine? This book also begs to be reread (which I must do one of these days).

I am happy to see that Anne Carson has been popping up in national publications. With VIDA’s annual report out recently and the big hoopla about the recent NYmag spread on Philip Roth¹, I’ve been on hyper alert about the gender bias in publishing. So, on a normal day, I would probably just think. Anne Carson on the front of the Times website? Fantastic! A whole review (if flawed) of Anne Carson’s newest book in New York? Perfect! I’m just happy that a talented and not quite mainstream writer is getting some spotlight attention.
¹I’m totally on board anytime Alexander Portnoy feels the need to make love to his family’s liver dinner but this spread was a bit blah for my tasteA literary caucus…with James Franco! Come on. If you don’t have the time to read the whole spread, let me sum it up with one featured quote by Keith Gessen when asked if Roth is a misogynist, “Did Roth hate women? What does that mean? If you hated women, why would you spend all your time thinking about fucking them.”  [end scene]