Callil's complaint
May 18, 2011 10:02 AM   Subscribe

"[H]e goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe." As expected, Philip Roth (bibliography) won the Man Booker International Prize today. Perhaps not unexpectedly, one of the judges quit rather than award it to him. Was she so wrong? Should they give Roth the Nobel Prize already?
posted by mrgrimm (141 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love the books that Virago publishes.

Her arguments against Roth just sound like personal dislike, which is fine, but not really a critical judgement.
posted by OmieWise at 10:07 AM on May 18, 2011


There were only 3 judges, you'd think 3 people could have compromised given such a long list of authors to pick from. Most likely two hot heads battled it out and one stormed out. Just shows how book awards are really about personalities of the judges, and not reality of the books.
posted by stbalbach at 10:07 AM on May 18, 2011


All we can say today is that he is a master of American prose, the author of some of the finest sentences and most subtle prose narratives in recent years.

I'd say I agree with you, but then we'd both be wrong.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:09 AM on May 18, 2011 [13 favorites]


If you want a picture of the future of literature, imagine Philip Roth sitting on a human face, forever.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:12 AM on May 18, 2011 [40 favorites]


Horace Rumpole: "If you want a picture of the future of literature, imagine Philip Roth sitting on a human face, forever."

That's the plot of Sabbath's Theater
posted by minifigs at 10:18 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Roth hates women.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:24 AM on May 18, 2011


Roth is one of the last survivors of the period when American novelists had major cultural significance. As such, I suspect he is excessively honored just for still being at work.

On some book blog, they reacted to this news with the question, "Will anyone still be reading Roth in 20 years?" I doubt it. But I doubt they'll be reading Updike or Mailer either.

I think the reason that these kind of honors aren't given more regularly to Pynchon is that the awarding bodies don't want to be embarrassed by his refusal of them.
posted by Trurl at 10:27 AM on May 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Roth loves women.
posted by dobbs at 10:29 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


On some book blog, they reacted to this news with the question, "Will anyone still be reading Roth in 20 years?" I doubt it. But I doubt they'll be reading Updike or Mailer either.

I doubt they'll be reading much of anything but whatever the 20-years-from-now equivalent of Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé tweets will be.
posted by blucevalo at 10:30 AM on May 18, 2011


20 years? I'd wager $100 plenty of people will be reading Roth and Updike and Miller in 20 years. 20 years is not that long. If you'd said 100... well who knows.
posted by edgeways at 10:31 AM on May 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


On some book blog, they reacted to this news with the question, "Will anyone still be reading Roth in 20 years?" I doubt it.

Considering Portnoy's Complaint was published 42 years ago and people are still reading it, what are you basing your ridiculous assumption on?
posted by dobbs at 10:32 AM on May 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


Roth hates everybody except the kids he remembers playing with on the stoops of Newark, NJ in the 1940s. Nevertheless, he's a great writer and has a great body of work, if you can stand reading it.
posted by blucevalo at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Roth loves women.

Parts of them, anyway.
posted by emjaybee at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2011 [15 favorites]


Callil's complaint
I see what you did there.

posted by AceRock at 10:33 AM on May 18, 2011


Well, I think Roth is great and I like his obsessions. It would interesting to know if Callil had any criticism of him more substantial than just... saying the opposite of that.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:35 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I only read the The Plot Against America. And it's a really really really really fucking good book.
posted by falameufilho at 10:37 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Roth hates women.

Roth loves women.



You are both right.

First sentence of "Portnoy's Complaint": She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.

All women =Portnoy/Roth's mother. Love & hate...forever.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:38 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dobbs: really? How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike? The novels are historical artifacts.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:38 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've read a few of Roth's books (including _The Plot Against America). He has interesting plots, boring characters and mediocre prose.

Of course, that puts him above a lot of people writing today.
posted by QIbHom at 10:39 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've read a few of Roth's books (including _The Plot Against America). He has interesting plots, boring characters and mediocre prose.

The only Roth I've read is The Great American Novel, of which the last thing I'd say about the prose is that it is mediocre, although it was a bit manic to be reading for 400 pages.
posted by dfan at 10:43 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I must ask, as someone who regularly reads "genre" fiction... What am I missing by not reading this authors works? And what is there to understand about this discussion?



The most recent novel I have read is "the name of the wind". If that puts my question in perspective.
posted by Severian at 10:45 AM on May 18, 2011


Roth hates women.

Roth loves women.


Mars needs women.
posted by Herodios at 10:45 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike?

[raises hand]
posted by edgeways at 10:46 AM on May 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike?

Well, me, but I'm one of those people who 'reads' 'books' for 'enjoyment' and 'self-betterment,' so I guess you can still pretend the answer is zero.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:48 AM on May 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike?

*raises hand, meekly*

Augie March is terrific.
posted by notyou at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2011


Portnoy's Complaint is a deeply annoying novel because of the way it shaped the stereotype of the sex-crazed, neurotic Jewish intellectual that Woody Allen proceeded to milk for forty years. (Other people were taking part in this too, but perhaps a bit less single-mindedly.) American Pastoral was amazing. I Married a Communist was pretty good. His other books are a tedious blur.
posted by nasreddin at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seriously. I read Mailer, Roth, Bellow and Updike once and only once because I took a class called "20th Century American Literature". In each case, the book was treated like a historical artifact of a different era.

For the record, the highlights for most of us were Catch-22 and Vonnegut (I forget which book we read), specifically because they were the few books that didn't feel dusty and irrelevant. Grandpa Simpson describing how things were in Morganville (you know it as Shelbyville) 70 years ago.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, and lest we forget: the man wrote The Human Stain. That is unforgivable.
posted by nasreddin at 10:51 AM on May 18, 2011


Dobbs: really? How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike?

Well, I'm not in an American Literature Class and I've read everything Roth has written, some Mailer (and am right now in the middle of Harlot's Ghost), a few Bellow, and some Updike.

Roth's The Dying Animal is a favorite of mine. I've read it four times; like A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life, it's a book that seems to resonate with me.

If you frequent a used book shop, hit those author's sections. In Toronto, those authors' books all turn over very frequently, with most selling in a matter of days.
posted by dobbs at 10:51 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and lest we forget: the man wrote The Human Stain. That is unforgivable.

nasreddin,

Are you just grandstanding? Or can you amplify?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2011


Are you just grandstanding? Or can you amplify?

OK, here's me amplifying: THE HUMAN STAIN IS A FUCKING TERRIBLE NOVEL CLEARLY WRITTEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF TOO MANY WEEKLY STANDARD EDITORIALS ABOUT RUNAWAY POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
posted by nasreddin at 10:56 AM on May 18, 2011 [11 favorites]


For the record, the highlights for most of us were Catch-22 and Vonnegut (I forget which book we read), specifically because they were the few books that didn't feel dusty and irrelevant. Grandpa Simpson describing how things were in Morganville (you know it as Shelbyville) 70 years ago.

This says much more about you than it does about Mailer, Roth, Bellow and Updike.
posted by dersins at 10:57 AM on May 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've read quite a bit of Updike, and bits and pieces of Roth and Mailer. They really are their own kind of genre fiction, and I think it's OK to not enjoy that genre, and to wonder why they are often honored over other writers. Does Roth deserve a lifetime acheivement award for his fiction? Sure, why not... but I don't think it's incomprehensible that some people wouldn't like their work.
posted by muddgirl at 11:00 AM on May 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


OK, here's me amplifying: THE HUMAN STAIN IS A FUCKING TERRIBLE NOVEL CLEARLY WRITTEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF TOO MANY WEEKLY STANDARD EDITORIALS ABOUT RUNAWAY POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.

So you have some misgivings about the source of the author's inspiration and, in addition, it was "A FUCKING TERRIBLE NOVEL"?


I see:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:01 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Considering Portnoy's Complaint was published 42 years ago and people are still reading it, what are you basing your ridiculous assumption on?

Consider the Amazon.com product description (which tellingly omits its "essential" designation):

Along with Saul Bellow's Herzog, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint defined Jewish American literature in the 1960s.

Indeed it did. And Jewish-American literature was a big deal back then, as the cultural barriers against us were beginning to fall away. (For example, it was during this decade that Ivy League quotas on the number of Jewish students was phased out.)

But today, with Jews more concerned about over-assimilation through intermarriage, the experience of Jews in 1940s New Jersey is scarcely more relevant than pogroms in Tsarist Russia. "Historical artifacts", as leotrotsky observes.

In the long term, nearly all novels endure only by being assigned in university survey courses. And while Portnoy's Complaint may be a giant in Jewish-American literature, its stature is far more modest among post-war American literature in general. And the generation of professors for whom Roth (and Mailer and Updke) were dominant authors will soon pass into history.
posted by Trurl at 11:01 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


One more data point: I've read some Updike, some Roth and some Bellow, but not Mailer. I read for pleasure. I read Nemesis and thought it pretty darn good.

There are large numbers of people who don't read literature outside the confines of a class.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2011


This says much more about you than it does about Mailer, Roth, Bellow and Updike.

The fact that someone doesn't like cookie-cutter novels about middle-aged dudes with midlife crises who obsess constantly about two-dimensional mothers/vamps/lolitas while ruminating pseudo-intellectually about whatever happened to be reviewed in the NYRB issue located closest to the author's typewriter doesn't mean they have bad taste or they're philistines or whatever.
posted by nasreddin at 11:04 AM on May 18, 2011 [40 favorites]


they're a philistine, sorry, lost track of my antecedent there
posted by nasreddin at 11:09 AM on May 18, 2011


There were only 3 judges, you'd think 3 people could have compromised given such a long list of authors to pick from

A democracy of three is generally a terrible idea. That is, if two people agree on something, the third is toast. Some of my worst interactions with my fellow humans have come in this context. But I still fault Ms. Callil for quitting. She should never have joined on in the first place.

A democracy of four however is quite functional. You either get consensus (hooray!), a 3-1 situation which is a pretty strong basis for making a decision, or a deadlock ... which generally means, okay, we've all got to agree to disagree, then maybe get back to this issue once we've all done a bunch more research. Failing this, if a decision really is required, then there's always a coin toss. Too arbitrary, random? Maybe, but it's far superior to allowing a tyranny of two to rule.

As for Roth, I happen to be reading him right now for the first time. A book called THE COUNTERLIFE, and it's good. It's very good. In fact, it just pulled the narrative rug out from under me last night and I can't wait to get back at it, see where it's going.

I just read some Updike recently, too. RABBIT REDUX. Interesting. Sometimes genuinely engrossing. But I also found myself doing a lot of skimming. It got quite predictable actually. He'd sidetrack into Rabbit's stream of consciousness, the paragraphs would suddenly get way longer and I'd instantly know I could skip whole pages. Man needed an editor who could stand up to him.
posted by philip-random at 11:12 AM on May 18, 2011


"[H]e goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book.

Yeah, and all those Jackson Pollock paintings look alike.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


leotrotsky: Huh? I've never studied 20th century American literature, or anything close, and I read every Philip Roth novel as soon as it comes out. So do lots of people, as evidenced by the fact that he is a hugely successful writer. He's only an artefact in the sense that literary fiction as a genre is not quite as important as it used to be - but that's a different issue.

the experience of Jews in 1940s New Jersey is scarcely more relevant than pogroms in Tsarist Russia.

Incidentally, it's annoying that people just assume what is and isn't relevant to me, because I'm young (or a woman or black or whatever). I've had old white men roll their eyes, almost apologetically, at the old white mannishness of the books they've seen me reading. They're surprised to find out that I actually strongly relate, as a Caribbean person, to a novel like Portnoy's Complaint, and its exploration of what it's like to be a part of a minority culture (on a local scale in the novel, on a global scale for me), swimming in a soup of media images from an very different culture, and constantly tripping over that dissonance. A truly good book doesn't have to be about people like me to mean something to people like me. The fact that Roth's books focus on such a specific and apparently narrow set of circumstances can't undermine the general truths they contain. If anything it makes their expression more potent.

and mediocre prose.

That's just bullshit.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2011 [25 favorites]


The fact that someone doesn't like cookie-cutter novels about middle-aged dudes with midlife crises who obsess constantly about two-dimensional mothers/vamps/lolitas while ruminating pseudo-intellectually about whatever happened to be reviewed in the NYRB issue located closest to the author's typewriter doesn't mean they have bad taste or they're philistines or whatever.

Thank you for that, nasreddin. I know tastes in literature vary, and I respect that others may really resonate with it, but this is a genre I have always found to be far too seemingly neurotic and self-absorbed for my personal tastes. Despite the beautiful prose that sometimes is a result.
posted by darkstar at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2011


But then, I don't much care for most Woody Allen movies, either, so maybe I am a philistine.
posted by darkstar at 11:19 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the record, the highlights for most of us were Catch-22 and Vonnegut (I forget which book we read), specifically because they were the few books that didn't feel dusty and irrelevant.

For the record, sounds like we had the same reading list in the 20th century American lit class I took as an undergrad -- and the same reaction from students, as well. Since our university required us all to take a core curriculum that included a freshman (year-long) class on classic lit, it wasn't as though we hadn't been exposed to "good fiction" before. But very few of us found Roth, Mailer, and Styron compelling when encountered side by side with Vonnegut, Heller, Nabokov, and Pynchon. Seriously, The Crying of Lot 40 became some sort of rallying cry, that semester.
posted by artemisia at 11:21 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, and all those Jackson Pollock paintings look alike.

Well, they kinda do. Much of Pollock's success can be attributed to, ah, extra-artistic motives. Again, not liking Pollock is not sufficient to qualify as a philistine.
posted by nasreddin at 11:22 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


You don't judge an author's work by those books that are not great or even good ones. You judge by good or great works. How many great novels did Melville write? Joseph Heller?

You get on a committee to select this or that work or artist; you don't walk because you don't agree with the others...That is a GOP tactic.

The award is given for a living writer and his present works.Not for what might or might not be read in 20 years.
posted by Postroad at 11:27 AM on May 18, 2011


In the long term, nearly all novels endure only by being assigned in university survey courses.

I feel like I'm learning an awful lot about the impoverished literary lives of my fellow Mefites, here.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:30 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


The fact that someone doesn't like cookie-cutter novels about middle-aged dudes with midlife crises who obsess constantly about two-dimensional mothers/vamps/lolitas while ruminating pseudo-intellectually about whatever happened to be reviewed in the NYRB issue located closest to the author's typewriter doesn't mean they have bad taste or they're philistines or whatever.

Your personal opinion aside, it does not appear that you disagree with my point that a reader's dislike of a particular sort of novel says more about the reader than about the writer.
posted by dersins at 11:38 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


They really are their own kind of genre fiction

Exactly. There's nothing wrong with writing in that genre, but it's not inherently superior to any other kind of fiction. Some of it I like, but there's no particular reason to say 'this is big-L literature and that other thing is not.'
posted by anigbrowl at 11:44 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book

Journalism fail. None of the links will tell me subject she's complaining about in this quote.
posted by straight at 11:53 AM on May 18, 2011


I feel like I'm learning an awful lot about the impoverished literary lives of my fellow Mefites, here.

Among the many things MeFites are not representative of, they are not representative of American reading habits.

Tell you what. In 20 years, when the kids are all reading the Zuckerman books on their 4th gen Hyperpads, I'll meekly submit to your mockery at having been proved such a poor prognosticator.
posted by Trurl at 11:53 AM on May 18, 2011


Roth hates women.

So I'm guessing you're not nominating him for the Woman Bookim prize, eh?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:55 AM on May 18, 2011


leotrotsky: Dobbs: really? How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike?

I'd love to hear what you all who think that these guys are musty relics consider to be paragons of progressive, smart, crucial, forward-thinking literature.

artemisia: But very few of us found Roth, Mailer, and Styron compelling when encountered side by side with Vonnegut, Heller, Nabokov, and Pynchon. Seriously, The Crying of Lot 40 became some sort of rallying cry, that semester.

I find them all compelling. I guess I'm not invited to the Who's the Most Compelling Writer rally.
posted by blucevalo at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2011


It should be noted that the judge that quit founded the press that published Roth's ex wife's memoir. Seems like an obvious conflict of interest here.
posted by ranunculus at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2011


But very few of us found Roth, Mailer, and Styron compelling when encountered side by side with Vonnegut, Heller, Nabokov, and Pynchon. Seriously, The Crying of Lot 40 became some sort of rallying cry, that semester.

But what about Catch-13?
posted by dersins at 12:08 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd love to hear what you all who think that these guys are musty relics consider to be paragons of progressive, smart, crucial, forward-thinking literature.

IMHO, the novel - as practiced by Roth and his contemporaries - will increasingly become as antiquated a form as the villanelle.

Pynchon's runaway allusiveness and flippant blend of high and low discourse may remain relevant. And the complexities of Richard Powers and Joseph McElroy might have something to say to children of the digital age.

But an alter kocker obsessed with the Rosenbergs and the eclipse of his virility*? I doubt it.

* To use a crude caricature
posted by Trurl at 12:08 PM on May 18, 2011


Among the things I hope, but do not expect, to see the last of at Metafilter are comments of the form, "this says much more about you than it does about X". It is trite and eyerollingly faux sagacious.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:11 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think we can call Roth a fanatic, as by definition. a fanatic is one who won't change his mind and won't change the subject
posted by taxpayer at 12:16 PM on May 18, 2011


comments of the form, "this says much more about you than it does about X". It is trite and eyerollingly faux sagacious.

Well yeah, but given the po-mo enterprise, and that the topic is literature,
it's not even trite, it's a truism.
posted by Herodios at 12:20 PM on May 18, 2011


The Crying of Lot 40

Catch-13


Earlier drafts?
posted by Herodios at 12:22 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Among the things I hope, but do not expect, to see the last of at Metafilter are comments of the form, "this says much more about you than it does about X". It is trite and eyerollingly faux sagacious.

Not really. How about less comments that invite the phrase. And by that I mean less hilariously broad and definitive statements.

How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike? The novels are historical artifacts.

How embarrassing.
posted by Avenger50 at 12:23 PM on May 18, 2011


Pynchon's runaway allusiveness and flippant blend of high and low discourse may remain relevant. And the complexities of Richard Powers and Joseph McElroy might have something to say to children of the digital age.

But an alter kocker obsessed with the Rosenbergs and the eclipse of his virility*? I doubt it.

Trurl,

So you reckon the children of the digital age will never worry about their own waning virility?

Hah!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:27 PM on May 18, 2011


What if it's a feature, and not a bug, that capital-L literature often dates more quickly than so-called genre fiction? Is it really so bad that most novels that relate to the real world are, indeed, "time capsules" of a sort?
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:30 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


So you reckon the children of the digital age will never worry about their own waning virility?

In the context of looming female sexual agency? God, I hope not.
posted by muddgirl at 12:31 PM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ugh, by that I mean I hope in the future we stop viewing female sexuality as a mystery and/or a threat. Not that I hope that female sexual agency stops looming, or something.
posted by muddgirl at 12:32 PM on May 18, 2011


What I find interesting is watching the nominee lists over the years. Who's been nominated when, how many times, do they eventually win after being renominated, etc.

(Roth was first nominated in 2005, the inception year of this prize.) (I'm hoping for reinclusion of Salman Rushdie in 2013.)
posted by likeso at 12:38 PM on May 18, 2011


So you reckon the children of the digital age will never worry about their own waning virility?

By the time they do, they will have other people to read on the subject. People whose sexual neuroses were acted out in the technology of their age, rather than a piece of liver.

Look at this way. If there are 20 years olds today who don't know Led Zeppelin despite the tens of millions of LPs and CDs out there, what is the likelihood that future readers are going to be exposed to Phililp Roth books anywhere but a Jewish-American literature course?

Even now, what percentage of college students knows the phrase "Portnoy's complaint"?
posted by Trurl at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh. I get why some people dislike Philip Roth (his take on women and sex is, uh, interesting), but personally I'm a fan (and a young, WASPy, female fan at that). I've enjoyed everything of his I've ever read (Portnoy's Complaint, The Plot Against America, Everyman, Nemesis, and, yes, even The Human Stain). His characters are just ok, but his plots are fun (although endings tend to be a bit weak), and I like his prose. I'm not super familiar with the other finalists (I've read Phillip Pullman, I know of Marilynne Robinson and John le Carre, but I've never even heard of most of the rest of them), so I couldn't really say if he deserves to win or not. I think of myself as a reasonably literate person (at least on the non-English-major scale?), but off the top of my head, the only other Booker Prize winner I can name for certain is Margaret Atwood. Dunno. It would make me sad if people weren't still reading Roth in 20 years, though.
posted by naoko at 12:51 PM on May 18, 2011


Trurl: That there are 20-year-olds who don't know who Philip Roth is doesn't mean that no 20-year-old knows who Philip Roth is.

Your use of Led Zeppelin to stand in for Philip Roth is telling. Yes, there will always be 20-year-olds (or 40-year-olds, or women, or Senators, or pick-a-demographic) who don't know who cultural touchstone X is. Nobody can have read, or seen, everything. That doesn't mean it's time to throw up our hands and switch over to Twitter, because it's the only medium that effectively speaks to our current condition.

Since Twilight got big, lots of tweens are reading Jane Eyre. I'm willing to bet many of them aren't orphans, maids, or governesses. Relevance to one's life is a poor judge of literary quality. I am unlikely to kill a whale myself, but I still think Moby Dick is a great novel.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:53 PM on May 18, 2011


By the time they do, they will have other people to read on the subject.

Trurl,
Oh I am sure you are absolutely right.
I just mean that particular worry - the ebbing of virility - is surely a subject for the ages.

I can also appreciate how, say, the offal approach to masturbation must already seem fearfully quaint!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:54 PM on May 18, 2011


Look at this way. If there are 20 years olds today who don't know Led Zeppelin despite the tens of millions of LPs and CDs out there, what is the likelihood that future readers are going to be exposed to Phililp Roth books anywhere but a Jewish-American literature course?

I don't think this reasoning makes sense. You could find 20-year olds in 1973 who didn't know Led Zeppelin, just as you can find plenty of them today who have every album. Plenty of people today don't read Roth, but also plenty of people do, many of them outside of the context of literature courses. I'm 28. I read Portnoy's Complaint for the first time last year. I found a copy at the first bookstore I walked into.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2011


The Crying of Lot 40 became some sort of rallying cry, that semester

That really says it all, doesn't it.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2011


Metafilter: Idiots Delight
posted by semmi at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2011


I read Portnoy's Complaint for the first time last year. I found a copy at the first bookstore I walked into.

How many bookstores will there be in 20 years?
posted by Trurl at 12:59 PM on May 18, 2011


If there are 20 years olds today who don't know Led Zeppelin despite the tens of millions of LPs and CDs out there, what is the likelihood that future readers are going to be exposed to Phililp Roth books anywhere but a Jewish-American literature course?

Who can say?

Moby Dick: instrumental tune performed by British musicians Led Zeppelin in 1969.

Moby: stage name for American musician Richard Melville Hall, born in 1965.

Moby-Dick: novel by American author Herman Melville, published in 1851 to near-universal scorn and largely forgotten for over fifty years.
posted by Herodios at 12:59 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pynchon's runaway allusiveness and flippant blend of high and low discourse may remain relevant. And the complexities of Richard Powers and Joseph McElroy might have something to say to children of the digital age.

Really? McElroy is three years older than Roth and Pynchon only four years younger; Powers, the veritable child of that group was born the year the USSR put Sputnik in orbit. If old man Roth has nothing to say "to children of the digital age," it isn't likely the others will.

Anyway, not that it says anything about their respective quality as writers, but I'm betting more general readers have read Portnoy's Complaint than, say, Lookout Cartridge.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2011


To add to the anecdata here, I'm 26 and read Portnoy's Complaint when I was 19 or 20. For fun, outside of class. Not claiming to be representative of anything, but I think shakespeherian and Pickman's Next Top Model right that there are always people of various demographics who are both in the know and not about various cultural touchstones. And Portnoy's Complaint is currently available for Kindle, so it seems like it will hang in there in the absence of bookstores.
posted by naoko at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2011


How many bookstores will there be in 20 years?

I'm going to guess the answer is 'a lot.'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:03 PM on May 18, 2011


It always amazes me how readily the American literary public embraces single-trick charlatans like Roth. All the more remarkable given the monumental body of truly great American literature out there.

I know every culture harbors legions of scantily clad emperors, but these American literary heroes are more pompous and naked even than their French counterparts.

Why? Because they are surrounded by an exceptionally exclusive Praetorian Guard drawn from a highly incestuous coterie of publishers and critics. From which we now have a deserter, which is good - even if she's a feminist.
posted by Bas at 1:07 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Which authors do you prefer, Bas?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:08 PM on May 18, 2011


Really? McElroy is three years older than Roth and Pynchon only four years younger; Powers, the veritable child of that group was born the year the USSR put Sputnik in orbit. If old man Roth has nothing to say "to children of the digital age," it isn't likely the others will.

I've never read McElroy or Powers, but the difference between Roth and Pynchon is much more a matter of stylistic novelty and relevance than age.

even if she's a feminist


derrrrr
posted by nasreddin at 1:09 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between whether or not Roth will be read in twenty (or x number of years) or whether or not he should be read.

I would have thought the former was uncontroversial. Authors generally don't have the sales figures nor cultural reputation/recognition that they do when they're alive. Certainly, there's some exceptions, but more often than not, there is a steady decline to an authors readership concurrent to the number of years they've been dead.

For example, how many people read Booth Tarkington? In his day, he was a best-selling author, won the Pulitzer prize twice, and had Orson Welles make a movie from one of his books.

Today? Not so much. And nearly all of Booth Tarkington's books are available for free from places like Project Guttenberg. But I still doubt there's much readership for something like The Magnificent Ambersons, let alone something like Seventeen, which was the best-selling book of 1916.

As to whether people should be reading Roth? I don't know. But you can't deny that Roth, along with Updike and Mailer, have taken a huge nose-dive in cultural reputation since their heyday.
posted by fryman at 1:17 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey, is this the thread where we generalize about the experiences and worldview of an entire generation cohort on the basis of a few half-assed catchphrases, then use those generalizations to speculate about what that cohort will be reading twenty fucking years from now? Sweet!

I hear that the kids these days can't get enough of that Justin Bieber. I predict that in twenty years all novels will be about Justin Bieber and the only people who read Bieberless books will be a handful of soon-to-be-unemployed college students majoring in Non-Bieber Studies.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 1:20 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know every culture harbors legions of scantily clad emperors.

This is fun. "Harbors" is a nautical term - it's where ships or boats are kept. "Legions" is an army term - originally a legion was the basic unit of Roman infantry. "Emperors" are the heads of state of empires.

So, uh... where is this legion of emperors? I mean, in which harbor?

And what were you saying about great literature?
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:22 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would wholeheartedly support a MetaFilter rule than when dissing an artist, all comments must provide a counterexample of whom the commenter approves.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:23 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


In 20 years you'll be able to buy Justin Bieber's new book at Costco, the nation's largest and only brick and mortar bookstore.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:23 PM on May 18, 2011


Roth is very local and temporal. Which is both good and bad. I enjoy reading his books because I am fascinated by his specific viewpoint. But in my view, he isn't Nobel material, because he doesn't really contribute to a broader knowledge/understanding of humanity.
I have no idea what the specific goals of this Booker International is. It doesn't say on their web page.
posted by mumimor at 1:26 PM on May 18, 2011


I would wholeheartedly support a MetaFilter rule than when dissing an artist, all comments must provide a counterexample of whom the commenter approves.

Can we just do that anyway? I really like Deb Olin Unferth.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:30 PM on May 18, 2011


I hereby recant my heresy.

Roth's oeuvre will outlast Gilgamesh, the bags of trash on the Moon, and perhaps even the Heat Death of the Universe.
posted by Trurl at 1:34 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Roth's long term focus on his particular experience is what makes him important and worthy of this kind of award. I find fascinating in his later novels the exploration of the loss of health and virility (and friends and family) when it is compared to the experiences of similar persona in his early books. Think of Woody Allen as a contemporary of Roth's, becoming a force at the same time from similar cultural background. Despite all the riffing on death in his early work, he doesn't take it and ageing on in any more concrete way as it becomes a greater reality in his own life. As a result, Allen's artistic growth seemed to stall at mid-life, although he also deserves respect for his ability to keep delivering work of quality into later age. Roth's honest depiction of his own mortality and vulnerability and the ambitious scope of some of the novels written in his senior citizenship give his entire body of work greater depth.
posted by TimTypeZed at 1:36 PM on May 18, 2011


Roth's oeuvre will outlast Gilgamesh, the bags of trash on the Moon, and perhaps even the Heat Death of the Universe.

I'm not entirely sure why you're being so prickly about your personal predictions about the future being way super better than anyone else's. Some books survive in the cultural consciousness, and some don't; it's anyone's guess as to which will be which. I don't think any of your arguments that Roth's work will necessarily be relegated to the dustbins were very compelling, and explained why, as have others. Now you're angry?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:40 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, uh... where is this legion of emperors? I mean, in which harbor?

It was meant to be a ironic. Sorry for not clarifying with hieroglyphized punctuation marks.

Which authors do you prefer, Bas?

Not very relevant, this should be about literary standards, not personal taste. But if you'd insist, I'd name Richard Yates the most accomplished post-war American.
Never won any prizes, of course...
posted by Bas at 1:50 PM on May 18, 2011


It wasn't a trick question, I just think it's more pleasant for everyone if we season our dislikes with a few positive suggestions.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:53 PM on May 18, 2011


the difference between Roth and Pynchon is much more a matter of stylistic novelty and relevance than age.

This is true. But if Roth's age or generation makes him unappealing to the kids (the point I thought Trurl was trying to make), then how likely is it that a handful of dense, formalist writers of roughly the same generation can speak to them. In that case Pynchon becomes the rock star your parents grandparents were crazy over and the rest of them, well, not even.

I've enjoyed every Roth novel I've read (a third of them, probably), but I've never cared to read them all. The Plot Against America's depiction of helplessness in the face of political catastrophe was immensely moving when I read it in '04, but detached from the period, I wonder if it will age well. I like Roth's fiction better than Updike's but less than Bellow's. He'd never get the Nobel from me (I'd give it to Ishmael Reed, instead), but to suggest that he's a "single trick charlatan" is just silly.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:57 PM on May 18, 2011


But in my view, he isn't Nobel material, because he doesn't really contribute to a broader knowledge/understanding of humanity.


mumimor,
That may well be right.

But I've always thought the greatest barrier to Roth's Nobel chances is the fact that he first became famous as a comic writer.
(Mark Twain was also overlooked.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2011


I'd love for this to become a thread of suggestions about authors, bestselling and otherwise, American and otherwise, from 20+ years back that you (I) may not have ever heard of, but should know about.

I'll ante up with John O'Hara.
posted by chavenet at 2:06 PM on May 18, 2011


And me without my bookshelves...!
posted by shakespeherian at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2011


Maybe I should put in an AskMe about this, but since we're on the subject... I love Philip Roth. Am reading my first Mailer, The Executioner's Song, right now, and loving that. Have never read Updike or Pynchon. So, what should I read next?
posted by decathecting at 2:18 PM on May 18, 2011


Pynchon is good, but isn't really like Roth, Mailer, or Updike. He's much more Faulkner than Hemingway.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:23 PM on May 18, 2011


So, for those of you who like Roth, what is the most accessible book by him? Not your favorite, just the one you suspect would be most liked by someone who has had no experience with his work.
posted by adipocere at 2:37 PM on May 18, 2011


Probably Portnoy's Complaint cos it's hilarious. (The Ghost Writer, The Counterlife, I Married a Communist are all ace too.)
posted by Mocata at 3:01 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, for those of you who like Roth, what is the most accessible book by him? Not your favorite, just the one you suspect would be most liked by someone who has had no experience with his work.


adipocere,
I think it's got to be Portnoy's Complaint (1969).

(One of the key scenes of the novel is the grandfather of the title event in the 1999 movie American Pie..!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2011


The only reason you can't read Portnoy's Complaint and not have your mind blown is because it has had some much influence that it's turned to shocking into the cliche. Our current culture, for better or for worse, owes a hell of a lot to that book, and it's still going to be worth reading for a long time.
posted by aspo at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Philip Roth himself does not believe his own books (or novels in general) will be read in 20 years. [See minute 8:00 of the interview.]

He says in another interview that "the page cannot compete with the screen." I believe, for better or worse, he's right.
posted by meadowlark lime at 3:24 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would recommend Portnoy's Complaint, but personally, I fell in love with Roth because of American Pastoral. It was the second book of his I read, after feeling totally alienated by the first, Everyman (which is one of the recent ones). It's not funny (or filthy) like Portnoy, but it has these intense, beautiful passages... It also seduced me into giving a fuck about the process by which gloves are made. It's incredible.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:34 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, for those of you who like Roth, what is the most accessible book by him?

The Great American Novel

The fact that someone doesn't like cookie-cutter novels about middle-aged dudes with midlife crises who obsess constantly about two-dimensional mothers/vamps/lolitas while ruminating pseudo-intellectually about whatever happened to be reviewed in the NYRB issue located closest to the author's typewriter doesn't mean they have bad taste or they're philistines or whatever.

I think you mischaracterize (or overgeneralize). That doesn't describe the Roth novels I've read (are you talking about Zuckerman?)

I met Philip Roth in college once, and he truly seemed like a douche, and I can't say I love all the Zuckerman stuff (nor have I read much of it), but to call them "cookie-cutter novels" sounds like you haven't read any.

I thought The Human Stain was brilliant. The fact that someone could think it was inspired by Weekly Standard editorials seems like nonsense, or again, a bunch of people who didn't actually read the thing.

It's one thing to read and criticize honestly. There's quite a lot not to like, imo. It's quite another to purposely spread bad information and straw-man arguments.

But in my view, he isn't Nobel material, because he doesn't really contribute to a broader knowledge/understanding of humanity.

Everyman.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:57 PM on May 18, 2011


When I saw that he won I was repulsed. I guess the international prize is just for popular legacy writers because giving him a literary award is just dumb at this point. It's about as brave as giving U2 a music award. So unlike the decisions on the real Booker.
posted by serazin at 4:09 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that the judge that quit founded the press that published Roth's ex wife's memoir. Seems like an obvious conflict of interest here.

This seems silly to me. She didn't block his win - she stepped aside. She is a publisher, and that is why she was chosen to be on the panel. Every single author in the world (outside of Britain) was eligible to win, so any judge could have a potential conflict of interest.
posted by serazin at 4:19 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I tried Sabbath's Theater after my personal explorations indicated it was one of Roth's best, if not the best, and it was horrifically bad. I bought it in a pile along with John Updike's The Complete Henry Bech and Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling From.

What a tremendously shitty trilogy of decisions that was.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:21 PM on May 18, 2011


I thought The Human Stain was brilliant. The fact that someone could think it was inspired by Weekly Standard editorials seems like nonsense, or again, a bunch of people who didn't actually read the thing.

Yeah, this is the novel that features the evil Frenchie deconstructionist woman who is secretly racist and the secretly black professor who gets fired for using the word "spooks." If you don't think those ironies are meant to be some kind of (highly superficial) jab at academic PC culture, you might not have been reading very carefully.
posted by nasreddin at 4:22 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Probably Portnoy's Complaint cos it's hilarious.

Well, my first - and only - experience with Roth was with this book, and I fucking hated it.

To me, it slotted in wholeheartedly with that weird genre of middle-aged-to-old male, American, bourgeois writers absolutely obsessed with their penises, and who see women first and foremost as vaginas (they might see them as something else later on, but it's vaginas and tits first, every time), meditating on their horrible bourgeois ennui with the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer falling through tissue paper.

If you don't know anyone like this in real life, you may find the book revealing - if repugnant. Unfortunately I've had the dubious pleasure of meeting entitled chauvinist dickwads like this for many years. It was like spending a whole dinner party next to a sleazy, self-obsessed boor who's getting progressively drunker. No thanks.
posted by smoke at 4:59 PM on May 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


The argument that Roth won't be read in the future (or that people won't read at all) does not have anything to do with the prize. Staying power is welcome, but is hard to predict. The Man Booker International is awarded to the best* book of the year; it is not meant to be a sign of timelessness.

Speaking of aging, I thought Banville's The Shroud was really well written. It's my favourite book of his (and he shares that opinion). But then again I love Banville even though I'm not an Irish 60-something or an art historian/man of letters/spouse of a dying wife/Greek god**.

*of the books the judges had read, taking into account personal preferences, politics etc.
**Insert joke here.

posted by ersatz at 5:01 PM on May 18, 2011


I think there are two problems with the Roth-Updike-Bellow school of writing today (I personally would pull Mailer from that list) . First, those guys were realists. their intent was to hold up a very non-distorting mirror to modern, i.e. 1950's, life. No daring-do, no grand adventures, no overwhelming plot points. Just crystalline snapshots of suburban angst. And no one today (at least here) relates to, or cares about, 1950’s suburban issues.

There are still people that write in that style today -- Frazen and Eggers for example. And they are a lot more relatable, because we care more about the world that they reflect than Roth’s world which has largely disappeared.

The second problem that these guys have is that the group that came after them, the post-modernists, introduced a writing style that was flat-out more fun. While Roth and Updike are trying to polish their writing until it all but disappears, Barth, Barthelme, Calvino and Borges played with the writing itself, making the method of telling the story and important and creative as the story itself.

So not only is Roth-Updike-Bellow writing about life and times that no one cares about, they are doing it in a boring way.
posted by rtimmel at 5:05 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've only ever read American Pastoral. I liked it.
posted by jonmc at 5:17 PM on May 18, 2011


To me, it slotted in wholeheartedly with that weird genre of middle-aged-to-old male, American, bourgeois writers absolutely obsessed with their penises, and who see women first and foremost as vaginas (they might see them as something else later on, but it's vaginas and tits first, every time)

I peg this is a peculiarity of a particular historical moment. That is, many many years of good ole fashioned conformity and Christian repression gets blown out of the water by the likes of Henry Miller (and a couple of world wars) and suddenly there's a whole generation of still virile men who are not just allowed to write freely about SEX, it's kind of a contest. Who can write the hardest, the fastest, the longest, the mostest? And, for a while, it's exactly what the conformist, Christian-repressed culture needs, but eventually, no thanks, we've had enough, thanks. You can stop now. Maybe write a murder mystery next.

Please.
posted by philip-random at 5:21 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Portnoy is the only thing I have read by Roth, but it is an amazing comic novel, easily in the top ten of the last 50 years. Mailer's novels will be forgotten. Mailer the character and journalist may have some life. Bellow and Updike will live on; Bellow for Herzog if nothing else, Updike for his short stories alone, and the Bech novellas, and Roger's Version. Nabokov will probably trump them all, though he is slightly overrated. Of his 20 novels, only 7, maybe 8 are truly first rate.
posted by puny human at 5:39 PM on May 18, 2011


cars killed trains, radio killed books, tv killed radio, the internet killed tv... and we're still arguing about what is going to kill books next? {/}
posted by edgeways at 5:42 PM on May 18, 2011


A good old knock down drag'em out book club blow out about Portnoy's Complaint is a lot of fun. I liked it too (the blow out and the novel). For the voices (yours and Roth's) and the insight into a particularly "unstuck in mother and sex and text" (forgive me Kurt) version of the North American male (who must still exist in some considerable number given the availability of naughty pics on the web).

Other American realist regional flavours I've really enjoyed are Carson McCullers (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter & The Ballad of the Sad Cafe), Flannery O'Connor (everything), and Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried & Going After Cacciato).

Internationally, Jose Saramago (Portugal) is an astonishing stylist (Blindness, All the Names, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and many others) well worth trying.
posted by kneecapped at 6:16 PM on May 18, 2011


While Roth and Updike are trying to polish their writing until it all but disappears, Barth, Barthelme, Calvino and Borges played with the writing itself, making the method of telling the story and important and creative as the story itself.

Have you ever read Barth's Tidewater Tales? It's something like 700 pages of precious well-heeled people sailing around the Chesapeake on their precious yacht telling precious stories about how precious they are, interrupted only by lectures about how bad Chesapeake Bay polluters are. If there is a more insufferable writer than John Barth, I haven't encountered him (or her), thank God.

And no one today (at least here) relates to, or cares about, 1950’s suburban issues.

Which accounts, of course, for the enormous popularity of Mad Men. Anyway, now that you mention it, I'll take Cheever over Updike and Roth, and maybe over Bellow.

Other neglected American writers I'll plump for: Glenway Wescott, Dawn Powell, and Elaine Dundy.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:32 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mad Men isn't about 1950s suburban issues. It's just our issues wrapped in a nostalgic package.
posted by muddgirl at 7:06 PM on May 18, 2011


I hereby recant my heresy.

Or, you know, you could be a grown up and accept that not everyone thinks the same way you do or has the same tastes.
posted by dobbs at 7:12 PM on May 18, 2011


I love me some Philip Roth. The weirdest, most wonderful week I've ever experienced was the week I adopted a very high-strung cat who would not let me read unless I read aloud to him. Ever read Portnoy's Complaint aloud to a cat? I have. The best parts where when I would catch myself using the schmoopy "I am talking to a cat" voice. "But the shikses, ah, the shikses were something else again! Oh goodness yes they were! No, you're not a shiksa, you're a kitty! Awww."

Good times.
posted by palomar at 7:16 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mad Men isn't about 1950s suburban issues. It's just our issues wrapped in a nostalgic package.

I think any writing with staying power should work after the era is over, no matter how steeped in it's era it was. I recently finished my first Henry James novel and I was blown away by how the story just worked so well, and I was so interested and drawn to the characters, even though their wealthy lives in Europe were completely foreign for me. I can't relate to Roth's novels and I am a middle class Jew. Boring is boring.

Not to knock anyone who likes him - different strokes - I just don't think he deserves the International Booker Prize. Keep in mind they only give this thing out once every two years. One of Callil's main complaints was that they ignored books in translation which is pretty dumb for a supposedly international prize. To me this is just about choosing the least controversial, most popular, most widely known American. When they started the International Prize I'm pretty sure it was to deal with the controversy about whether or not to expand the Booker to authors outside of Britain. People feared all the prizes would go to Americans, so they made this International prize instead. And here goes the international prize to this American who (in my view) rides on his own overhyped reputation but in any case is not the Best Living Author in the World even if you do like him.

But then, this prize does seem to be headed towards the Honorary Academy Award kind of thing - to recognize some old dude (or occasional lady) who's been doing his schtick forever. Who knows - this is only the 4th one they've given, and I don't know Kadare who won the first one, but the other winners have been pretty... tame.
posted by serazin at 7:35 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took a Philip Roth class in college and really liked it. My favorite of his is American Pastoral.

That's...uh...that's all I got.
posted by danb at 8:03 PM on May 18, 2011


I haven't read these authors because I don't have much virility to mourn.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:16 PM on May 18, 2011


"So you reckon the children of the digital age will never worry about their own waning virility?"

Sounds like Houllebecq's The Possibility of an Island.
posted by bardic at 9:23 PM on May 18, 2011


Oh, man, The Possibility of an Island. That was one-half of a great book right there. Reminds me of that supposedly terrible Updike sci-fi novel that DFW so famously panned.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:28 PM on May 18, 2011


BTW, Evan S. Connell was a truly great writer of the 20th century, contemporaneous with Updike/Mailer/Roth/etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:29 PM on May 18, 2011


I really, really do not like Philip Roth's work myself, though I suppose I don't have terribly strong feelings about whether he should have won this prize. This is probably mostly because I don't quite understand this prize. The criteria is that it recognizes "a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language," and the prize "highlights one writer's overall contribution to fiction on the world stage." Also, "the judges consider a writer's body of work rather than a single novel."

What is meant by a contribution to fiction on the world stage? Does it indicate that winner will have made a significant "contribution to fiction"(whatever that means), and, by the way, that winner will be chosen from among all important writers of the world (who are read in English)? Or does it mean that the writer will have contributed to fiction in a global way?

And does "contributed to fiction" mean altered or influenced the course of fiction writing/reading? Or does it simply mean the author "made a contribution" in the sense of adding to the corpus of important world literature?

At any rate, I find the shortlist a little bit odd. I'm trying to imagine why Haruki Murakami or Margaret Atwood (to name just a couple that first came to my mind) aren't on there. Does it have to do with some aspect or subtext of the award that isn't clear to me?

Maybe there was a lack of clarity of purpose among the judges? If one judge is adamantly against a specific writer, and the other two are so adamantly for that writer that there is no room for compromise, it seems to indicate a fundamental disagreement about what the prize represents. The two other judges must have felt that Roth embodied this essential quality to such an overwhelming degree that they were willing to lock out 1/3 of the opinion... so what is that Essential Quality?

To me, Philip Roth is a very, very, American-with-a-big-A writer; I'm curious how much his novels have influenced world literature. And is that even the point? I'm just confused, really.
posted by taz at 11:26 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


taz:

My sense of this prize (and I could be totally wrong) is that it's kind of meant to skim off the more famous and arguably less contemporary authors from consideration in the "main" Man Booker prize - a sop to that one judge who keeps stomping his feet and saying "I don't believe you're giving a prize to John Banville when such a light of literature as Philip Roth remains unrecognized!" Either that or, like the Lifetime Achievement award, it's for perennial also-rans... or both. It could be both.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 6:22 AM on May 19, 2011


I'm trying to imagine why Haruki Murakami or Margaret Atwood (to name just a couple that first came to my mind) aren't on there. Does it have to do with some aspect or subtext of the award that isn't clear to me?

Margaret Atwood has been on a couple previous short lists (wiki). The fact that the short list changes just makes the Booker International Prize even more mysterious, to me.
posted by muddgirl at 7:10 AM on May 19, 2011


[few comments removed - metatalk is your option]
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2011


My sense of this prize (and I could be totally wrong) is that it's kind of meant to skim off the more famous and arguably less contemporary authors from consideration in the "main" Man Booker prize

But I think it's specifically a different pool of writers than the main prize, which is only for "Commonwealth" authors. But I do agree with your general sense of what they seem to be using the prize for. It's a completely different feeling from the other prize.
posted by serazin at 7:54 AM on May 19, 2011


To me, it slotted in wholeheartedly with that weird genre of middle-aged-to-old male, American, bourgeois writers absolutely obsessed with their penises, and who see women first and foremost as vaginas (they might see them as something else later on, but it's vaginas and tits first, every time), meditating on their horrible bourgeois ennui with the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer falling through tissue paper.

If you don't know anyone like this in real life, you may find the book revealing - if repugnant.

I keep coming back to your wonderfully crushing response to Portnoy's Complaint, smoke - a lot of what you say is valid.

Except no one would know from your criticisms that the novel is written as a comic confession by a character who repulses himself.

Or that the critical final sentence in Roth's book (which I won't quote even now in case it spoils someone's pleasure) is one of the greatest Jewish jokes - and last lines - in modern fiction.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:02 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's about as brave as giving U2 a music award. So unlike the decisions on the real Booker.

I think that is a valid objection, and would have been a wiser position for the dissenting judge to take.

Philip Roth is plenty decorated. He didn't need this award. I'm with the give him the Nobel already (or don't) crowd.

I thought The Human Stain was brilliant. The fact that someone could think it was inspired by Weekly Standard editorials seems like nonsense, or again, a bunch of people who didn't actually read the thing.

...

Yeah, this is the novel that features the evil Frenchie deconstructionist woman who is secretly racist and the secretly black professor who gets fired for using the word "spooks." If you don't think those ironies are meant to be some kind of (highly superficial) jab at academic PC culture, you might not have been reading very carefully.


I think it's much more nuanced than that. The main dude ... Coleman's relationship with his cleaning lady and the resulting epiphany is much more of a concern of the book. The "PC police" plot point that starts the main action is not that far fetched to me. Far below my standard suspension of disbelief meter setting.

secretly black professor who gets fired for using the word "spooks."

Since you slighted my reading ability (which is based more on total recollection, of course, since the book is 11 years old), I shall slight yours: he doesn't get fired, he quits.

If I remember correctly, the 3 missing students he calls "spooks" are, in fact, 3 black kids, and some of the other students in his class are offended by the term. The school asks him to apologize, and he is so nonplussed and offended by the notion that he caused any offense that he quits. No?

The whole thing is a reaction to the argument that President Clinton's problems were because he lied, not because he got plochops.

In fact, I haven't read the other two books in the trilogy, but I had understood The Human Stain to be his "purple" book, i.e. he criticized the leftists in American Pastoral, the rightists in I Married a Communist, and then both sides in The Human Stain.

Anyway, I would definitely peg Philip Roth as "conservative" but not politically, and he certainly can't be a Republican, can he?.

[few comments removed - metatalk is your option]

I rather enjoy the passion, but I'm continually amazed at how heated literary discussions can be. No more than music or computer discussions, I suppose.

If you frequent a used book shop, hit those author's sections. In Toronto, those authors' books all turn over very frequently, with most selling in a matter of days.

This is true, at least for the cheaper stuff. I like to score old half-price paperbacks for $1-$2.50 and it's rare to see Roth in there. Bellow, occasionally.

John Gardner is always available. (I also love John Gardner.)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:44 AM on May 19, 2011


a comic confession by a character who repulses himself.

I think sometimes there's sort of an artful bragging in lurid descriptions of self-repulsion. That's certainly true of some Woody Allen's films, where he almost crows, "Look how terrible I am at living!" It's a perfect way to deflect criticism - I can't tell Allen to get over himself because he'd probably agree with me.
posted by muddgirl at 8:46 AM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]



The Crying of Lot 40 became some sort of rallying cry, that semester

That really says it all, doesn't it


Ha! I've never made a typo before that has gotten so much notice. What can I say? On my keyboard, zero is placed extremely close to nine.

I find it suggestive (and...full of pathos) that certain defenders of Roth, Styron, and Mailer seem to consider this typo the best evidence they can muster against their favorite authors' naysayers. ;)
posted by artemisia at 8:48 AM on May 19, 2011


also:

as Tricky tries to deny that he supports sexual intercourse, provoking a group of Boy Scouts to riot in Washington, D.C. in which three are shot. Tricky tries to pin the blame on baseball player Curt Flood and the nation of Denmark, managing to obliterate the city of Copenhagen in the process. After an operation to remove his upper lip sweat gland, he is eventually assassinated by being drowned in a giant baggie filled with water, his corpse in the fetal position. Tricky ends the novel in Hell, campaigning against Satan for the position of Devil.

Totally cookie cutter.

While his plots may not be as imaginative as somebody like Vonnegut, when you get right down to it, Vonnegut is more of a one-trick pony than Roth. Vonnegut is the guy writing the same book over and over again, i.e the universe as he sees it, and he'd likely admit. What's amazing is how well he does it over and over again.

also:

How many people outside of 20th century american literature classes are actually reading Roth, Mailer, Bellow, or Updike?

I was an English major and I never read a single book of Philip Roth's in any of my classes. All of the books I've read of his have been read independently, mostly post-graduation. I like his more recent stuff better.

Everyman is painful writing about growing old and dying. Excellent, if you can take it.

I find it suggestive (and...full of pathos) that certain defenders of Roth, Styron, and Mailer seem to consider this typo the best evidence they can muster against their favorite authors' naysayers. ;)

I make no claims for Styron or Mailer, but the best evidence against Roth detractors is that the man is a fucking wordsmith.

And I actually like Crying of Lot 49 quite a bit too (and read it in 2 separate literature classes) but it's not a great rallying cry for anything but poserdom. Pynchon likely wishes he never published it.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:17 AM on May 19, 2011


I think sometimes there's sort of an artful bragging in lurid descriptions of self-repulsion. That's certainly true of some Woody Allen's films...

Absolutely, muddgirl.

Maybe this is too simplistic - but I can imagine someone saying their new guy was a "Woody Allen type" (meaning like one of his film heroes) - to describe a guy with a humorously self-deprecating nebbish charm.

But if a friend said she'd fallen for a Portnoy type - you'd think her own lack of self-esteem was the problem!

(Personally, I find the calculation behind the self-critical shtick of Allen's movie characters somewhat revolting - as if its sole purpose is to cop a feel!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:39 AM on May 19, 2011


He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book

Still curious about what the "subject" is here that Callil was complaining about.
posted by straight at 11:03 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]



Still curious about what the "subject" is here that Callil was complaining about.


Me too. I've read a decent amount of Roth's work (and am actually about a quarter of the way through Operation Shylock as I write this) and while whether or not one if a fan is obviously a valid subjective choice either way, I think the accusation that Roth just keeps writing the same book over and over or that he visits the same themes in every book is an empty one, at least based on the sampling I've read.

Seriously, if anyone can tell me what the central, unifying theme that connects Portnoy's Complaint (sexual obsession, guilt over sexual urges, mother issues, assimilation of Jews into a largely Christian culture), The Ghost Writer (the development of the creative process of a young writer), Patrimony (aging, sickness, the tragedy of seeing our parents grow from our caretakers to frail and elderly), American Pastoral (1960's political radicalism, how little control any of us have, no matter how successful we may appear externally, over the events of our lives) and The Human Stain (Identity, race, extreme political correctness) is with a straight face I'd be very impressed.

Callil's complaint (no pun intended) almost reminds me of the people who dismiss Howard Stern as "just strippers and porn stars" in the sense that her criticism is so off it actually makes you wonder if she's read more than one of his books, since it's based mostly on what he's most famous for rather than an accurate representation of his overall work.
posted by The Gooch at 9:42 AM on May 22, 2011


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