Tag Archives: Philip Roth

The New Header Photograph

I decided to update the header photograph of my blog to celebrate my recent transition to Utica, New York. I never feel truly at home in a new place until all of my books are displayed on their shelves, so the new photograph symbolizes my new identity as a Utican. Also, the previous header photograph depicted a shelf from my poetry bookcase, and I felt it was time to go back to paying homage to my first love, fiction.

I chose a photograph of my P-R shelf because it includes representative texts from my favorite subject areas. There is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, one of my favorite African American novels; Alice Randall’s incisive parody of Gone With the Wind, The Wind Done Gone; and a Latino text, Tomás Rivera’s The Earth Did Not Devour Them. There are several queer texts, including John Rechy’s City of Night and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. There is a germinal feminist novel, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Voyeur and two of Thomas Pynchon’s novels represent postmodern fiction while in close proximity with books by one of England’s first novelists, Samuel Richardson. Works by two of my favorite authors from the past, Chaim Potok and Philip Roth, are also present. This shelf would make a lovely autumn reading list for anyone.

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Books Acquired Recently: Desk Copies Edition

Today I received all of my desk copies for the upcoming semester. I’ll be teaching semester one of the first-year composition course, American Literature to 1865, and American Literature Post-1945. It should be a fun semester toggling back and forth between the two American literature extremes! It will make a fascinating contrast.

I already have copies of most of these books, just not the editions that are currently in print, hence the necessity of acquiring the ones listed below.

Bottini, Joseph P., and James L. Davis. Utica: Then & Now. Charleston: Arcadia, 2007.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans. 1826. New York: Penguin, 1986.

DeLillo, Don. Falling Man. 2007. New York: Scribner, 2008.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories. New York: Dover, 1992.

Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories. New York: Penguin, 1999.

McClatchy, J.D., ed. The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage, 2003.

Nelson, G. Lynn. Writing and Being: Embracing Your Life Through Creative Journaling. Novato: New World, 2004.

Poe, Edgar Allen. The Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume I of II). N.P.: Digireads.com, 2012.

Roth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus: And Five Short Stories. 1959. New York: Vintage, 1993.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. 1982. Orlando: Harvest, 2003.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. 1855. New York: Penguin, 1986.

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And Now for Something Completely Different: Books Acquired Recently

D’anna, Lynnette. RagTimeBone. Vancouver: New Star, 1994.

This is yet another of D’anna’s books that have been trickling in over the past few weeks. I am waiting until they all arrive to begin reading them. Summer is a great time for reading a writer’s oeuvre straight through because of the extra time off. I used to spend extended periods of time with authors (Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Samuel R. Delany, and Louise Erdrich, to name a few) a lot, but, with the exception of a brief Theodora Keogh phase last summer, my reading over the past two years has been rather piecemeal. I’m looking forward to re-encountering the luxurious feeling of being enveloped in a writer’s voice for several weeks on end.

Hill, Lawrence. Someone Knows My Name. New York: Norton, 2007.

A colleague told me about this book recently. It’s a neo-slave narrative told from a Canadian perspective, which should be fascinating.

Both books bought via amazon.com’s network of booksellers. These are the last two books I will acquire before I move to New York next week. I pity the movers having to carry all of my books and bookcases!

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Thoughts on the New Site Photo

About a month ago, I changed the cover photograph (to appropriate the Facebook term) of this blog, but I didn’t provide an explanation for the photo, so I thought I would do so now. I decided that it was necessary to have a photo of books from my personal library rather than continuing to use the WordPress photo (which was nice but generic) that had been there since the blog’s beginning. I then decided that I wanted the photograph to be authentic–a picture of the books as they are on the shelf instead of a hand-picked collection of my favorites–and I also wanted it to be visually interesting, if not also aesthetically pleasing. These criteria soon led to the decision that, although I primarily read fiction and it is my favorite genre, the photograph would have to be of one of my nonfiction shelves because I tend to have multiple books by fiction writers (when I like an author, I often read more [if not all] of their work, and because I am a book-buying addict I acquire the books rather than getting them from a library), and I wanted the photo to include as many different authors as possible. The photograph that I chose does include multiple books by two authors, but this is better than a picture of, say, a shelf that solely consists of works by Samuel R. Delany or Philip Roth. I settled on a photograph of the second shelf of my “general nonfiction” section, which includes a selection of books that do a pretty good job of representing the values, subjects, and ideas that are most important to me.

Here is a bit about each book in the photograph:

A History of Modern Latin America–This is one of my old college textbooks. I keep it around mostly for sentimental reasons. If I ever need to look up the date of Peru’s independence, it would be easier to do so online than to flip through the book, but it is important to me to have my Latino heritage (I am half Puerto Rican) represented in my library.

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver–I used this book in two chapters of my dissertation, and it was one of the books that gave me the idea for my dissertation, so it is very important to me even though there is a good chance that I might never read it again.

Boy and Going Solo by Roald Dahl–Dahl’s two memoirs are vivid, engaging reads, especially Going Solo, which tells of his experiences in the R.A.F. during World War II. It is one of the best adventure stories I have ever read.

Heavenly Breakfast, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, The Motion of Light in Water (original edition), and 1984 by Samuel R. Delany–Delany is my favorite author, and I have all of his books except for The American Shore (which is quite rare). They are split between three shelves: one in the fiction section, which is all Delany, one at my office that contains all of his literary criticism, and the shelf in the photo with his other nonfiction.

Having Our Say by Sarah and Elizabeth Delany–This is a memoir by two of Samuel R. Delany’s aunts. I bought and read it because of my love for his work, but the book is quite good in its own right.

Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane Di Prima–This is one of my favorite memoirs because I love reading about late-1950s/early 1960s New York City. I was happy that a Penguin paperback with its instantly-recognizable orange-and-white design made it into the photograph.

Sex for One by Betty Dodson–This is an excellent book about the importance of masturbation and sexual fantasy. Perhaps it belongs in the “gender studies” section of my library, though I’ve had it in “general nonfiction” for a while.

Autobiographies by Frederick Douglass–Douglass is one of my favorite African American authors to teach, so it makes me happy that his book made it into the photograph, albeit just barely. This edition was published by the Library of America, whose books I love.

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Books Acquired Recently

Acker, Kathy. Pussy, King of the Pirates. New York: Grove, 1996.

I really enjoy Acker’s work because of its combination of postmodern form and explicit sexuality. I was wanting to read more of her fiction this summer and saw that Hume’s book has a section on Pussy, King of the Pirates, so I decided to acquire it and read it before beginning Hume.

Hume, Kathryn. Aggressive Fictions: Reading the Contemporary American Novel. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2012.

I bought this book because, aside from sounding fascinating in general (it discusses numerous writers/texts that I like: Acker, Philip Roth, Alice Walker, Chuck Palahniuk, American Psycho…) it has a section on Samuel R. Delany’s novel Hogg, which is generally ignored by critics. It always surprises me a) how often people write about Delany (they just tend not to write about his sex books), and b) how many literary critics have not heard of him at all, as he is a major voice in numerous fields. These two facts seem to contradict one another, but my guess is that most literary critics who have heard of Delany feel compelled to write about him as I do. He is becoming more and more canonical, and deserves to be so.

Both books bought on amazon.com.

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Women Readers and the Crisis of the Male Novelist

Elaine Blair has a fantastic article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books (July 12, 2012) about how the fictional trend of oafish male protagonists has evolved from the work of hoary giants such as Philip Roth and John Updike through the work of present-day writers such as Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Franzen. She points out that, while female readers in the 1960s were willing to read their sexist contemporaries because that’s what one did in order to keep up with the intellectual Joneses, female readers today (who comprise a much larger proportion of fiction readers than they did in the 1960s because all guys want to do now is play video games) are much less willing to put up with men’s misogynist shenanigans, fictional or otherwise. Blair posits that contemporary male authors are aware of this (logical) attitude, and as a result make their male characters so ridiculously pathetic that they are impossible to hate; one just feels sorry for them instead. As a result, maybe female readers will read their books. She shows, though, that this trend is just sexist pandering which leads to a lot of uninteresting novels.

I fully agree with this critique. Blair quotes a David Foster Wallace essay in which he recounts an instance of one of his female friends calling Updike “Just a penis with a thesaurus.” This description is spot on… but damn, that penis sure knows how to get the most out of that thesaurus. I have to admit that I like Updike, and I love Roth (and Wallace, and Franzen). They are my guilty pleasures. I enjoy their writing because I am their intended audience, no matter how much they try to attract female readers. I can’t imagine women enjoying their male characters because I don’t enjoy them either. But I appreciate their truthfulness, and their beautiful use of language.

This raises the question, though, of whether literature that is merely valuable for its formal and/or aesthetic qualities is worthwhile. To read for fun, maybe, but I don’t assign these authors in my classes because they are so off-putting to women. The ideal texts to teach are those which are both aesthetically beautiful and politically engaging–Toni Morrison, Samuel R. Delany, Don DeLillo, and the like.

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