• I’ve Never Read Philip Roth

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 19 comments

    The big lit news this week was the death of Philip Roth. His Great American Novel has been on my list forever, due to the baseball and despite its reputation as not great. I also have friends who swear by his long story or novella “Goodbye, Columbus.” I’ve never read a single word of Roth’s. Not defiantly or anything–it just has never happened.

    I’ve also never read any fiction from a writer often mentioned in the same breath, John Updike.

    While we’re at it, I’ve never read Moby-Dick or any James Joyce novel or To the Lighthouse. I’ve never read The Sound and the Fury, Frankenstein, or Middlemarch.

    1984, Brave New World, War & Peace, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

    I’ve never read any Norman Mailer. Or Madame Bovary. Or a word of Ayn Rand. Or most of Dickens’ work.

    And on and on. We all have famous books we’ve never read, famous authors we’ve never read, and we all always will.

    We regret these things to varying degrees. I don’t regret mine, for the most part–I read plenty of classics and I read plenty of the literary giants and I read plenty of interesting contemporary stuff. Sure, I might feel a twinge of something, maybe a little FOMO, when I hear friends go on and on about how important Roth was to them. But maybe those same friends will feel some FOMO the next time a famous writer dies who they’ve never read.

    We can’t read everything. We can’t even read most of the things. So read what you want, and don’t worry about the rest.

    Your turn:

    What are some of the most famous books and writers you’ve never read but want to?

    What are some of the most famous books and writers you’ve never read and don’t want to? And why?

    Are there any famous books and writers you’ve never read but have pretended to have read? What was the situation?


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    Kenneth Harris

    Your candor regarding unread famous authors Is most refreshing. I haven’t read most of those mentioned but have had them on a mental “must read” list since the Nixon administration. They remain safely unread by me to this day. As for the famous-I-don’t-plan-to-read, Roth and Updike qualify. Shame on me for narrowness of view, but all the reviews and blurbs I’ve read about their work shout “nebbishy Jewish guy in full whine about his nebbishy Jewish life.” I could be wrong. I haven’t read them. There is one very famous book I pretended to read in high school studyhalls; the… Read more »


    Except for James Joyce and Madame Bovary I’ve read the ones you haven’t read…
    Not sure what famous author’s I’d put on the want to/not want to read list…
    A famous author I have read that I wish I hadn’t read is Hemmingway.
    The author I pretended to read for HS English class?
    Mark Twain
    I just couldn’t wrap my head around “analyzing” what seemed to be children’s books.
    shhh don’t tell Mrs. Caruthers ;)

    Barbara Mealer

    There is a lot of famous authors I haven’t read and probably will never read. I like books I can enjoy reading which take me to another world. I haven’t read James Joyce or Atlas Shrugged, The Great Gatsby as those were books which didn’t interest me then or now. I was more of a Michener, Verne, Dickens and Du Maurier type reader. I love variety but I want to be entertained. I’m not one who likes the rants of some authors. You can add a social soap box, but make it a subtle part of the book, not the… Read more »

    Anthony J Barker

    Ha! I pretended to read Moby Dick in high school nearly 65 years ago–our Junior level English Teacher, H. Lincoln Foster, introduced it to the high school curriculum, nationally. He was a wonderful teacher, who profoundly affected my life–but I thought the book was agonizingly boring. I had another look at it recently–and thought the same. Maybe there is an ideal age for reading Moby Dick–somewhere between 17 and 81.

    Glynis Jolly

    I never read Philip Roth either and my maiden name is Roth. I have read Lord of the Flies and a few of Jane Austen’s books, which you mentioned in your email. I have no desire to read War and Peace. If you haven’t read Rich Man Poor Man, you might want to pick it up.

    Kenneth Harris

    Hear hear! Irwin Shaw’s Rich Man Poor Man is a triumph. Highly recommended.

    Carol Bro

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I really should read that since it had such an impact in the ‘60s. (1860s that is.) Also, it seems fitting given my two published novels are both set during the US Civil War. Pride and Prejudice is the only Jane Austen novel I have read, but I’m embarrassed to say I don’t share the world’s enthusiasm for it, especially where Mr. Darcy is concerned. I haven’t read any Harry Potter, nor J. R. R. Tolkien. ? Every once in a while I decide I should concentrate on a few of the classics that I’ve missed. But… Read more »

    Carol again.

    Oh. And as to your last question: I did a book report in high school on Dr. Zhivago. I hadn’t read it and got my information from the back page blurb – rewritten, of course, and embellished to make it my own. I got an A+ with a very nice note from the teacher. I still feel guilty to this day!

    Elissa Malcohn

    I have an ongoing struggle with Proust. I think I started reading In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past) about 30 years ago and before long I was tearing my hair out. Then last year I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (free download from Internet Archive), which placed Proust within the context of French culture of his day, especially with respect to anti-Semitism. I decided to give the work another try, this time with that added sensibility. I got further than I had the last time! I haven’t given up entirely, but I’ve turned to… Read more »

    Dana S. Frank

    David, you kill me. I have to say, though, that I love Philip Roth. I read The Human Stain and was floored by his sentences. They are long and complicated, but they hold together beautifully. I admire that. It is present throughout his oeuvre. I admire his technical skill and also his handling of complicated and intense subject matter. I learn a lot when I read Roth. Perhaps I learn a lot about myself. I’m going to say you need to go ahead and give Roth a shot. I don’t think you will regret it. Thank you for your missives… Read more »

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