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Culture

At His Library in Newark, Philip Roth Names 15 of His Favorite Books

Philip Roth is one of Newark, New Jersey’s most famous sons. The novelist was born there, and has frequently used the city as a setting for his books. Now, he’s paying homage to Newark by pledging to donate his personal library to the Newark Public Library upon his death.

In a press release, Roth explained the Newark Public Library’s significance to his own literary development.”During that first year at Newark Rutgers, during the many hours each day when I didn’t have classes, the stacks and the reference room and the reading rooms of the main library were where I camped out when I wanted a quiet place to be alone to read or to study or to look something up,” he said. “It was my other Newark home. My first other home.”

The Newark Public Library will house Roth’s collection in a room designed by Henry Myerberg, which will be furnished with some of the trappings from Roth’s own writing space. (Whether or not they’ll come infused with inspiration is, as of yet, unclear.) Roth’s library, which consists of over 3,500 volumes, will be available for perusal on-site, although visitors won’t be able to check the books out.

A rendering by architect Henry Myerberg of the room that will house Roth’s collection at Newark Public Library. Image by Henry Myerberg

Top on the list of what to look for once Roth’s library makes its public debut? To accompany the announcement of the donation, Roth issued a list of the fifteen works of fiction he considers most significant to his life. The list, which appears below, includes Jewish authors J.D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Franz Kafka, and Bruno Schulz.

Roth’s list: “Citizen Tom Paine” by Howard Fast, first read at age 14.
“Finnley Wren” by Philip Wylie, first read at age 16.
“Look Homeward Angel” by Thomas Wolfe, first read at age 17.
“Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, first read at age 20.
“The Adventures of Augie March” by Saul Bellow, first read at age 21.
“A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway, first read at age 23.
“The Assistant” by Bernard Malamud, first read at age 24.
“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert, first read at age 25.
“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner, first read at age 25.
“The Trial” by Franz Kafka, first read at age 27.
“The Fall” by Albert Camus, first read at age 30.
“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first read at age 35.
“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, first read at age 37.
“Cheri” by Colette, first read at age 40.
“Street of Crocodiles” by Bruno Schulz, first read at age 41.

It’s worth nothing that Roth, who frequently fields accusations of misogyny, included only one female author on the list: Colette. Perhaps as amends, he’s selected Zadie Smith to deliver the inaugural Philip Roth lecture at the Newark Public Library. A library representative explained the lecture was established to thank Roth for his gift; Smith will deliver its first iteration Thursday, October 27th. More information on the event can be found here.

Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture fellow. Contact her at zax@forward.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax

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