Sunday 22 October 2017

Revealed: the greatest living US novelist. . .

It's official: Philip Roth is not only America's greatest living novelist but fully deserves the Nobel prize that the Scandinavians have denied him for the last 40 or more years.

Well, that's according to New York magazine's online cultural site, Vulture, which polled a goodly number of fellow authors – including Salman Rushdie, Bret Easton Ellis and Neil LaBute – on the subject and found that 77pc of them regarded Roth as king of the US literary hill.

As for whether he deserved the Nobel, a massive 97pc thought he should certainly be so honoured, but when it came to whether his books are as misogynist as some feminist accusers think, only 30pc said no, while a sizeable 53pc remained uncertain about his attitude to women. Oh, and the most generally admired of his 27 novels was Sabbath's Theater, which won the US National Book Award in 1995.

Meanwhile, Roth himself, who announced his retirement from writing last November, will be 80 on March 19 and to mark the occasion the PBS network is screening Philip Roth Unmasked, which promises to be an "intimate" profile of someone who usually prefers to hide his real self behind his fictional alter egos.

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Thanks to ebooks, Google and Wikipedia, visits to public libraries throughout the Western world have been declining over the last decade, though such technological aids can never replace the social importance of libraries. And for that reason I commend the recent remark by Anthony Marx, head of the great New York Public Library, who observed: "We are not designed to live alone in caves with computers; we need to get out and meet people."

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If you're in the vicinity of Oxford over the next couple of weeks, you might care to turn up at the university city's literary festival, at which two eminent Irish writers will be speaking.

On St Patrick's Day at noon, Edna O'Brien will be discussing her recent memoir, Country Girl; while on March 25 at 5.30pm Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney will be talking about his life and work.

Irish Independent

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