Reading lists

Where to start with Philip Roth

To mark to release of Blake Bailey's celebrated new biography of the literary giant, here is the perfect primer for anyone interested in delving into the work of Philip Roth, from his breakthrough successes to late career triumphs.

A flatlay of some of James Baldwin's most notable works.
Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Philip Roth, as we learn in Blake Bailey’s essential new biography, was a labourer who spent his days turning sentences around until they gleamed. “The idea that you don’t have to work all the time,” he once told a journalist, “that’s news to me.”

He dabbled in other forms – short stories influenced by Salinger and Capote, even drama (“Nobody has written worse plays than me. Maybe Henry James”) – before settling into the medium he perfected, becoming a modern American master of the novel.

Thirty-one books in 52 years were the result of a work ethic that “stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow.” Which might leave the new reader wondering where to begin with an author whose recurring subjects were sex, America and … Philip Roth. Start here.

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