Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

This week has me reading The Human Stain by Philip Roth. This is my third experience with Roth, and only my second Zuckerman novel, which means I have only scratched the surface of his work. Still, I suspect it will be a while before I’m tempted to try another one. What’s causing my reserve? Two things. First, two old men sitting around talking about sex doesn’t offer me much in terms of seeing the world from a new perspective, especially when the deepest thing either one of them manages to offer is that the ability to talk about sex means they are true friends. And second, I believe I need some more time with Zuckerman before I’ll feel comfortable with his presence as a literary device. I’m hoping his pertinence to the larger story will become clearer, but at the moment he feels superfluous. Why does the story (or any of the Zuckerman novels) need this additional filter?

My South American reading project continues with Augusto Monterroso’s collection of fables The Black Sheep. These are short, eccentric little tales with surprising moral lessons and twists. Easy to pick up and put down, but also fun to take apart to see what larger idea Monterroso was trying to express.

Finally, I decided to try Anthony Trollope for the first time and got all six of the Barsetshire novels. I’ve dug in to The Warden but it is far too early for me to venture an opinion…

15 Responses to “weekly reading notes”

  1. Smithereens

    “two old men sitting around talking about sex”… for me, Roth was only that and it kept me away from his works for years. But I tried The Plot against America and The American Pastoral and I loved both a lot! Maybe it will get better later in the book??

  2. Biblibio

    I’ve only read one of Roth’s books (“Goodbye Columbus”) and even though I’ve got access to a bunch more, it may take me a while to get mentally prepared for it. And I kind of liked “Goodbye Columbus”, so I’m not fully sure where my problem is… I can imagine what you mean about “The Human Stain”, though.

  3. litlove

    I really enjoyed The Human Stain, but I must say I can’t recall the old men and the sex, as it was the portrait of university life that grabbed me. Not because I agreed with it, but because I thought it said a lot about cultural responses to higher education, particularly with regard to literature. So all of that was very interesting. But I can quite see that Roth is a particular taste, and you might have to be in the right mood to appreciate him!

  4. Amateur Reader

    I just read The Warden, on the way back from Morocco. Maybe I’ll try to write something about it, post Scottish Challenge.

  5. Steph

    I’ll be really curious to hear your final verdict on the Roth – I bought The Human Stain a year or so ago, but it’s been collecting dust ever since. He’s an author I feel I should try and read at least one novel from, though I admit that since buying the book I’ve largely heard less than glowing things about him.

    Also: Trollope! I am trying to read more classics this year and I’d finally like to read something by him!

  6. virtualpumpkinpie

    I’ve never been able to enjoy Roth. In my experience, he just seems so 1970s misogynist…bleh.

    I have read only one Trollope novel – the first of the Palliser novels – and I absolutely loved it! I hope you’ll enjoy The Warden – that will be my next Trollope series after the Pallisers. 🙂

  7. adevotedreader

    I’ve avoided Roth up to now, his treatment of sex has put me off. I have The Plot against America in the TBR pile though, so will overcome my apprehensiveness one day!

    I hope you enjoy The Warden, I’m a great fan of Trollope and the Barsetshire series.

  8. ds

    Zero for three here; Ihaven’t read any of Roth’s Zuckerman novels, and have so far avoided Trollope (must fix both someday). The Montessoro book sounds most appealing. Will have to look for that also. Thank you!

  9. verbivore

    Smithereens – I’ve been thinking about The Plot Against America and suspect I would like it more. I read Everyman, which doesn’t have Zuckerman, and I definitely liked it better than the other two.

    Biblibio – Goodbye Columbus is supposed to one of his best, maybe I’ve just chosen the wrong ones to begin with…we’ll see.

    Litlove – I can see where someone would enjoy looking at the academia portrait in The Human Stain, although I must say that is partly what is bugging me…I don’t see that portrait as representative of American academia, but maybe I’m a little too optimistic

    Amateur Reader – I’d love it if you do, and I’ll hurry to finish it in the meantime

    Steph – I can’t believe I haven’t read Trollope until now. I’ll be curious to see what you think if you get a chance to try him this year!

    VirtualPumpkinPie – I like your term, 1970s mysogenist, that does seem quite a fitting description. I guess I was hoping there would be more to him, or atleast, something else to him that would make it easier to bear the rest

    Devoted Reader – Good news on the Trollope, if you like than I’m sure to enjoy it!

    Ds – I think you’d really like the Montessoro, a lovely, unique little book. Something different than what I’m used to reading.

  10. びっくり

    “ability to talk about sex means they are true friends” kept jumping off the page at me before I gave your post a read. I kept thinking, “I don’t agree with that.” Then I read it and saw that neither did you.

    Black Sheep sounds intriguing. I would not have thought to look for S. American authors otherwise. Thanks for expanding my horizons.

    Also, thanks to all you book bloggers, who I have mysteriously become connected with, I have been cracking more books and actually wrote up some of my opinions. I just finished The Whistling Season and am thinking about what to throw in my bag tomorrow morning for the train ride.

    • verbivore

      I’m curious about The Whistling Season – and will look for your thoughts on it! I’m jealous of your train commute, such great time for concentrated reading!

  11. Stefanie

    I’ve only read Plot Against America and I liked it but it didn’t spur me to read any other books by Roth though I keep thinking I should.

  12. hopeinbrazil

    My goodness! What a leap of faith to buy the six books without having read any Trollope. I personally love him, but have not been able to “convert” any of my friends to his non-action-packed stories. I’ve read twelve of his books but The Warden is my favorite. Hope you enjoy it.

  13. Dorothy W.

    That’s a serious dive into Trollope! I hope you enjoy it. I admire Philip Roth, but I’ve maxed out after a few books as well. He’s a great writer, but the subject matter is only so compelling.

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