“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 room were where I camped out when I wanted a quiet place to be alone to read or to study or to look something up. It was my other Newark home. My first other home.”
Philip Roth on the Newark Public Library
It was a cold, rainy night, but inside the Newark Public Library, a gorgeous Beaux Arts palace of books, the halls were bright with promise and buzzing with excitement. And no wonder! It was an evening tailor-made for book lovers: Beloved native son Philip Roth had generously agreed to locate his massive personal library in his hometown of Newark. To celebrate his amazing gift, the Newark Public Library hosted its inaugural Philip Roth Lecture, which was given by award-winning novelist, Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, NW and On Beauty.
Knowing that Alex is a huge Philip Roth fan, I managed to get two spots for the event, probably just in time, because the hall where it was held was packed. Zadie was gracious and riveting: In a talk called, “The I Who Is Not I,” she swept across the literary waterfront, from Shakespeare to Nabokov to Roth, with wit and ease. In speaking of the influence that the wildly creative and protean Roth had on writers and readers alike, Zadie said the message was simple: “Portnoy exists — be as you please.” Above all, Roth’s writing conferred the “liberty to create free characters.”
Zadie also offered a glimpse into her own writing life. A few nuggets to ponder:
• On craft: “I don’t plan my novels much in general.”
• On truth: “Fiction for me is more of an escape from self than an exploration of self.”
• On lies: “Writers all claim that it’s all fiction, and readers all suspect that it isn’t.”
• On writing in first person: “You have your readers where you want them — in the palm of your hand…. First person opens up the possibility of telling a true lie.”
• On writing: “A creation of effects,” an “imitation of life,” offering “echoes and fragments — this writing can do.”
• On reading: “The original joy of my life.”
Bravo, Philip, well written! Bravo, Zadie — write on!