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>Dreaming In Literature: Philip Roth Comes Calling

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As soon as I opened my door and saw that it was Philip Roth, the first thought that flashed across my brain wasn’t OMG! It’s Philip Roth! or Did he do a book tour of Korea and I somehow missed reading about it? No, what came to mind was a panicky: Oh shit…I haven’t read American Pastoral yet!
I let him in — him and his little dog, too– for he was carrying a yappy little white dog. I think it was a Maltese. He said that its name was Daphne. I told him that I once had a dog named Daphne, too. I didn’t. I was lying to Philip Roth.
Preparing a cup of honey lemon tea and a plate of little dessert cookies for Roth and a dish of water and a plate of canned tuna for Daphne, I really felt the sweat coming on. I’ve read three or four of Roth’s novels, but I’ve also given up on a couple. I tried to read Portnoy’s Complaint back when I was in high school. I was bored by it, and quit. I suspect that some of Portnoy’s uh, preoccupations went over my head. In any case, I couldn’t relate at 15 or 16. Then, somewhere around 20, I tried to read The Breast, which is a novella about a guy named David — I think he was a professor, but I’m not sure — who completely turns into a breast. I hadn’t read any Kafka yet, and I thought it was the stupidest and grossest thing I’d ever read in my life. That put me off Roth for years. Even later, I never really could warm up to his writing. But now that he was sitting in my apartment, I couldn’t tell him that.
I was hoping that Roth would enjoy looking at my shelves, (Larry McMurtry would have!) but no, he wanted to get right to the point. How many of his books had I read and how did I feel about them? Deep breaths. I suddenly had a flash of insight: Everyone wanted to talk to him about Portnoy’s Complaint, right? He was probably bored to death by that! Okay, then. I wouldn’t mention Portnoy.
Pablo…I had to get my bookish buddy Pablo from Gumi on the phone. Last year, he’d been asking me about Roth, and I told him that for me, Roth was like the little girl with the curl, so he asked to borrow what I had, and returned those novels raving with delight. Somehow, Pablo needed to get a train and get here in a hurry. He’d read American Pastoral. After that, he went out and bought Everyman, and was delighted by it. Best of all, Pablo had an English accent. Philip Roth would be impressed.
I tried to slip off to the bathroom to call Pablo, but Philip Roth kept talking to me, his dark eyes boring into me over his tea mug and I couldn’t manage to politely excuse myself for a couple of seconds. Maybe I could offer to take Daphne for a walk? Philip Roth brusquely told me to sit down. I was screwed. If I dared to bring up Claire Bloom, would he storm out?
I stammered out that I had completed four of his books: Goodbye, Columbus, When She Was Good, The Human Stain and The Plot Against America. I decided to dwell on When She Was Good, since hardly anyone ever mentioned that book. But I couldn’t remember the details! I couldn’t talk about Goodbye, Columbus, either. I hated it; I couldn’t imagine how it helped make his literary reputation. Feeling desperate, I was about to ask him if The Plot Against America was going to be made into a movie. My mouth was utterly dry. Then I noticed that Philip Roth was glaring at my copy of American Pastoral. Then he glared at me. Then I woke up.
In case this is a recurring dream, I’ve got to go ahead and read American Pastoral.

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