From Philip Roth’s home to mine: on buying a piece of his estate

Since reading Portnoy’s Complaint sometime back in the 90s, I’ve never been a Philip Roth fan. But tell me he’s dead and they’re selling his stuff, and I’m all over it.

I blame it on Twitter: specifically, author and Chicago Tribune “Biblioracle” columnist John Warner, who, on that fateful day, tweeted he’d won an auction for Philip Roth’s alarm clock.

Wait. What?

It was Saturday, July 20. I work part days on Saturdays, and to stave off the boredom and resentment I always have my phone next to me, left hand scrolling Facebook and Twitter limitlessly. Running bang up against John’s tweet, I grabbed the URL for the Roth estate auction.

Ebay made up the entirety of my previous auction experience. I used to drop in once in a while, to snap up old Penguin paperback editions and the occasional oddity, like a postcard from the town in the Netherlands where my family hailed from — hey, big spender.

Litchfield County Auctions is the real deal, where the rich go to pick up Persian rugs and Chippendale armoires. I felt like someone’s hick relative in overalls, sucking on a piece of straw. But such is the beauty of the internet: “belonging” there only means I haven’t reached the limit on my credit card.

It was phenomenal, like someone had taken Roth’s house just as he’d left it, turned it on its side and shook every, single damn thing out. You name it, they sold it. There were ratty old afghans, lamps and tables, fine collectible Chinese vases and figurines, paintings and so many silver pieces. So many.

As it was a live auction, all I had to do was shove my credit card information at them, watching as each item came up and bidding commenced. While some things went for tens of thousands, a few bits and bobs, I noticed, were quite affordable. Tentatively, I hit the bid button for a couple vases. When they rose too high for my blood, I went on to a Chinese figurine. Unwilling to chase it over $ 100, I scrolled ahead to upcoming items.

Then I saw it: a Chinese reverse painting on glass.

I had only the vaguest idea what “reverse painting” meant, but it was lovely and the estimated sale price was in the range I was willing to spend. I watched as one person bid, then another. It wasn’t getting a lot of attention; I held my breath. When last call!, then final warning!!! popped up I swooped in and bid as the gavel came down.

I imagined the glowing face of the high bidder as the auctioneer was ready to call it, mentally measuring out the place he’d hang it next to the fireplace, his new “Roth niche.”

Then, BAM!

“You’ve been outbid, sucker!”

All’s fair in love and auctions.


My impression of Roth’s writing, aside from the narrow scope of my experience with Portnoy, was that he’s a man’s writer. And when I say man’s writer, I’m staring squarely at Ernest Hemingway — poster boy for excess testosterone. Not that I imagine the scholarly Jewish writer had a penchant for big game hunting, nor that he regularly got toasted and ripped off his shirt in his editor’s office, as Hemingway was wont to do.

Roth was a bit more restrained. Just a tad.

Fairly or not (probably not), judging him solely based on a novel about a young man’s obsession with masturbation, I’ve always believed he’s a writer obsessed with sex.

Before you start going all feminist on me, I know full well women have written about sex. I have no issue with that, but, to my knowledge, none have done so quite so famously as Roth, at least not on the topic of young men and masturbation. And I’m not only not interested in young men and masturbation, I actively avoid it.

Perhaps I should use the word masturbation one more time in this post, what do you think.


Hey there, fella. You’re one magnificent bastard.

Since the Roth item arrived, I’ve begun researching his life and work, reading reviews and watching interviews on YouTube. Though it pains me to say it, I may have rushed to judgment. Philip Roth wrote some 30ish novels. The more I read, the more it behooves me to investigate him further before making up my mind he’s not my thing, if for no other reason than I own one small piece of his estate.

That I bought on impulse. Because Twitter made me.

Meanwhile, I have a lovely Chinese reverse painting on glass I need to hang in my Philip Roth niche. I don’t have a fireplace, but I do have an Ikea dresser. Chippendale it ain’t, but what did we decide about “belonging”?

It’s all about having room on your credit card.

January in Review: Books and Bitchery

 

Snowy January night

 

The only thing worse than January is…. drum roll… February!

The second month of the year tends to be colder in Chicago – colder and snowier. Plus, you think hey, March is around the corner, so it’s almost spring, right? Nope and nooooope. March may have stray warmer, sunnier moments here and there, but it’s nowhere near actual spring. Neither’s April. Nor at least half of May. True spring arrives in Chicago in June.

Yippee! Four months to go.

January was pretty much a pisser. I fractured my rib on New Year’s Eve, my mood took a deep, dark dive, I found out my cracked crown (I didn’t even tell you about that!) is hiding unadulterated evil in its depths, and I may lose the tooth – or the periodontist will drill into my jaw, in an attempt to save it, and my job has become a cesspool of stress.

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Books Read: January 2018

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

It’s All Relative by AJ Jacobs

The Comforters by Muriel Spark

Robinson by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

 

Reading was a saving grace. Well, except for Memento Mori, which I disliked intensely. My new home library grows apace, expanding past the three bookcases I bought initially. It’s time for a couple more; I have so much space here it’s insane.

For the Bowie project, I had to bail on Hawksmoor. I’d joined Audible for the first free month to have a crack at it, but was so afraid I’d forget to drop it and wind up socked with a $ 14.95/month bill I panicked and dropped it.

I do a lot of panic dropping.

The next Bowie book is James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, very readily available. I’ll try to catch up with them in March, schedule allowing.

I watched a few good films, binged a Netflix series or six (Stranger Things (season 2), Glow, The Magicians (gave up),  Black Mirror (I’ve seen all the seasons – OMG!), Alias Grace (OMGG!), Portlandia, re-watched The Office for the five hundredth time – it’s great to sleep to since I practically have it memorized). I’m going to sign up for Hulu, at least for the free month. I never got to see that last episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.

My inability to get going on my 2018 journal is a scourge. Aside from Bluestalking, I haven’t done much writing. My Moleskine notebook and custom-made leather-bound journal barely made it off the ground. I refuse to beat myself up about  that. Looking back at January, I’m fairly impressed with myself. I’m adulting, getting things done. Gainfully employed, my bills are paid. My home is warm and inviting – the downstairs, at least, the upstairs has no furniture but beds – and my life has decent balance.

I am a work in progress.

Realizing I’ve spent long enough at my current job, my resume has been cast to the winds. One preliminary library interview under my belt, I’m hoping for a call back next week. If I get this job, I’ll burrow more deeply, putting down roots. Uncertain I want to stay in Chicago for good, that would absolutely ensure I’m here at least a couple more years. Longer, if it pans out.

Restlessness is my Achilles heel. Still a little de-stabilized, I get that. Presented with a wide-open world, I want to grasp it all. Trouble is, you’ll never be happy if you don’t learn not to always want the other.

I need to bloom where I’m planted.

Chicago is no slouch. There’s much here I’ve yet to explore – the American Writers Museum, for one. How have I not been there? We have our share of literary history, including: Hemingway, Richard Wright, Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair. Bereft we’re not. And the architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright!), the symphony and opera houses, the museums and ebullient spirit of one of the world’s great cities.

 

Oak Park, IL

 

It’s not impossible I’ll move away. But for now, word is a person can take vacations to beautiful places without putting down roots there. Or marrying natives. That great, wide world isn’t going anywhere.

Maybe January wasn’t such an awful month. Challenging, sure. But looking back from where I sit, I’m feeling oddly satisfied.

Bring it, February.