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Remembering Roth

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1 hr and 21 mins In 1977, when he was 28, James Atlas published his first book, a biography of the poet Delmore Schwartz, and was stunned to receive a congratulatory letter from Philip Roth. He had been moved by the tragic story it told. Thus began a friendship that lasted, with a few intervals, until his death. He was living in rural Connecticut then, having exiled himself 1 hr and 21 mins In 1977, when he was 28, James Atlas published his first book, a biography of the poet Delmore Schwartz, and was stunned to receive a congratulatory letter from Philip Roth. He had been moved by the tragic story it told. Thus began a friendship that lasted, with a few intervals, until his death. He was living in rural Connecticut then, having exiled himself from the literary noise of Manhattan in order to focus on his work, and was on his own. He invited Atlas to come visit, which he did - the first of numerous pilgrimages to the Roth homestead. They remained close for nearly two decades, reading each other’s work, wandering the streets of the West Side - he had an apartment on Atlas’s block - and commiserating about the solitary rigors of the writer’s life. Atlas helped Roth with The Ghost Writer; Roth helped Atlas learn how to live. The snag came when Roth suggested Atlas write the biography of Saul Bellow, and then became unhappy with the result, a book that was sympathetic but also tough - perhaps at times too tough - on its subject. Bellow had become his literary hero. They drifted apart, though toward the end of his life they were both thinking about whether Atlas should write his biography. In the end, they both decided it wasn’t a good idea, but Atlas always knew he would write about him someday. Funny, brilliant, raucous, tender, he was the most charismatic person Atlas ever knew. Remembering Roth is his valedictory.


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1 hr and 21 mins In 1977, when he was 28, James Atlas published his first book, a biography of the poet Delmore Schwartz, and was stunned to receive a congratulatory letter from Philip Roth. He had been moved by the tragic story it told. Thus began a friendship that lasted, with a few intervals, until his death. He was living in rural Connecticut then, having exiled himself 1 hr and 21 mins In 1977, when he was 28, James Atlas published his first book, a biography of the poet Delmore Schwartz, and was stunned to receive a congratulatory letter from Philip Roth. He had been moved by the tragic story it told. Thus began a friendship that lasted, with a few intervals, until his death. He was living in rural Connecticut then, having exiled himself from the literary noise of Manhattan in order to focus on his work, and was on his own. He invited Atlas to come visit, which he did - the first of numerous pilgrimages to the Roth homestead. They remained close for nearly two decades, reading each other’s work, wandering the streets of the West Side - he had an apartment on Atlas’s block - and commiserating about the solitary rigors of the writer’s life. Atlas helped Roth with The Ghost Writer; Roth helped Atlas learn how to live. The snag came when Roth suggested Atlas write the biography of Saul Bellow, and then became unhappy with the result, a book that was sympathetic but also tough - perhaps at times too tough - on its subject. Bellow had become his literary hero. They drifted apart, though toward the end of his life they were both thinking about whether Atlas should write his biography. In the end, they both decided it wasn’t a good idea, but Atlas always knew he would write about him someday. Funny, brilliant, raucous, tender, he was the most charismatic person Atlas ever knew. Remembering Roth is his valedictory.

30 review for Remembering Roth

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joe Kraus

    I never got to meet Philip Roth. I never even got to see him read from a distance. I did read him, extensively, and I did get to write and lecture a fair bit about him. (Shameless plug: my summative lecture on his career is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqZf7... ) I was demographically like a lot of his younger friends – that is, like Adam Gopnik and James Atlas, I’m a Jewish writer (Atlas even went to my cousins’ high school – but somehow I never got the chance to hang out with him. I still I never got to meet Philip Roth. I never even got to see him read from a distance. I did read him, extensively, and I did get to write and lecture a fair bit about him. (Shameless plug: my summative lecture on his career is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqZf7... ) I was demographically like a lot of his younger friends – that is, like Adam Gopnik and James Atlas, I’m a Jewish writer (Atlas even went to my cousins’ high school – but somehow I never got the chance to hang out with him. I still regret that, but I’m grateful to Atlas for giving me a sense of what I missed. Above all, there’s confirmation of what I’ve heard often before: Roth was, in person, one of the most charming and magnetic personalities you can imagine. He enjoyed Atlas’s early biography of Delmore Schwartz, wrote Atlas to tell him, and the two became friends. This isn’t long at all – it’s an extended essay as much as an almost-book – but it’s rich in detail about Roth’s humor, in both its good and ill dimensions. My favorite amusing anecdote is from the time Atlas saw Roth sitting to talk with Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. When Roth asked Hernandez how he was able to play so well on the field, Hernandez said, “It’s mental.” When Hernandez asked Roth how he was able to write so well, he answered, “It’s physical.” Another winner comes when Roth asks Atlas to join him in the country with the “rich and famous.” “But I’m neither of those,” Atlas replies. “I know,” says Roth, “but they hate you as it you were.” There are many others, though, and Atlas does a fine job of not overdoing their shared cleverness. It’s two men who enjoyed talking with another. And then, in ways also famously characteristic of Roth, it isn’t. Atlas can’t put his finger on what soured their friendship. It may have been Atlas’s perhaps too aggressive biography of Saul Bellow, and it might just have been Roth aging into irascibility, but they stopped being as close. This part of the memoir works just as well as the beginning. It shows the two continuing their friendship but in strained fashion. In a poignant moment, Roth writes him as “James” rather than as “Jim,” and Atlas sighs at the implication of estrangement. In the end, Atlas is sad to think he’s not one of the thirty friends gathered around Roth’s bedside at his death – thirty being a very large number for a man who claimed so often to be alone, and a number large enough for Atlas to think he might have been part of it. Atlas tells us he was in the running to write Roth’s biography, and I’m confident he’d have done a good job. What we have here, though, is something else. It may be slighter than a full biography, but it seems more personal than any biography could have been. It’s the account of a strong writer coming to terms with what it meant to be friends with one of the great voices of our time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ward Hammond

    Loved it. So inspiring. I learned some great jokes too. And it made me want to read more Saul Bellows, Martin Amis, James Atlas and of course Philip Roth.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erica Clou

    This is really as much or more about James Atlas. Though, okay, fine, I'm interested in reading his biography of Saul Bellow. This is really as much or more about James Atlas. Though, okay, fine, I'm interested in reading his biography of Saul Bellow.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was probably meant for a specific audience, of which I am not a part of. I found the writing pretentious and the author’s viewpoint of the world was fairly off-putting for my own tastes.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tommy Kiedis

    An insightful peek into the complicated journey of friendship and life. Noted literary biographer James Atlas (1949-2019) shuffles down memory lane. We join him as he recounts his perplexing friendship with novelist Philip Roth (1937-2018), considered by some as "the best and most important American novelist in the last 50 years" (New York Times obituary, May 22, 2018). We hear Atlas in his own words. I like that. Atlas is nearing or at 70 when he records Remembering Roth. Sure, there are a few p An insightful peek into the complicated journey of friendship and life. Noted literary biographer James Atlas (1949-2019) shuffles down memory lane. We join him as he recounts his perplexing friendship with novelist Philip Roth (1937-2018), considered by some as "the best and most important American novelist in the last 50 years" (New York Times obituary, May 22, 2018). We hear Atlas in his own words. I like that. Atlas is nearing or at 70 when he records Remembering Roth. Sure, there are a few places where the diction is muddled, but overall I liked it! To me, his voice lends biographical authenticity to his recollections. An interesting side note about James Atlas. Not only is he the author of literary biographies of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow, he also launched the Penguin Lives book series, an eclectic collection which includes Martin Luther by Martin Marty, which I recently read and appreciated. As for Roth, don't read my thoughts, read those of the New York Times. They offer a splendid introduction to his works entitled, If You’ve Never Read Philip Roth’s Books, Here’s Where to Start Read Remembering Roth for what it is, the recollections about a complicated literary mastermind by a fellow writer, who was both critic and friend.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Short and lovely. Free to me with Amazon Audible this month.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark Taylor

    The writer and biographer James Atlas was a friend of Philp Roth’s for 40 years. Atlas wrote and narrated an audiobook in 2019 about his relationship with Roth, Remembering Roth, exclusively for Audible.com. Atlas died later that same year, so it’s fortunate that his recollections of Roth were preserved. After I finished Benjamin Taylor’s book Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth, one of the reviews I read on Goodreads pointed me in the direction of Remembering Roth. While Taylor’s book i The writer and biographer James Atlas was a friend of Philp Roth’s for 40 years. Atlas wrote and narrated an audiobook in 2019 about his relationship with Roth, Remembering Roth, exclusively for Audible.com. Atlas died later that same year, so it’s fortunate that his recollections of Roth were preserved. After I finished Benjamin Taylor’s book Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth, one of the reviews I read on Goodreads pointed me in the direction of Remembering Roth. While Taylor’s book is mostly all pleasant memories, including a touching deathbed scene between Taylor and Roth, Remembering Roth is a tale written by a friend of Roth’s who had an eventual falling out with the author. Atlas first met Philip Roth after Roth sent him an admiring letter about Atlas’ biography of the poet Delmore Schwartz. Roth and Atlas became good friends for several years. Atlas says that their relationship changed a bit after Atlas had children and couldn’t hang out with Philip at a moment’s notice. (This was something I noted in my review of Taylor’s book—Taylor clearly doesn’t have a family, because there’s no one complaining about all the time he’s spending with his buddy Philip.) But the real turning point in Atlas’ relationship with Roth was when Roth suggested that Atlas write the biography of Saul Bellow. (This was when Saul Bellow was still alive.) Atlas became Bellow’s biographer, and over time it became obvious that Roth was nervous about how sympathetic to Bellow the biography would be. When the biography was published in 2000, Roth chose Bellow over Atlas, and attacked the book. It doesn’t seem as though the biography was a hatchet job on Bellow, but Atlas makes it clear in Remembering Roth that by the end of writing the book, while he still admired Bellow’s art, he didn’t actually admire the man very much. From that point on, Roth and Atlas were more of acquaintances than real friends. An odd connection between James Atlas and Benjamin Taylor: while Atlas wrote a biography of Saul Bellow, and was the editor for the Library of America editions of Bellow’s novels, Taylor has edited collections of Bellow’s letters and non-fiction pieces. Atlas does a nice job of describing Roth’s impact in person, saying that Roth was the most charismatic man he’d ever met. Roth was a performer, entertaining his friends with anecdotes and stories. Atlas says at the beginning of Remembering Roth: “Our friendship mattered more to me than to Roth. How could it not?” I suspect that’s often the case when one person is famous and the other is not. Atlas was a fan of Roth’s writing years before he ever met Roth, so the relationship was somewhat off-balance from the beginning. That’s not to say that true friendships can’t develop between famous people and non-famous people, it’s just an assessment of status that might ultimately color the relationship. There’s one odd moment, when Atlas refers to Roth’s “American Trilogy” as American Pastoral, The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America. Every other reference I’ve seen to Roth’s “American Trilogy” replaces The Plot Against America with I Married a Communist. But then Atlas makes it clear he doesn’t care for I Married a Communist, so maybe to him it’s not part of the trilogy? Remembering Roth is an interesting work, and it’s short, less than 90 minutes long. I’d recommend it for fans of Roth, as it gives us a feeling for what Philip Roth was like, and why being his friend might have been a challenging task.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sandy Nawrot

    This was one of Audible's free selections this month, only a little over an hour. I've never read Roth, his work always kinda intimidated me. But he IS a literary legend. But hey, I figured that shouldn't stop me from learning something about him in this tribute to his life. James Atlas (another author I of whom I have no knowledge) was a lifelong friend (and fan) of Roth's, and from this essay you can tell that he so loved and admired him. Unfortunately though, one does got really get much of a This was one of Audible's free selections this month, only a little over an hour. I've never read Roth, his work always kinda intimidated me. But he IS a literary legend. But hey, I figured that shouldn't stop me from learning something about him in this tribute to his life. James Atlas (another author I of whom I have no knowledge) was a lifelong friend (and fan) of Roth's, and from this essay you can tell that he so loved and admired him. Unfortunately though, one does got really get much of a sense of Roth's personality here, except that he was a loner and suffered bouts of depression because of his craft. It is an intimate love letter to their time together but to me, there was a lot that went right over my head. Oh well, it was only an hour. The audio was narrated by the author. I understand why he had to be the one to deliver his message.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dirk

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This is a short audiobook, a little over an hour. I received for free as an Audible selection. At first I found it interesting. However, the stress is on the personal friendship he built with Philip Roth, and you do not get a whole lot of insight into Roth's books or personality, which was what I was looking for since I recently discovered his name. The end of the friendship is sad, but I did not get a incisive analysis why the relationship went bad. It was a mostly personal impression. The messag This is a short audiobook, a little over an hour. I received for free as an Audible selection. At first I found it interesting. However, the stress is on the personal friendship he built with Philip Roth, and you do not get a whole lot of insight into Roth's books or personality, which was what I was looking for since I recently discovered his name. The end of the friendship is sad, but I did not get a incisive analysis why the relationship went bad. It was a mostly personal impression. The message I got was that the author is mostly sad that he did not become Roth's biographer and he was not one of the friends at his deathbed. I do not know either of the writers, perhaps that's the reason why I did not understand why James Atlas' perspective on Roth would be interesting.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Riehl

    I am a huge fan of Phillip Roth and thought that this book might have some interesting things to tell me about the man. There were some interesting lines throughout this work, but I don't think it was as exciting as I had hoped for. Audible was giving this book away for free, and that's how I came across it. This seems more like a letter written to someone who is admired and we, the audience, are not the intended recipient. If it was written that way on purpose, I'm not sure why we should read i I am a huge fan of Phillip Roth and thought that this book might have some interesting things to tell me about the man. There were some interesting lines throughout this work, but I don't think it was as exciting as I had hoped for. Audible was giving this book away for free, and that's how I came across it. This seems more like a letter written to someone who is admired and we, the audience, are not the intended recipient. If it was written that way on purpose, I'm not sure why we should read it. I would recommend to grab it for free, but probably not worth the monetary investment.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kim Johnson

    I’m still confused about the mystery of what plagued this relationship. I find it interesting when an author reads his own work, but this voice took effort to understand. Still, there were a couple of compelling quotes: From Remembering Roth: His job was to turn life into art. There weren’t a lot of openings. There is no life without death.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rod

    Here's a nice treat, I thought...A short little remembrance and I will learn something about Philip Roth as a person. Or about James Atlas as a person. Or something new about the work...of either. Alas, I never felt like I gained any particular insight, except that Roth was very important to Atlas and presumably the other way around, though they both acted sometimes like that wasn't true. Ok. Here's a nice treat, I thought...A short little remembrance and I will learn something about Philip Roth as a person. Or about James Atlas as a person. Or something new about the work...of either. Alas, I never felt like I gained any particular insight, except that Roth was very important to Atlas and presumably the other way around, though they both acted sometimes like that wasn't true. Ok.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Burris

    A brief, very personal collection of memories from Roth’s and Atlas’s personal relationship. It’s less of a look at or appreciation of Roth’s work and much, much more a review of their interactions, both positive and negative. We get a glimpse into how needy Roth could be, also, at times, how demanding, dismissive and unpredictable.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    James Atlas’ personal reflections on Roth z’l are wonderful on the one hand and his emotional closeness to Roth makes it hard for the very short essay to not end up being more about Atlas, on the other. Worth a quick read/listen for insights into the literary relationships of the Twentieth Century, if one cares about such things...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Remembering Roth was an interesting, short Audible Original. I enjoyed the short biographical piece written by Roth’s close friend, James Atlas. I have no background knowledge of Roth and have never reading anything he wrote. I found the short audiobook engaging, but can’t vouch for its accuracy. In any event, it was a good listen.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This is conversational and informal in tone with a light structure. To me it raises the question of whether a writer can ever be at the level of Phillip Roth and also be a friend. James Atlas can consider himself as being a friend toward Roth but the reassurance of a return of warm feelings is based on a smile.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sher

    James Atlas, an author mostly of biographies, was a huge fan of Philip Roth. So when he actually became friends with Roth, he felt honored to know him. This short memoir of their relationship is a bit of an eye opener into the personality and life of Philip Roth, whose writing I have really come to appreciate and enjoy.

  18. 5 out of 5

    AttackGirl

    Audible Original... really? Completely inappropriate and shockingly vulgar. Not appropriate in any forum of civilized society. who cares what a relationship is if you cannot understand what they are saying and the only words made out are vulgar. What is the trash rag low life men read... not even appropriate for that.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Antonia Malvino

    Beautiful. A story of a complicated friendship. For those looking for an exhaustive account of every detail of Roth’s life, this book is NOT it. I enjoyed the language and genuine sentiment. Made me curious about Atlas’s other works.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

    An account of the author's friendship with Philip read by the author. While I enjoy listening to authors read their work, Mr. Atlas is difficult to understand at times. An account of the author's friendship with Philip read by the author. While I enjoy listening to authors read their work, Mr. Atlas is difficult to understand at times.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Donna Ferber

    Just enough of a glimpse into Roth to make me want to read all his work.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Guillermo

    I don't understand the low ratings for this one. And James Atlas's voice isn't distracting at all. I don't understand the low ratings for this one. And James Atlas's voice isn't distracting at all.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Perry

    Remembering Roth is fine—only an hour and a half to get through, and hearing about author’s lives, even from the outside, is always interesting to me. 3/5

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ayibatari Ogounga

    freed from being, entering into nowhere without even knowing it; Hence every man.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    Very good insider/friend of the author. There were alot of personal insights that lend more meaning to his writing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    While I was not a fan of this book, it engaged me enough to want to read some Philip Roth. I'm open to suggestions on where to start! While I was not a fan of this book, it engaged me enough to want to read some Philip Roth. I'm open to suggestions on where to start!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Heather Hartsel

    Interesting story but the narrator was hard to understand.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lyndy Berryhill

    This was an interesting read. That is all. I’m really over Roth’s pompous ass though.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eden's Eve '63

    Literati gossip in guise of biography. Better off reading Philip Roth’s work to understand the author.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Madri

    I liked it, but I think I need to re-read Roth after listening to James Atlas's memoir or his friendship with Roth. I liked it, but I think I need to re-read Roth after listening to James Atlas's memoir or his friendship with Roth.

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