NEWARK – Philip Roth was not valuable for the books in his personal library.
When he died in 2018, he left over 7,000 annotated paperbacks and hard covers, most of them stowed away in the built-in shelves of his Upper West Side apartment and home in Warren, Connecticut. He gave them to Newark Public Library, and when Nadine Sergejeff, the librarian in charge of what would become the Philip Roth Personal Library, looked at what she had, she found treasures.
The books were stuffed with marginalia, as if Roth was having conversations with the writers or making grumpy observations about inconsistencies in their work. But the books were also crammed with letters – sometimes correspondence between Roth and the authors, other times messages that had nothing to do with the book. Sergejeff also found shopping lists, travel itineraries, pressed flowers, candy wrappers, toothpicks and straws.
“All the stuff you find at the bottom of a purse,” said Rosemary Steinbaum, administrator of the Newark library. “He really used his library. He really lived with it and used it.
This collection, now housed in an elegantly restored room in the Newark Public Library, opens to the public this week. Roth, who was born in Newark and has written about it often, chose the location, selecting what was once storage space for art books.
There visitors will see approximately 3,700 books from his personal library, including a four-volume set on the history of the presidential elections, several copies of “The Trial” by Kafka and an annotated edition of “Incredible iPhone Apps for Dummies” on one of the highest shelves.
The library might be of particular interest now, given the publication and ensuing controversy surrounding Roth’s authorized biography, and the desire of some scholars for more access to correspondence and other material giving a glimpse into his life and work.
Here are some of the exhibits.
Roth owned several typewriters, including this model Olivetti Underwood, although Sergejeff said he also wrote his books by hand and sometimes on a computer.
Roth once asked his brother, Sanford, an artist known as Sandy, to draw the floor plan of their childhood home. The drawing, which Roth referred to while writing his 2004 novel, “The Plot Against America,” was displayed on the wall of his living room in Manhattan.
When Roth was a camp counselor at Pocono Highland Camps, Steinbaum said, he had a summer romance with another counselor named Micki Ruttenberg. She told Steinbaum that one day at the camp, after reciting a stanza from the Persian poem “Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám” in an attempt to impress her, Roth, who was 19 at the time, presented her with this. list, titled “How to do Micky [sic] an intellectual ! His recommendations included George Orwell, Truman Capote, and Marcel Proust.
Roth’s mother, Bess Roth, has compiled newspaper articles and other newspaper clippings about him. Only one of his albums is on display, but the library has seven.
Visitors can see the top hat that novelist Saul Bellow wore on the night he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.
A copy of “The Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller contains Roth’s Post-it notes and markings.
The inside cover notes of “The Nightmare Decade” by Fred J. Cook include the names of characters from what would become Roth’s 1998 novel, “I Married a Communist.”
Some of the furniture from Roth’s Connecticut writing studio is also on display, including his standing desk and Eames chair.
Dried flowers have been found pressed inside books on plant species. Roth and Julia Golier, one of his literary executors, were walking around with the books around his Connecticut home so they could identify what they were seeing.
Most of the notes on this draft of Roth’s 1983 novel “The Anatomy Lesson” were his own, but at least one note was made by Joel Conarroe, a writer and longtime friend of Roth, who made it up. Don.
Roth didn’t seem to like this edition of “Down and Out in Paris and London”. Next to a New York Times Book Review quote on the cover, Roth wrote, “Stupid quote.” On the back, where the jacket described George Orwell’s book as “that unusual novel – largely autobiographical,” Roth scribbled: “It is do not a novel.”