Yogi Berra’s baseball bat and a $17,500 typewriter: a visit to the auction of Philip Roth’s estate

The great American novelist died last year and a huge stash of personal effects went on sale last week. J Oliver Conroy get along

About 10 year ago, Philip Roth invited his friend Russ Murdock- the longtime keeper of Roth’s agricultural Connecticut dwelling and, as he got older, of Roth himself- to carve his headstone. Roth told Murdock, a stonemason, to model it on Albert Camus’s: exactly names and times, in simple block letters, etched into a stone Murdock last-minute dig up on the property.

Then, last spring, Roth, who had a heart condition and preferred to spend winter in New York, emailed Murdock saying he intended to be back in Connecticut for Memorial Day,” if this old carcass will let me “. It didn’t: he died a few weeks later aged 85.

I met Murdock at the auctioneer of Roth’s manor, held last Saturday at an auctioneer house in Litchfield, Connecticut. Roth was married twice and had many sweethearts, but he died unmarried and with no progenies. Once, a girlfriend of Roth’s, feeling him lonely, opened him two kittens. He adored them but soon sacrificed them back, “says hes” distracted from his work.

Although Roth is indelibly associated with Newark, New Jersey, he divided much of his adult life between his apartment in New York and an 18 th-century farmhouse in Warren, Connecticut. With its pony farms, stone walls, unpretentious but expensive colonial residences, and Unitarian faiths, the area is suspiciously similar to the austere New England hermitage of the ageing writer EI Lonoff, whom Roth describes, in The Ghost Writer, as living quietly” in a clapboard farmhouse” at” the end of an unpaved artery 1200 ft up in the Berkshires “.

In a 2000 New Yorker chart, David Remnick described Roth’s visits to New York as” periodic raids on Babylon”, and Murdock told me that the writer was a kind of convivial monk: focussed above all to his office, obsessively penalty and devoid of pastimes, but developing occasionally like a groundhog from its lair to tell jokes and photograph the shit. At the Murdocks’ annual pig roast, his father and Roth would complain about their ailments to one another. Most of the patrons “d no idea” who Roth was.

Philip
Philip Roth poses at his home in Warren, Connecticut, in 2005. Photograph: Douglas Healey/ AP

Murdock, who the hell is his early 60 s, is a conservative, small-town Yankee with a pistol admit who dislikes cities. He has done so New York only twice in their own lives- once, in an emergency, to drive Roth to his cardiologist, and formerly for the writer’s monumental service. He concluded it upsetting to watch the” Sotheby’s people” stomping through Roth’s live after his death, allocating monetary values to his effects.

The Newark public library will receive Roth’s massive record collect, so the remaining estate was mainly furniture- Roth liked it solid, wooden and brown- and a few cases personal effects. His shortwave radio started for $450, his old-school voicemail rig for $250, and someone forked over $550 for his Samsonite rolling luggage- still marked, the auctioneer noted, with his name and address.

The heavy-hitting buyers were anonymous and bid electronically. The in-person crowd of about 60 beings, clothed in pastel sundresses, tortoiseshell glass and contrast-collar dress shirts, sounded more interested in spectating than buying.

The crown jewels of the sale were the typewriters: a workhorse Selectric led for $4,800; Roth’s Olivetti, in its original lawsuit, for $17,500. Since he had no family, the money will go to an unnamed charity.

Roth was ” a bullet” and had a” corrosive sense of humor”, Murdock told me as we sat in the cab of his pickup. He has spoken most of Roth’s notebooks and says Roth’s reputations sometimes bear the names of Connecticut townspeople he shunned. When he asked him about it, he says Roth merely smiled and said:” If you sit by the river long enough, you can see the bodies of your enemies float by .”

In its obituary, the New York Times called Roth” the last of the great white males”, a testament to his enormous literary prominence- he wrote 30 bibles and earned every major literary accolade beside the Nobel- but also an acknowledgement that some critics have accused his writing of sexism.

The writer Emily Gould coined the quotation” mid-century misogynists” to describe Roth and peers like Norman Mailer and John Updike, though she also said she enjoyed Roth’s notebooks and revered their exuberant and “unrepentant” excellence. In a 2009 essay, the writer Katie Roiphe argued that Roth and his compatriots were preferable over the “self-conscious paralysis” and more insidious sexism of contemporary male novelists. For his part, Roth credited the National Organization for Women with improving his bible sales.

At his death, Roth was the most famous living Jewish writer. His writing comes back again and again to Jewish themes; his dialogue is salted with Yiddish. Portnoy’s Complaint, the book that constituted him far-famed- or abominable- is a monstrous oedipal joke about a sexually disheartened Jewish boy who at one point has copulation with a piece of liver- which their own families afterward devours for dinner.

But Roth thought of himself as an American novelist , not a Jewish American novelist. The central questions and anxieties of his writing concern what it means to be American. As Elizabeth Pechoda wrote recently in the Nation, he” was the bard not so much better of Jewishness but of Americanness, of belonging and patriotism “.

One of Roth’s most prized wealths was a baseball bat once owned by Yogi Berra, who played for the Newark Bears before joining the Yankees. It sold for $4,000. Murdock told me Roth maintained it bending against the wall of his house as a guard against burglars.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ books/ 2019/ jul/ 25/ philip-roth-auction-estate-sale-connecticut-books

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