Books: The Name of the Game

During a recent session of Great American noodling, Philip Roth, part-time professor of literature and millionaire novelist, composed a self-interview in which he saw himself both as Henry James and Henny Youngman. James, the 19th century novelist with a mind like a surgical-steel tweezers, revealed the delicate attachments between social conventions and motivation. Youngman, a basic Jewish stand-up comic, is a hammer-and-tongs man who reduces his subjects to recognizable pulp.

Only in America could you fill The Golden Bowl with seltzer and sell it. Few writers have had the talent and self-awareness to...

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