Sabbath's Theater

Philip Roth's Stunning Reading On His 80th Birthday

Bob Peterson, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Philip Roth in December of 1968, near his childhood stomping grounds in Newark, N.J.

Happy birthday, Philip Roth! The author is surely sick of hearing that, but on Tuesday night the literati packed into the Billy Johnson Auditorium of the Newark Museum to say it many, many more times, helping the great American author turn 80. The writers Jonathan Lethem, Hermione Lee, Alain Finkielkraut, Claudia Roth Pierpont, and Edna O'Brien took the stage to pay tribute, but they were all outperformed by Roth himself, who "retired" from writing three years ago and vowed not to face the "stringent exigenices of literature" anymore. So he named all the things in Newark, his city, that he won't chronicle any longer—a rhetorical move called paralipsis. He then read the great cemetery scene from his favorite of his novels, Sabbath's Theater, ending with the line, "Here I am." David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, who profiled the author in 2000, said it was "something I'm not likelyl to forget." And with that, death-defying, exited Roth.