Book Worm: Make way for the literati, Roth and Prose

September marks the start of Author Events Season, which will feature more book signings and discussions than you can read about.

The beginning of autumn means a lot of things in the United States: kids return to school, the football season kicks off and the covers of People and Us Weekly start to feature political candidates instead of celebrity beach photos.

Somewhat less well known, however, is that this time of year also marks the beginning of Author Events Season. In the coming months, Philadelphia will play host to countless authors — and has already begun to do so. If you were well-informed enough to snag one of the free, but long-gone, student tickets to columnist Thomas Friedman’s appearance at the Hyatt yesterday, I jealously congratulate you.
As The Temple News’ book columnist-in-residence, it’s my job to make sure that you, the vast and varied reading public, remain informed about these events in a timely manner. To that end: what are you doing tonight at 7 p.m.? If you’re free, how about checking out award-winning author Philip Roth’s free “virtual discussion” at the University of Pennsylvania’s bookstore at 36th and Walnut streets?

Author of the 1960 National Book-winning Goodbye, Columbus and 1997’s Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral, Roth may be best known for his controversial 1969 bestseller, Portnoy’s Complaint. Tonight’s event, however, will focus on Roth’s latest novel, Indignation. The story of 19-year-old Marcus Messner’s flight from his overprotective New Jersey childhood to sex, adulthood and Winesburg College, Ohio should ring true to college students today — even if it’s set during the Korean War.

Though the “discussion” is sure to be an interesting one, don’t expect to contribute all that much to it: Roth will be appearing live from New York, where he’ll be interviewed by fellow author Ben Taylor.

Alternatively, since perhaps a few hours’ notice is cutting things a bit tight, consider Francine Prose’s Sept. 18 appearance at the Free Library’s Central Branch at 7:30 p.m. Prose will be appearing in support of Goldengrove, her fifteenth work of fiction and an “Best of the Month” selection for September.

The aptly named Prose is a National Book award-nominee, ­the New York Times best-selling author and president of the PEN American Center. In short, she’s sort of a big deal. The bad news? You’ll have to shell out $7 for a student ticket (hey, general admission is $14). The good news? It’ll probably be worth every dollar.

Lauded by book critics, Goldengrove is expected by some to take its place among great coming-of-age stories in American literature. In it, the young Nico grapples with both her own blossoming sexuality and the death of her beloved older sister. Goldengrove is by turns depressing and heartwarming, but so is adolescence.

Though this event will focus on Goldengrove, getting Prose off topic could well yield a treasure trove of literary anecdotes. In addition to her own literary talents, Prose’s position as PEN American Center president places her in charge of an organization that counts a good number of important authors among its past and present membership, including John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates and even the aforementioned Philip Roth. She is also dedicated to promoting freedom of expression and combating censorship worldwide.

In short, she’s probably got some good stories to tell.

Peter Chomko can be reached at

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