- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

The reign of Roth

Much decorated author Philip Roth believes the culture of the book is dying — the habit of reading from books as opposed to reading on screens — but he keeps on writing anyway.

His next book, titled “Exit Ghost,” taken from stage directions for Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” is due out in October. His last work, called “Everyman” from the 15th century English morality play, just won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction given annually to newly published fiction by American authors.

The award presentation, which took place Saturday before more than 250 people in the Folger Shakespeare Library, involves having the winner as well as nominees read from their works — a reminder perhaps of the importance of the oral tradition in literature as well. It was Mr. Roth’s third win.

“Is three a lucky number?” Mr. Roth was asked during a reception beforehand in the building’s Founders room. “No. Six is,” he answered. Six? “I don’t want to be a hog,” came the joking reply.

He proved himself quite comfortable in his own skin, with an ego well in control when afterward at a buffet dinner an awed guest edged up to him to say, “You think I’d be lying if I told you how much I admired you.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” he answered with a smile.

Runners-up were Charles D’Ambrosio, for “The Dead Fish Museum”; Deborah Eisenberg for “Twilight of the Superheroes”; Amy Hempel for “The Collected Stories”; and Edward P. Jones for “All Aunt Hagar’s Children.” Author-columnist Roger Rosenblatt was master of ceremonies.

“My favorite achievement in my life so far is to lose to Philip Roth,” remarked Mr. D’Ambrosio from the podium. He later confessed how he had brought with him to the event a tattered paperback copy of one of Mr. Roth’s best-known books, “Goodbye Columbus,” owned by Mr. D’Ambrosio’s father and signed by Mr. Roth — to be reinscribed.

Unusual among literary encomiums, the PEN/Faulkner one is based in Washington and supported by a foundation funded largely by local patrons. It’s named for William Faulkner, who used his Nobel Prize money to support and encourage other writers. Award judges are a trio of peers who must pour over some 400 books to arrive at their decision.

“I find it refreshing that it’s not in New York,” Mr. Roth noted in an informal conversation after the readings. His own leisure reading of late has been “books I’ve read earlier in life,” especially Turgenev. He rarely reads any poetry, he said. The task of writing, he confessed, is “a job” that is neither easier nor harder than before. He is at it six and sometimes seven days a week.

Ann Geracimos

Brand new bag

It’s not easy going green, unless, of course, you’re Stella McCartney.

The noted designer and daughter of Sir Paul McCartney is among a select group of couture designers and fashion houses — including Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni — now offering reusable shopping bags that are chic and pricey.

The bags give shoppers an alternative to paper or plastic without sacrificing style.

According to Associated Press, Miss Castiglioni’s foldable nylon bag retails for $843. The McCartney organic canvas shopper sells for $495.

Reusable shopping bags have increased in popularity as cities consider banning the use of certain plastic bags to oblige shoppers to do more for the environment.

While the designer bags are eye-catching, cheaper totes are also grabbing attention. Trader Joe’s sells a $1.99 bright blue-and-green print polypropylene sack. And the “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” by British handbag designer Anya Hindmarch goes for $15, though it has fetched 10 times that much in auctions on EBay.

Compiled by Kevin Chaffee from staff and wire reports.

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