Discovering Anne Roiphe

By Melanie Yarbrough

One of my favorite ways to discover new books is to read book reviews, which is another reason to lament the media’s diminishing coverage of books. Fiction Writers Review, The Daily Beast, The New York Times Books section and Paper Cuts blogs are some of my favorite places to keep my finger on the pulse of publishing.

My most recent discovery via The Daily Beast is Anne Roiphe’s new memoir, Art and Madness. I’d never heard of Roiphe before I read the review, but after hearing the woman and her writing described, I knew I had to get it. I opened a new tab and requested it from the library. I’m a third of the way through the memoir, but I’m already itching to buy a copy so I can start making notes in the corners and underlining her most gripping phrases.

The detail that most convinced me that I needed to read this book was her involvement in what I consider the golden age of writing. Tiny apartments hazy with smoke and the pungent scent of whiskey, young children in their bedrooms, spouses with wandering eyes justified by their genius and prolificacy. This is why I’m reading Raymond Carver’s biography, and why I use a typewriter or a notebook; why I meet with a writing group and sometimes feel as though I should take up smoking to make up for the fact that I was born in the wrong decade. But Roiphe’s recounts read like a diary written after the fact, with a kindness toward her younger, impressionable self that does not justify her mistakes. Roiphe uses the narrative style that has shaped her career, relaying the more important emotions that lay under the facts.

Not only have I found a new book to devour, I’ve also found a new voice and thinker to contribute to my perspective of the world. A familiar face in the feminist movement, Roiphe grew up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic, womanizing father and an abused mother. When her own first marriage took on a strong resemblance to her parents’ marriage, she divorced and remarried to Herman Roiphe. Her work is known for its characteristic struggle between family and relationships and career, and her non-fiction contributions to the feminist movement include a woman’s rights to enjoy motherhood. Rather than following the compartmentalizing of parenting familiar to traditional male familial roles, Roiphe encourages a family system where both men and women can take part.

Her daughter, Katie Roiphe, writes a heartfelt and insightful introduction to the memoir, and has also written feminist books such as The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism (1994). I look forward to all of the side discoveries I’ll be making after I finish Roiphe’s memoir, including her earlier memoir about her first marriage, 1185 Park Avenue. If you enjoyed The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, you’ll enjoy Roiphe’s Art and Madness.

What are you reading now? How did you discover it?

[Information on Roiphe found via]

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2 thoughts on “Discovering Anne Roiphe

  1. I am reading Shuck by Daniel Allen Cox. As to how I discovered it, well that’s a slightly convoluted story. I won a copy of Sub Rosa and it came with a catalog from Arsenal Pulp Press. After reading some of the book descriptions, I bought ManBug by George K. Ilsley. I loved it so much, I went back to the catalog and circled stuff I might be interested in. I didn’t much like the next book I got (The Child by Sarah Schulman) but I had already ordered a few other books from them, so I sat down with one of them (Shuck), and I fell in love with it. You can tell I love a book by how many post-it flags I drop in and how much marginalia there is, lol.

  2. And if you’re into works in translation at all, the best reviews of them come from The Quarterly Conversation.

    I highly recommend it. They review many books that are translated into English, along with a few that are written in English.

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