This 2016 Reading Challenge is giving me an education. Before I encountered it, I really didn’t know much about the National Book Award. So, naturally, I turned to the internet. I found the National Book Foundation’s website.
On the website, the award winners are categorized by decade, and by genre. I have a fondness for mid-20th century fiction, so I looked at the 1960s.
In 1960, the National Book Award for Fiction winner was Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth. I had a vague memory of seeing the movie adaptation, but couldn’t remember anything about it – not even who starred in it. (It was Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw.) I put the book Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories on hold at the library.
The plot of Goodbye, Columbus is, basically, “boy meets girl”. Of course, it’s more than that. It’s about class differences. It’s about being a Jewish American. It’s about a whole lot of things.
The story is told by working-class 20-something year-old Neil Klugman. He lives with his aunt and uncle in Newark, New Jersey. He has a low-paying job at the public library. He’s been invited to a country club by his cousin. There he meets Brenda Patimkin, a wealthy college student. He falls for her, and they date over the summer.
I loved the descriptive style of Goodbye, Columbus.
The first time I saw Brenda she asked me hold her glasses. Then she stepped out to the edge of the diving board and looked foggily into the pool; it could have been drained, myopic Brenda would never have known it. She dove beautifully, and a moment later she was swimming back to the side of the pool, her head of short-cropped auburn hair held up, straight ahead of her, as though it were a rose on a long stem.
There were many parts of the book, especially the dialog, which I read while hearing Ali McGraw and Richard Benjamin’s voices in my head. I guess I remember the movie better than I’d realized.
There’s a nice sub-plot about a young boy, obviously poor – a lower class than Neil – who comes into the library every day to look at an expensive book of Gauguin prints. Neil helps him understand what he’s looking at, and encourages him to get a library card and take the book home. The boy is worried about what would happen to the book if he took it to his neighborhood, so Neil lets him continue to look at it every day, which worries Neil’s bosses.
Goodbye, Columbus is a novella. I enjoyed it. The copy I borrowed from the library included five short stories, each dealing with the topic of being Jewish.
- A National Book Award winner
- A book that takes place during Summer
- A book with a blue cover