I first met Philip Roth many years ago when I was working at Coliseum Books, on the corner of 57th Street and Broadway. Coliseum was one of the largest bookstores in Manhattan at the time and was the place to go if you were a serious lover of books.
Coliseum was also at the top of the list of places to make an appearance for published authors, particularly best-selling ones. The tiny, grizzled Norman Mailer came by the store, escorted by his statuesque wife, Norris Church, who walked him like a wayward bulldog up the steep steps to the manager’s station, where we had piled copies of his books to be signed. He grumbled but signed them anyway.
Then there was the time that the famous novelist, Philip Roth, stopped by. The store manager, who was starstruck, let him walk up the three steps that led behind the counters where the cashiers and the cash registers were.
There was a long plate-glass window overlooking Broadway behind them, and the early afternoon sun would shine brightly through it. This same sun was now etching a fiery halo around Philip Roth’s head and shoulders as I looked up at him. I was struck dumb by the vision before me. I so wanted to ask him about one of his early books, Letting Go, that had played an important part in my life when I was in college, but I simply couldn’t get the words to come out. He thanked the store manager, turned and left.
He visited the store many times after that, as he lived on the Upper West Side. I’d say “hello” to him, and that was about it. I never did get a chance to engage him in a conversation about Letting Go before he passed away.