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Signed Roth Books Pull Big Bucks at Auction

Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral raise more than $130,000

Stephanie Butnick
December 04, 2014
Philip Roth's annotated first-edition of 'American Pastoral.' (Pen American Center)
Philip Roth's annotated first-edition of 'American Pastoral.' (Pen American Center)

Philip Roth’s signed, newly-annotated first-editions were the stars of the show at Christie’s “First Edition, Second Thoughts” auction this week, a fundraiser which pulled in $1 million for the PEN American Center. Roth’s marked-up first-edition of American Pastoral went for a whopping $80,000, the highest price of the night.

According to the New York Post, art gallerist Edward Tyler Nahem was the lucky winner of Portnoy’s Complaint, coughing up $52,000 for Roth’s 1969 novel. “When ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ came out, I could barely afford the paperback,” Nahem told the Post. “It was then, and may remain, the ultimate Jewish boy’s bible.”

Roth himself, who in the margins of that first-edition admitted to being “shocked and pleased” as he reread the book 45 years later—”shocked that I could have been so reckless, pleased that I was so reckless,” naturally—would likely be pleased with Nahem’s assessment.

Tony Kushner, who contributed a copy of Angels in America and later added parts of a written-on script for Lincoln, brought in $32,000 for the literary institution. The night’s other big winners included Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, which fetched $26,000, and Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which went for $57,000. Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam brought in just $4,000.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.