Philip Roth in his novels wrote about Jewish life of his youth in Newark. Honoring that heritage, Roth left $2 million to his hometown's public library, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The bequest from Roth's $10 million estate shows his faith in reading and literature. Roth stipulated that the money be used to purchase books, not for capital projects. The gift will be placed in an endowment, and $80,000 a year in interest will go to the library to add to its selection of new books.
Before his death, Roth left his extensive book collection to the library. The books, with Roth's annotations, are housed in a dedicated room open to the public.The library also sponsors special events to honor Roth.
Growing up in a prosperous, middle-class Newark, Roth was dismayed by the city's decline in the 1960s and 1970s. During his youth, he often visited the city's public library, which opened the literary world to him.
Fewer children are discovering that world, according to an alarming report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. National tests showed a 3 percent decline in reading ability among eighth graders and 1 percent falloff among fourth graders. Math tests showed a 1 percent gain for fourth graders and a 1 percent drop for eighth graders.
Struggling students keep falling further behind, while those at the top are regressing, the report found.
The declines reverse significant gains in test results from 1990 to 2015, according to reports. Now, as China and other countries tout educational achievements, American students fall behind
Some commentators blamed the reversals on students' dependence on mobile phones, television and computer screens. Others said more and more parents don't read to their children from an early age. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos predictably called for more "school choice" and tax breaks for private schools rather than spending more on public education.
Like Philip Roth, children deserve the gift of reading.