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Alec Baldwin among the readers at a free, midday tribute to Philip Roth

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - As he prepared to read from the Philip Roth novel "The Plot Against America" on Tuesday, Alec Baldwin looked to the table on his left and checked out the author's photos on the Roth books arranged in a semicircle.

"Look how handsome he is," Baldwin said of the dark-eyed novelist, famous for such ribald fiction as "Portnoy's Complaint" and "Sabbath's Theater."

"If I looked like that, I would have written books with a lot of sex in them, too," Baldwin said.

Baldwin and fellow actors John Rothman and Paul Carlin were featured at a free midday event in Manhattan, reading from three Roth novels: "The Plot Against America," ''Portnoy's Complaint" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Plot Against America." Hundreds gathered at Temple Emanu-El for a tribute co-sponsored by the Library of America, which publishes hardcover editions of classic literature, and by the cultural advocacy project Toward International Peace Through the Arts (TIPA).

While the 80-year-old Roth is the only living novelist to have all his work released by the Library of America and has received more than a table's worth of prizes, a temple seemed an unlikely setting for praise. Roth is a longtime non-believer whose books were often criticized by Jews for reinforcing Jewish stereotypes.

But the day's first speaker, Rabbi Joshua Davidson, spoke warmly of Roth and the author himself had planned to attend before falling ill last week. Still recovering from an infection, Roth sent a note of apology, lamenting that a "microbe made a deal with my intestine and knocked me down."

Roth added, "Down, but not out."

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