Author Philip Roth died yesterday. I can’t think of a novelist who has had more of an effect on me than Roth. Indeed, I don’t think I fully understood what a novel could be, and what a writer did, before I read Roth. When I am writing and I can’t figure out what to do, I ask myself WWRD–what would Roth do. The work ethic, the imagination, the dead-on ear for human speech and obfuscation, the love of language, all made him my favorite American author.
Above is an interview Roth did in 2004, where he talks about the obligations of writing. He also makes a startling prediction about the fate of novels in the near future. I hope he is wrong.
Thanks to Youtuber PBS NewsHour
It’s nice an even helpful to have an author that you can use for inspiration. For me, that author is Haruki Murakami…
Looks like I’ll have to read some Philip Roth. Any suggestions?
I’d say start off with his first novel, Letting Go. It’s not as well known as some of the others, but I think it gives a very good idea of the kind of writer he is, and it’s one of my favorites. Then, American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, The Ghostwriter, are all very strong mature works.
Thank you. I will order it.
I only read a few of his novels long ago–I remember *Run Rabbit Run (I* still remember some of the scenes!) and another one about Rabbit. Looks like I missed a lot of reading!!
Notice that he stands up when writing. Hmm. I wonder why. Do you stand up when you write also? I don’t. I used to stand up when I did my homework in high school so I wouldn’t get fat sitting. But habit ended long ago.
The fate of the novel will possibly be linked with the fate of physical books. I don’t read many novels myself, preferring non-fiction. But I don’t think that the novel’s days are numbered. We have yet to see where this is all going. Is that overly optimistic??
The Rabbit books were written by John Updike, who in some sense, I guess, is the gentile Philip Roth. (Or is Roth the Jewish John Updike?) I have to confess I only read one of Updike’s books, Couples, years ago, and it didn’t do much for me.
The standing up thing is a health measure: if you’re writing 4+ hours a day, every day, year after year, your back is going to be wrecked if you’re sitting down all that time. A lot of office workers use a “standing desk” as well. It’s supposed to be a lot healthier for you.
I don’t think the printed novel is finished either. Although I don’t think it will ever be what it once was—no one is going to be moved to write The Great American Novel anymore—that’s been replaced by the Great American Film or Great American Netflix Series—there will always be a hardcore of novel readers and writers who continue the conversation of literature that Roth talks about. I have to believe that that will continue. There are things that the word on the printed page does that nothing else does to express who we are.
Yes, he was a terrific writer. I’ve enjoyed a number of his books. I liked his political satires, the Counter stuff, portnoys. The Great American Novel was a brilliant conception. A real writer, all the way.
And I have a special admiration for artists in any field who have just kept on chugging along and doing it and doing it, year after year. I don’t in any way understand how it is possible, but I guess they made some kind of conscious or unconscious commitment to themselves and kept going.
I agree. The artists who are able to maintain a high level of excellence…well, they are the great ones.
Thank you, Jack, for putting this up. I’ve been feeling so sad about his passing. In homage I’m rereading Sabbath’s Theater. The only reading is rereading!
Hi, Evelyn. It’s hard to think that there will be no new Roth books to look forward to. As a writer there was no mistaking his voice in all his books, and yet when considering his whole canon, his novels show a remarkable variety of tone and approach.