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Philip Roth On Writing, Awards, and Napping

A few years ago, Philip Roth hung up his pen/typewriter/keyboard and retired from writing novels.

For a guy that’s won a Pulitzer and a ridiculous amount of other awards, and for a guy who’s written a crapload of highly acclaimed novels, that’s significant.

Not long after his retirement, NPR sat down with Roth for an interview. And, as you would expect, he uttered brilliance. Some great quotes from the interview (all interview quotes via NPR):

On Writing A Novel

Solving the problem of the book you’re writing always remains hard work, and your progress is snail-like. Even if you write a book in two years, sometimes you get a page a day, sometimes you get no pages … every sentence raises a problem, and essentially what you’re doing is connecting one sentence to the next. And you write a sentence and you have to figure out what comes next or what doesn’t come next.

On Retiring From Writing Novels

Roth says that now, when someone tells him a story, he no longer mines it for possible material, no longer takes notes or analyzes the narrative. “It was a constant mental activity, really. And now I just listen, and it’s quite nice. I go home and go to sleep,” he laughs. “It was on my shoulders all my life, so I really didn’t even know it was on my shoulders. But it’s, you know — there are many jobs that are hard, this is one of them, and I did it very diligently, and I struggled with it, which is what you do.” Roth adds that he doesn’t know any writer to whom the craft came easily. “Maybe John Updike. A story would just seem to come to him whole, you know, out of a personal experience. But the rest of us I think are not so lucky, and I had to work hard.”

On Awards

Some mean a great deal to you,” he says, “and when the prize befalls a certain book that you like particularly, it’s wonderful. But look, receiving a prize excites the child in you, and then you go back to work the next day.”

On Napping

Let me tell you about the nap,” he laughs. “It’s absolutely fantastic. When I was a kid, my father was always trying to tell me how to be a man, and he said to me, I was maybe 9, and he said to me, ‘Philip, whenever you take a nap, take your clothes off, put a blanket on you, and you’re going to sleep better.’ Well, as with everything, he was right. … Then the best part of it is that when you wake up, for the first 15 seconds, you have no idea where you are. You’re just alive. That’s all you know. And it’s bliss, it’s absolute bliss.”

Great stuff. I like this guy.

In related news, PBS recently aired Philip Roth: Unmasked, a full-length piece that’s part of its American Masters series. You can actually watch the full piece over at their website.

Any Philip Roth fans? Which books of his have you read?

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lovely stuff. Roth’s one of my top 5 authors without a doubt. Hard to pick a favourite, but The Human Stain has to be up there.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
    • That will be the next Roth book I read when I get a chance.

      Like

      May 16, 2013
  2. francesclarke07 #

    Coincidently just finished reading Portnoy’s Complaint a couple of weeks ago! My first Roth experience, and it sure was interesting! I can tell he has a truly great mind, one of the greats.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
    • What did you think? The over-the-top lewdness is a bit much for me.

      Like

      May 16, 2013
      • francesclarke07 #

        I totally agree, its definitely fiction of the excess.. But I’m studying it at university and it certainly makes an interesting piece to discuss and debate!

        Like

        May 16, 2013
  3. Brandon #

    I just started American Pastoral thanks to your blog, and I’m loving it. Roth is an amazing writer; you feel it in every single sentence. And any man with such a positive attitude toward napping is A-OK in my book. Looking forward to starting Portnoy’s Complaint.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
    • Love American Pastoral. Hope you like it.

      Like

      May 16, 2013
  4. I have read American Pastoral, Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy. Have though about reading one of his later novels but have not gotten around to it. I think he is one of the best.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
  5. Reblogged this on Adithya Entertainment.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
  6. Nemesis is a very good novel if you’re looking for a later one. Think it might even be his last.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
  7. Jake #

    Have not read any of his works yet, though now I’m intrigued, so I probably will as soon as i can.

    Like

    May 16, 2013
  8. I love the nap quote. Fantastic.

    Like

    May 17, 2013
  9. I have read American Pastoral and Everyman and Portnoy’s Complaint is on my shelf of books in waiting. He has tremendous talent but I definitely need to be in a Roth mood to read his books.

    Like

    May 17, 2013
  10. Ryan #

    I read Deception and didn’t like it. But then I read Goodbye Columbus, American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain and liked all of them. I think that American Pastoral was the best of what I read. Roth has a knack for discourse throughout a novel that makes me feel smarter when I’m done.

    Like

    May 17, 2013
  11. Interestingly enough, we’re seeing a shift in the dynamics of writing and publishing. Nathan Bransford is no longer looking for the next great American novel, Seth Godin has sworn of traditional publishers, and the changes keep happening.

    One thing that doesn’t change is the power of naps. Mr. Roth’s Father sounds like he was a wise man. Enough cannot be said about the power of napping. They sure beat that Five-Hr energy stuff, and the best part about them is that they’re free.

    Like

    May 17, 2013
  12. I think it’s weird for a writer to stop writing. I can understand that he may not want to write commercially, but not at all!? That’s not living!

    Like

    May 18, 2013
  13. douglasvonhollen #

    I heard an interview with Roth did fussing his decision to stop writing. He referred to a boxer she retired (Sonny Liston I think?) Who retired while he could still hold his own in the ring and bow out gracefully. I started with Goodbye Columbus, then read the Zuckerman novels (loved the first three but not The Prague Orgy so much. I liked Everyman.

    Highly recommend The Humbling.

    Like

    May 20, 2013
  14. D #

    The Human Stain is definitely my favorite of Roth’s. And am I the only one who enjoyed I Married a Communist more than American Pastoral. American Pastoral is good by it’s not as well paced as the other books in the American trilogy, and the characters weren’t as interesting to me.

    Like

    May 22, 2013

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