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.”
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.”
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?