February 5, 2014

No, really guys, Philip Roth is done writing fiction (also he thinks your book club is dumb)


Philip Roth in 1973. (via Wikimedia)

Philip Roth in 1973. (via Wikimedia)

Philip Roth is definitely never writing another book again. Really. Please stop asking. In an interview with Cynthia Haven on January 3rd, Roth said, “you better believe me, because I haven’t written a word of fiction since 2009. I have no desire to write fiction. I did what I did and it’s done. There’s more to life than writing and publishing fiction.”(Hear that? That’s the sound of a million 23-year-old hearts breaking).

Despite Roth’s public announcement in November 2012  that he was retiring from fiction, there is still a large and hopeful audience anticipating his next work.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Roth has changed his mind. Shortly after his retirement he gave his “last interview” to the New York Times, a sprawling three-hour affair, yet the astute fan may have noticed one or two occasions where he’s broken that vow.

In Monday’s relatively brief interview, Roth extolled the virtues of retirement and complained about being referred to as an “American-Jewish writer.” He also took a moment to cast a pallor over the future of literature, saying,

“I doubt that aesthetic literacy has much of a future [in America]. Two decades on the size of the audience for the literary novel will be about the size of the group who read Latin poetry – read Latin poetry now, that is, and not who read it during the Renaissance.”

But when Haven chastised Roth for not attending the Stanford discussion of his novel, The Ghost Writer, in order encourage an interest in literature, Roth bit back:

“From my many years as a university literature teacher I do know that it takes all the rigor one can muster over the course of a semester to get even the best undergraduates to read precisely the fiction at hand, with all their intelligence, without habitual moralizing, ingenious interpretation, biographical speculation and, too, to beware of the awful specter of the steamrolling generalization. Is such protracted rigor the hallmark of book clubs?”

So, if you’re interested in the future of literature the answer is that it’s dead, you can’t bring it back, and even if you try you probably aren’t studious or smart enough to make it work.

But Roth wants you to know that there’s more than life than stuffy old books. “There is another way entirely, amazed as I am to discover it at this late date.” Want to live a day in the life of an award-winning author? Here’s your guide: “I swim, I follow baseball, look at the scenery, watch a few movies, listen to music, eat well and see friends.” Doesn’t sound too bad, but I’m not quite ready to abandon books yet.


Amy Conchie is assistant to the publisher at Melville House.