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Why Philip Roth is Retiring

The 78-year-old Jewish writer announces he is done writing novels

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Philip Roth.(Douglas Healey/AP Photo)

Philip Roth announced his retirement—last month, in fact, to a French publication. It wasn’t until today, however, that American news organizations got wind of the announcement that the 78-year-old writer would not write another novel.

Salon has a translation of the interview, in which Roth cites satisfaction with his literary output, saying, “I did the best I could with what I had:”

“And after that, I decided that I was done with fiction. I do not want to read, to write more,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to the novel: I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read. With the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life.”

Roth, famous for his portrayal of Jewish male protagonists (and their mothers), has written prolifically since his first major work, Goodbye Columbus, was published in 1959. Just as his novels garnered controversy, the news of his retirement has sparked something of a Twitter debate over the quality of his earlier work as compared to his later work. After all, everyone has a favorite Roth novel.

Philip Roth: “I’m done” [Salon]
Philip Roth: “Némésis sera mon dernier livre” [Les Inrocks]

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fred capio says:

I have read all his books, I have enjoyed almost all of them but I consider the man who made me read “Patrimony” cover to cover a genius.

jacob_arnon says:

No, fred, this tablet reader loves literature and I especially like Philip Roth. He wrote many great novels and it’s sad to see him giving up.

Still, not all his books were “great” he wrote some good novellas (short novels) but not all of them were good. He never did master that form, though he did master the short story form as well as the novel.

What is there to say when a great man of letters stops writing? It’s like a death. I will certainly miss his stories. His last few novels were masterpieces.

No one has written as well for as long a period of time as Philip Roth. His remarkable string of novels in the last ten years of his life is, I believed unprecedented for someone in their eighth decade. Above all he has given tremendous pleasure for more than fifty years to a great many readers including myself.
I do not at all agree with his religious views, much of his political outlook. I find some of his writing vulgar and stupid.
But on the whole what a genius this man has had.
Has there ever been a writer who could make his readers laugh so?
I am truly sorry to hear that he will not write another novel.
I will miss not having some new work from him.
My own sense is that he is a true American classic who (though himself claiming to not believe in the future of the novel) will be read and reread for generations to come.

MaxPlanck says:

There’s something to be said about checking out because you have nothing to say before you have nothing to say and to instead, pretending that you do. Kudos to Roth for doing so. He will be missed but has left a great body of work to fulfill that gap.

Elisheva Lahav says:

For me, Roth’s writing was a real craft and I always appreciated reading not only the content but the way it was expressed on the page. I often felt that I was tasting and smelling what he wrote. My favorites were, unsurprisingly, the earlier books and the later ones. Nemesis was a gem, and Patrimony will remain with me for a long time to come.

Honey Bee says:


jacob_arnon says:

There is a long literary tradition going back to at least Chaucer where writers stop writing because they come to view literature as an inadequate vehicle for expressing the “truth” about the world.

If Roth renounced literature because he too came to believe that through literature he couldn’t express his complex notions of realty then his act giving up literature is an important event in its history.

Philip Roth has been one of the most prolific, and one of the the most important, writers of his time. His work, along as the movies of Woody Allen and the plays of Neil Simon,
are representative of the Post-War Jewish-American experience.
If Mr. Roth feels he has exhausted his contribution to the writing of fiction,
I say, “Thank you for your tremendous body of work and may you enjoy the
next phase of your life as much as your readers have enjoyed your work.”
It has been said that some writers (e.g. Ken Kesey) have only one great novel in them, and we should appreciate that one work as the great novel that it is. But what can you say about Mr. Roth’s lifetime of work, the quality of which has kept improving despite (or
perhaps because of) its quantity, from his 1959 novella “Goodbye,
Columbus,” through “Portnoy’s Complaint,” which was published in
1969, and culminating with his 1997 novel,” American Pastoral.”

Sometimes I think that the ‘great four’ of my time, i.e. Roth, Bellow, Updike and Cheever, are actually better writers than the great four (Steinbeck, Faulkner,Hemingway and Fitzgerald) of my parent’s time. That is a silly exercise. Whatever else is true, Roth is a ferociously brilliant writer. His voice is unique and powerful. His work stands in 20th century fiction as Shelley’s does in Romantic poetry

Tablet couldn’t have found a better photo to accompany Roth’s retirement announcement. Have you ever seen a more tired punim?


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Why Philip Roth is Retiring

The 78-year-old Jewish writer announces he is done writing novels

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