"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Goodbye to All That

News that Phillip Roth has retired from writing made its way around today. Here is David Remnick’s take over at The New Yorker:

Roth told Les inRocks that when he turned seventy-four he reread his favorite authors—Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Turgenev, Hemingway. Then, he said, “When I finished, I decided to reread all of my books beginning with the last, ‘Nemesis.’

“I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing. And I thought it was more or less a success. At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said, ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ It’s exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.”

“After that, I decided that I was finished with fiction,” Roth went on. “I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to write it, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I dedicated my life to the novel. I studied them, I taught them, I wrote them, and I read them. At the exclusion of nearly everything else. It’s enough!”

…Roth long resisted the idea of a biography, and he has mocked the form in his fiction and in interviews. Some years ago, he worked for a while with Ross Miller, a professor at the University of Connecticut, but the two fell out and there was no biography. Recently, he wrote a hilarious screed for The New Yorker’s Web site about the Wikipedia entry for “The Human Stain.” But the need for a rather more complete account of his life persisted. This year, Roth relented and signed a collaborative agreement with Blake Bailey, who has written fine biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates. He told Les inRocks that he is allowing Bailey free access to his archives for as long as necessary, but that he has instructed his executors to destroy the archive after his death. “I don’t want my papers lying around,” he said. “No one has to read them.”

[Photo Credit: Eric Thayer]

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