After more than 6 decades of writing, Philip Roth has become weary of the frustrations and decided to stop. “The struggle with writing is over,” he scribbled onto a Post-It note that he affixed to his computer. Roth, who will turn 80 in March 2013, has penned some 31 books since 1959, when he published Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories. Apparently, he’s had enough – whatever that’s supposed to mean to a writer.
Roth actually made the decision to retire 2 years ago, after completing Nemesis, about a polio epidemic that struck his hometown of Newark, New Jersey in 1944.
“I didn’t say anything about it because I wanted to be sure it was true,” he told The New York Times last week. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, don’t announce your retirement and then come out of it.’ I’m not Frank Sinatra. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, just to see if it was so.”
As with many people, though, his health is an issue. He had back surgery this past April continues to heal with regular exercise. But, he apparently feels that could have a negative impact on his writing. “I know I’m not going to write as well as I used to. I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration. Writing is frustration — it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.”
“I can’t face any more days when I write five pages and throw them away,” he added. “I can’t do that anymore.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t be critical, since I haven’t published anything outside of this blog yet. But, I can’t imagine retiring from writing. Like politics, it seems to be something people can do forever. Writing, of course, actually has a purpose. My mother retired at age 70 from a half century in the insurance business. My father was forcibly retired in 1994 from a printing company where he’d worked for more than 30 years. Neither misses their jobs, even though it left both with bitter memories. I don’t miss the engineering company that laid me off 2 years ago, in part because of the crap I had to put up with there at the end. I don’t know anyone who’d miss, say, working at a sewage plant or a coal mine. People may miss their coworkers or the camaraderie that comes from the friendships they develop. But, no one really longs for the work itself. The writing life is ideal for me. Enjoying something while making money at it? That’s not working!
But, Roth wants to clarify one thing. “I do not believe the novel is dying. I said the readership is dying out. That’s a fact, and I’ve been saying it for 15 years. I said the screen will kill the reader, and it has. The movie screen in the beginning, the television screen and now the coup de grâce, the computer screen.”
In that regard, I couldn’t agree with him more.