Why Write?

Philip Roth is one of the most celebrated writers of our generation. Like many of us, I gobble up each one of his new books as soon as it is published.

That’s why I was intrigued by James Campbell’s review of Roth’s latest book, Why Write? And what writer among us wouldn’t want to read it. I did, and it was well worth the time.

Here is part of what Campbell said in his review:

Why write? In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in 2014, four years after the publication of what he claimed would be his final novel, Philip Roth offered an oblique answer to the question that gives the title to this collection. “Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. . . . It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself. Though why such a task should have fallen to me I have no idea. Maybe writing protected me against even worse menace.”

If Mr. Roth’s basic subject is me and my novels, the former is protective of the latter. An amusing 14-page letter to Wikipedia, titled “Errata,” sets out to correct the misrepresentations of his work that he found on the website. The first concerns the novel “The Human Stain” (2000), described in the Wikipedia entry at the time of writing (2012) as “allegedly inspired by the life of the writer Anatole Broyard. ” Broyard was a book critic for the New York Times, who, although African-American by heritage, passed in literary society for white (there is debate about how much of a secret his passing was). When Mr. Roth contacted Wikipedia to correct the misstatement that his novel was based on Broyard’s experience, he was told (through his “official interlocutor”) “that I, Roth, was not a credible source. ‘I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,’ writes the Wikipedia Administrator—‘but we require secondary sources.’ ”

Want more? You can read the full article here.