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Scott Lax Blog

On Phillip Roth and Devotion to Writing

I'm reading Phillip Roth lately - one of his novels I somehow missed over the years, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT - as well as a chronology of Mr. Roth's work and life, and various interviews with him.

What emerges isn't a surprise, but is perhaps worth noting here. Mr. Roth doesn't boast; he doesn't lecture; he doesn't rant. He talks eloquently about his books, and a few other subjects. He has a humility that is, I think, borne of the life-long suffering and achievement and hard work. Hard work. Writing...nearly always writing. Yes, it’s true that he hit it big when he was young and gained a foothold in a different age - one that better supported literature; but he worked hard.

His generation of authors - the recently departed Mailer and Updike and Bellow; and the still with us Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates and Doctorow and others... what a great generation of writers of which he's a part.

I’m concerned about the distractions that younger, modern authors face. From the excesses and inanities of social media - how many millions of short stories and novels have been twittered away? and how many potential audiences don’t have the patience or inclination toward anything longer than 140 characters? - to the difficulty of surviving as an author in today's market, where there are fewer vehicles in which to publish and earn a living, to the harshness of modern America that doesn’t hold literature in the esteem it once did, to the MFA factory produced literary fiction, to the "entertainers" (as Roth calls them; he won't call them writers, but does credit them with a certain magic) like Nora Roberts and James Patterson on the other end of the spectrum... how will authors produce pure, original, non-formulaic voices like Roth's?

No answer here. I just write about it. And write in general. That’s all anyone can do. Oh, and may Roth continue his great work for as long as possible. Read More