Jorge Sette Interviews Philip Roth

Based on some of my previous posts on Facebook, Twitter and this blog, many of you will already know that Philip Roth is one of my favorite writers. At 81, he is considered by many the greatest living American writer. I can’t get enough of his books. They usually investigate the depths of the human soul, are packed with painful truths, but also convey a dark sense of humor, which makes them irresistible.

Although I have already reread many of his novels, the good news is he’s so prolific that I haven’t been able to cover his complete works yet. So there is a lot to look forward to. I don’t think I will ever have an opportunity to talk to him in person, as he is very reclusive and private. And, to be quite honest, I would not like that to happen, as I want to preserve the idealized image I have of him.

So I decided to imagine and share with you, dear reader, an interview I could have had with Mr. Roth.  Of course all the answers are true, since they are quotes of his or his characters.  Let’s find out more about Philip Roth then:



(J stands for Jorge, and R stands for Roth)

J: Mr Roth, most of your books feel very autobiographical although they are supposed to be fictional. Do you plan to write more non-fiction in the future? Don’t you think you should have a blog or even a Twitter account like everyone else nowadays so people could get to know you better?

R: “Everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise.”

J: I understand you live alone now. Any romantic interest in your life at this moment?

R: “The only obsession everyone wants: ‘love.’ People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you’re whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked open. ”

J: You are not young anymore, don’t you ever feel lonely and wish there was someone sharing your life? I think I would.

R: “Stop worrying about growing old. And think about growing up.”

J: Sure. Can you tell us a little about your creative process? What’s your writing routine?

R: “I don’t ask writers about their work habits. I really don’t care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out, “Is he as crazy as I am?” I don’t need that question answered.”

J: Well, let’s turn to current events then. What do you think of the present situation in Syria and Ukraine? Don’t you think diplomacy should have worked more effectively by now?

R: “You put too much stock in human intelligence, it doesn’t annihilate human nature.”

J: I see. New Jersey and New York always remind me of you and your books.

R: “I came to New York and in only hours, New York did what it does to people: awakened the possibilities. Hope breaks out.” 

J: Mr Roth, thanks for agreeing to meet with me, but I must make a confession. I feel it’s easier to know writers by reading their books rather than interviewing them. What do you think is the best way to get to know someone and understand their motives?

R: You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”

J: Thanks, Mr Roth, that’s very reassuring. Can I ask you a final question? I’ve started this little blog and I’m very proud of it. I love writing, although I’m just starting. Would you give me some advice as an experienced and famous writer?

R: “Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”

J: Hmmmm. Well,  thank you, I guess. This will be posted online. I will let you know when. Take care.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.


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