“As time passed, I realized the Philip Roth I’d known before the two documentaries we ended up doing was in the process of transformation. The Roth I’d known for many years was an obsessively committed writer who, in the terrifying limbo between one book and another, could fall victim to a storm of depression or be spent to the point of looking as if his blood had been drained from his veins… This Philip Roth seemed to be discovering new, unexpected pleasures in life, like spending time in bed reading in the morning or inviting friends to his home to share with him the meals prepared each night by his newly hired, young and lovely cook.” Livia Manera Sambuy writes about her friendship with Philip Roth for The Believer. Pair with Gabriel Roth‘s recent guide to “everything you need to know” about the elder Roth’s oeuvre.
In an illuminating interview for Slate, James Wood revises his opinion on David Foster Wallace and discusses how aging can change critics. As he puts it, “At exactly the moment that I wanted really to write, and started writing poems and then trying to write bad fiction, I was reading with a view to learning stuff. I was reading poetry. How did Auden do his stanza forms? And I was trying to copy those. What’s a successful poem, what’s an unsuccessful poem? […] What’s a good sentence? I don’t think I’ve changed. I am as sincerely interested in novels that fail as I am in novels that succeed. I just want to work them out. It’s a pleasure for me actually.” Top it off with Jonathan Russell Clark’s essay on Wood’s The Nearest Thing to Life.
You may have heard that Haruki Murakami has a new book on shelves. Woody Brown reviewed it for The Millions last week. Over at Electric Lit, Lincoln Michel invites us to play Murakami Bingo, created by Grant Snider, once again. It might also be a good time to read Ben Dooley on 1Q84.
The 87th annual California Book Awards, which “recognizes the state’s best writers and illuminate the wealth and diversity of literature written in California,” announced this year’s finalists. The nominees include Rachel Khong‘s Goodbye, Vitamin, Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s The Refugees, and Zinzi Clemmons‘s What We Lose (here’s the full list). From our archives: The Millions’ interview with Khong.
“James Schiff, an associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, is working on a volume of Updike’s letters and has unearthed thousands of letters, postcards, and notes the author sent to complete strangers who wrote to him.” The Guardian writes about an in-progress book of John Updike‘s letters that reveals how often the writer corresponded with not only his contemporaries, like John Barth and Joyce Carol Oates, but his readers as well. See also: an essay about the personal and literary relationship between Barth and Updike.
It’s a common trope in writing courses that young artists need a dose of childlike creativity. Self-help books for people with writer’s block are filled with callbacks to childhood interests. But is it possible, as Tasha Golden argues at the Ploughshares blog, that idealizing children isn’t the answer to our problems?