Philip Roth returns with a definitive edition of his essential statements on literature, his controversial novels, and the writing life, including six pieces published here for the first time and many others newly revised
Tracing the full span of Philip Roth’s career—from the early controversies surrounding the stories in Goodbye, Columbus to his recent assessments of his work and corrections of the record—this retrospective summation of his essays and interviews shows at every turn the vigor, acuity, and persuasive power of our most celebrated living novelist. Divided into three sections, with many of the essays newly revised, Why Write? begins with Roth’s selection of the indispensable core of Reading Myself and Others, including the essays and interviews given in the wake of the explosive release of Portnoy’s Complaint. The volume’s second section presents in its entirety the 2001 book Shop Talk, a series of conversations with writers such as Aharon Appelfeld, Primo Levi, and Edna O’Brien. The concluding section, “Explanations,” comprises fourteen later pieces collected here for the first time, six never before publshed. Among the essays gathered are “My Uchronia,” an account of the genesis of The Plot Against America, a novel grounded in the insight that “all the assurances are provisional, even here in a two-hundred-year-old democracy”; “Errata,” the unabridged version of the “Open Letter to Wikipedia” published on The New Yorker’s website in 2012 to counter the online encyclopedia’s egregious errors about his life and work; “Forty-Five Years On,” Roth’s absolute last word on Portnoy; and “The Ruthless Intimacy of Fiction,” a speech delivered on the occasion of his eightieth birthday that celebrates the “refractory way of living” of Sabbath Theater’s Mickey Sabbath. Also included are two lengthy interviews given after Roth’s retirement, which take stock of a lifetime of work.