The phrase “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” has been a rallying cry in music since Neil Young crooned it over 30 years ago. But it’s writers who seem to best embody the sentiment: the burnouts who did themselves in, like Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, tend to be romanticized long after their deaths by those who believe an untimely end completes some sort of narrative of depression; the ones who fade, the writers who keep pushing out words till their last breath, may not be eulogized, but at least they get to spend their golden years doing what they (presumably) love.
Last month, Philip Roth, one of America’s greatest living writers and its reigning curmudgeon, took a very different route toward career conclusion: he quit. The 79-year-old author of 27 novels, dozens of short stories and countless essays, and the recipient of nearly every major literary award save the Nobel Prize, told an interviewer for the French publication Les Inrocks, “To tell you the truth, I’m done.” His 2010 novel Nemesis would be his last book. Read More