Monday, May 28, 2018

What literature is about

Philip Roth on the man who "straightened me out" about literature:

...Dick[Stern] played an important role, maybe the most important role, in straightening me out when I was first getting going in the mid-’50s. One noon shortly after we’d met as colleagues, we were having hamburgers together at the old University Tavern and, for no purpose other than to amuse him over lunch, I recounted my adventure a few summers back in Jewish suburbia with the dazzling daughter of a prosperous dealer in plate glass. 

Because Dick was such an eager listener and so enjoyed laughing, I was encouraged to tell the story in all its fullness, embellishing along the way for comic effect.

When lunch was over and we were walking back to campus, Dick said, “Write that, for God’s sake. Write that story.” It hadn’t occurred to me. Write the story of an ephemeral summer romance in inconsequential Maplewood, New Jersey? I wanted to be morally serious like Joseph Conrad. I wanted to exhibit dark knowledge like Faulkner. I wanted to be deep like Dostoyevsky. I wanted to write literature. Instead I took Dick’s advice and wrote Goodbye, Columbus...

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