Philip Roth was born in New Jersey in 1933 to second-generation Jewish parents from Austria and Ukraine. He graduated from Weequahic High School in 1950, and his time there inspired much of his fiction, including his popular and critically acclaimed Portnoy’s Complaint. He earned a BA from Bucknell College and an MA from the University of Chicago. He began studying for his PhD but dropped out. He taught writing at numerous institutions before retiring from teaching in the early 90’s. His publishing career began in the 50’s with short stories and novellas. His first collected work, Goodbye, Columbus, won the National Book Award in 1960, securing his place as one of the best American writers of his generation. He won a second National Book Award for Sabbath’s Theater and a Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. He also won three PEN/Faulkner Awards throughout his career. He passed away in 2018 at the age of eighty-five. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best passages from Roth’s impressive body of work:
“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 about being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that—well, lucky you.” -- American Pastoral
“True, he had chosen to live alone, but not unbearably alone. The worst of being unbearably alone was that you had to bear it - either that or you were sunk. You had to work hard to prevent your mind from sabotaging you by its looking hungrily back at the superabundant past." – Everyman
“I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence, and then I turn it around. Then I look at it, and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turned them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I’m frantic with boredom and a sense of waste.” –The Ghost Writer.
“You have a conscience, and a conscience is a valuable attribute, but not if it begins to make you think you’re to blame for what is far beyond the scope of your responsibility." –Nemesis.
“If I had nothing to say to Henry right off, it was because following Lippman's seminar, language didn’t seem my domain any longer. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to disputation, but never in my life had I felt so enclosed by a world so contentious, where the argument is enormous and constant, and everything turns out to be pro or con, positions taken, positions argued, and everything italicized by indignation and rage.” –The Counterlife.
"And was that not bound to happen? Eventually, must not the truth prevail? Oh, it had not been in vain than that she had sacrificed and struggled! Oh yes, of course! If you know you are in the right, if you do not weaken or falter, if despite everything thrown up against you, despite every hardship, every pain, you oppose what you know in your heart is wrong; if you harden yourself against the opinions of others, if you are willing to endure the loneliness of pursuing what is good in a world indifferent to good; if you struggle with every fiber of your body, even as others scorn you, hate you and fear you; if you push on and on and on, no matter how great the agony, how terrible the strain - then one day the truth will finally be known ." –And When She Was Good