The Guardian says, reiterating his bleak view about the future of literature – that "two decades on the size of the audience for the literary novel will be about the size of the group who read Latin poetry" – the 80-year-old Roth told Stanford scholar Cynthia Haven that his disengagement from the world of writing is still very much in evidence. Asked by Haven if he really believes his talent – which has won him the Man Booker International prize and made him a perennial contender for the Nobel – will "let [him] quit" writing, Roth responded: "You better believe me, because I haven't written a word of fiction since 2009."
"I have no desire to write fiction," said the Pulitzer prize-winning literary giant. "I did what I did and it's done. There's more to life than writing and publishing fiction. There is another way entirely, amazed as I am to discover it at this late date."
Instead: "I swim, I follow baseball, look at the scenery, watch a few movies, listen to music, eat well and see friends. In the country I am keen on nature."
He is also studying 19-century American history. "My mind is full of then," he said. "Barely time left for a continuing preoccupation with aging, writing and death. By the end of the day I am too fatigued."
Haven was interviewing Roth by email ahead of Stanford's book club later this month on his 1979 classic, 'The Ghost Writer.' He told her
'I did what I did and it's done', novelist tells interviewer, explaining that these days he's keener on swimming and watching baseball
that he had no desire to be labelled as a Jewish American author, despite the fact that, in her words, "many consider you the preeminent Jewish American writer".
"'An American-Jewish writer' is an inaccurate if not also a sentimental description, and entirely misses the point," he responded. "The novelist's obsession, moment by moment, is with language: finding the right next word. For me, as for Cheever, DeLillo, Erdrich, Oates, Stone, Styron and Updike, the right next word is an American-English word. I flow or I don't flow in American English."
Even if he were writing in Hebrew or Yiddish, he would not be a Jewish writer, said Roth: he would be a Hebrew author, or a Yiddish author.
"The American republic is 238 years old," he said. "My family has been here 120 years, or for just more than half of America's existence. They arrived during the second term of President Grover Cleveland, only 17 years after the end of Reconstruction. Civil War veterans were in their 50s. Mark Twain was alive. Sarah Orne Jewett was alive. Henry Adams was alive. All were in their prime. Walt Whitman was dead just two years. Babe Ruth hadn't been born. If I don't measure up as an American writer, at least leave me to my delusion."
Roth won't be attending the book club meeting at Stanford on 25 February, and the novelist told Haven that he had never been to a book club, despite their popularity.
"I know nothing about book clubs," he said. "From my many years as a university literature teacher I do know that it takes all the rigour one can muster over the course of a semester to get even the best undergraduates to read precisely the fiction at hand, with all their intelligence, without habitual moralising, ingenious interpretation, biographical speculation and, too, to beware of the awful spectre of the steamrolling generalisation. Is such protracted rigour the hallmark of book clubs?" he asked.
Roth's final novel, Nemesis, was published in 2010.