Philip Roth Quotes

20 Best Quotes

On Writing

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

“Everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise.”

“Writing, for me, was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life.”

“Writing is frustration – it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.”

“I don’t know any writer for whom it comes easily. Maybe John Updike – a story would just seem to come out of him whole, you know, out of a personal experience. But the rest of us, I think, are not so lucky, and I had to work hard.”

“I don’t ask writers about their work habits. I really don’t care. Joyce Carol Oates says somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they finish and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out, “Is he as crazy as I am?” I don’t need that question answered.”

“I have a slogan I use when I get anxious writing, which happens quite a bit: ‘the ordeal is part of the commitment.’ It’s one of my mantras. It makes a lot of things doable.”

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and turn it around again…”

“Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.”

“Writing turns you into somebody who’s always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on.”

“Literature takes a habit of mind that has disappeared. It requires silence, some form of isolation, and sustained concentration in the presence of an enigmatic thing.”

“If I don’t measure up as an American writer, at least leave me to my delusion.”

On Life

“The secret to living in the rush of the world with a minimum of pain is to get as many people as possible to string along with your delusions.”

“He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach – that it makes no sense.”

“Stop worrying about growing old. And think about growing up.”

“All that we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing.” 

I came to New York and in only hours, New York did what it does to people: awakened the possibilities. Hope breaks out.”

“American society […] not only sanctions gross and unfair relations among men, but it encourages them. Now, can that be denied? No. Rivalry, competition, envy, jealousy, all that is malignant in human character is nourished by the system. Possession, money, property–on such corrupt standards as these do you people measure happiness and success.”

“There is truth and then again there is truth. For all that the world is full of people who go around believing they’ve got you or your neighbor figured out, there really is no bottom to what is not known. The truth about us is endless. As are the lies.”

“I kept waiting for him to lay bare something more than this pointed unobjectionableness, but all that rose to the surface was more surface”