Philip Roth, as we learn in Blake Bailey’s essential new biography, was a labourer who spent his days turning sentences around until they gleamed. “The idea that you don’t have to work all the time,” he once told a journalist, “that’s news to me.”
He dabbled in other forms – short stories influenced by Salinger and Capote, even drama (“Nobody has written worse plays than me. Maybe Henry James”) – before settling into the medium he perfected, becoming a modern American master of the novel.
Thirty-one books in 52 years were the result of a work ethic that “stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow.” Which might leave the new reader wondering where to begin with an author whose recurring subjects were sex, America and … Philip Roth. Start here.