A former professor of mine once said Philip Roth is “holed up in Connecticut, writing for posterity.” In an excellent Guardian profile, Roth concedes that he’s obsessed with writing and explains the attraction this way:
For me, the absolutely demanding mental test is the desire to get the work right. The crude cliche is that the writer is solving the problem of his life in his books. Not at all. What he’s doing is taking something that interests him in life and then solving the problem of the book – which is, How do you write about this? The engagement is with the problem that the book raises, not with the problems you borrow from living. Those aren’t solved, they are forgotten in the gigantic problem of finding a way of writing about them.
He also condemns those critics who conflated him years ago with the narrator of Portnoy’s Complaint (his weakest work, in my view, at least of those I’ve read) and argues, “apropos of President Bush, that born-again Christianity is the ignorant man’s version of the intellectual life.”