Roth’s comments here about the process of writing are spot on. The comments about a “vomit draft,” an ugly but apt word interviewer Tina Brown provides him with, are particularly incisive.
Here are some other interesting observations of Roth’s from a contemporaneously published Wall Street Journal interview:
What do popular writers such as James Patterson and Nora Roberts have that attracts such huge numbers of readers?
I don’t know their books. They are entertainers. They aren’t writers. And entertainers have a wide appeal. People love entertainment. They have a different kind of magic.
How does Charles Dickens fit? He wrote for monthly publications.
He’s one of those people with great popular appeal… and is a genius. They are the rarest of all birds. Our great writers didn’t have that. Melville died in obscurity. Faulkner wasn’t widely read. Bellow wasn’t widely read. The best are rarely widely read… There’s always been a popular novel and every once in a while a genius happens to be a popular novelist. But that’s not the rule.
The division of writers away from entertainers is evocative, but begs the question: If you find a work of fiction entertaining, is it no longer literary? Has it, to cop a phrase from WSJ film critic Joe Morgenstern, committed “the sin of entertainment?” Personally, I enjoy fiction that is both entertaining and literary. In fact, I find literature entertaining.