The Atlantic published a story this week about novelists who published their first books after they turned 40. Charles Bukowski, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Raymond Chandler are among the few “late bloomer” novelists they profile.
The Atlantic article links to a website, Bloom, which is dedicated to “highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older.” What a great concept for a blog. Being a bit of a late bloomer myself, I appreciate a blog that looks at those who need some time for their accomplishments. And in a culture where we worship the young, it is nice to find places where age can is not considered a deficit. The first book I reviewed in this blog, The Lifeboat, was written by Charlotte Rogan, a woman in her 50s.
Although the premise of this blog is to write about first novels, I keep thinking about Philip Roth’s decision to stop writing novels. As in a way making a decision to stop writing, after penning 31 books over 52 years, is as brave as a decision to start writing at any age, let alone over 40. In the New York Times article about his decision he says that he stopped writing in 2010, but waited two years to make the announcement public, just in case he wasn’t able to stick to it. I know many novelists who toil away at their first book for a year, two or three, before sharing with the world that they have embarked on a novel for fear that they too might not stick to it.
“Mr. Roth stopped because he feels he has said what he has to say.” This is marvelous and soundly sane. Most writers start writing because they “have something to say.” And yet we live in a culture where success is not always measured by the depth or importance of what we say, but how much we make for saying something or how popular our ideas may become. While making his decision, Roth reread all of his books in reverse chronological order, but he lost interest in his own work and did not reread the first four, (meaning he did not read his first book). Roth’s decision is a nice illustration of how a writer can be more than his art. Although Roth is currently working with a biographer to tell his life story and collaborating with an 8-year old on a novella, he is also spending his time reading, entertaining and enjoying a slower pace of life.
I respect Roth his decision. 31 books is a fantastic accomplishment. Would he be remembered more if he wrote 33 or even 34? I’m not sure. I will remember him for being brave enough to say he has written enough and that life can be about more than one pursuit.
I will also applaud an author for publishing a first book at any age. A novel at 41 is no less a feat than at 62 or 29.