“I had a reverent feeling about the writers of that generation. They were little children in the Great Depression, and they saw fear in their parents’ eyes, and it made workhorses of them.”
Author, editor & memoirist Benjamin Taylor joins the show to talk about his wonderful new memoir, Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth (Penguin). We get into how his relationship with Roth evolved over 20 years, how it affected his own writing, and his notion that everything that happened is still happening. We talk about the nature of friendship and how it may differ from literary friendship, Benjamin’s fixation on older friends, why The Human Stain is his favorite of Roth’s novels, the notion of “literary lions” like Roth, Bellow, Oates, Updike, and Ozick, and why this era seems bereft of them. He also fills us in on how long walks with Vivian Gornick have helped him handle Pandemic World, why fiction isn’t the only worthwhile game in town, what it means to be an American and a heartbroken patriot, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Here We Are!
“I think that American writers in general are heartbroken patriots, who see more of the disparities than ordinary citizens. Think of Hawthorne, think of Whitman. This is what makes us an essentially Romantic civilization. We believe that the ideal is what is most real.”
“Did I feel I was in their shadow? No, I felt I was in their light!”
“The grafting of manhood onto his particular childhood was always uneasy and awkward.”
“There was an amoral streak in Philip. He was also a man of great tenderness.”
About our Guest
Benjamin Taylor‘s family memoir, The Hue and Cry at Our House, received the 2018 Los Angeles Times/Christopher Isherwood Prize and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice; his Proust: The Search was named a Best Book of 2016 by Thomas Mallon in The New York Times Book Review; and his Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay was named a Best Book of 2012 by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker. He is also the author of two novels, Tales Out of School, winner of the 1996 Harold Ribalow Prize, and The Book of Getting Even, winner of a Barnes & Noble Discover Award. He edited Saul Bellow: Letters, named a Best Book of 2010 by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times and Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post, and Bellow’s There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction, also a New York Times Editors’ Choice. His edition of the collected stories of Susan Sontag, Debriefing, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2017. Taylor is a founding faculty member in the New School’s Graduate School of Writing and teaches also in the Columbia University School of the Arts. He is a past fellow and current trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and serves as president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation. His new book is Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Benjamin by Alison West. It’s on my instagram.