“I’ve stopped reading fiction. I don’t read it at all. I read other things: history, biography. I don’t have the same interest in fiction that I once did.”
For the kinds of people interested in an interview with someone like Roth, this might seem sad, or even cynical. My first reaction was frustration: I've long read and admired Roth's work and this comment seemed a needless slap in the face to those who still glean sustenance from fiction.
After reading and thinking about the whole interview, though, I don't think it's quite that simple; this isn't a case of grumpsterism or capitulation. When Roth says he is more interested in "history and biography," he is telling us something about his own project at this late stage in his life, which is more about reflection and preservation than it is about exploration.
The real shift it seems is not away from fiction but toward writing as a means of survival. Roth's greatest expressed desire is to just keep writing:
“My goal would be to find a big fat subject that would occupy me to the end of my life, and when I finish it I’ll die. What’s agony is starting, I hate starting them. I just want to keep writing now and end when it ends.”
That he would rather look back on his life and times than read the work of others is not shocking nor is it an indictment. It is, quite simply and naturally, the sign of an artist who is nearing the end.