Can authors ever really retire?
Author Alice Munro retires from writing at 82. Other seasoned authors continue their craft.
Author Alice Munro recently created a stir when she announced her retirement from writing, following an example set by novelist Phillip Roth, who declared last autumn that he had also written his last book.Skip to next paragraph
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Munro is 82, and Roth is 80, each well past the standard retirement age. Even so, the idea of writers trading their keyboards for gold watches still seems unusual. One of the small benefits of writing, after all, is that one can presumably continue doing it at any age, and many authors keep plugging along, despite the march of years.
John Updike, who was still publishing work until shortly before his death in 2009 at age 76, made the case for keeping at it in one of his last essays, “The Writer in Winter.”
“An aging writer has the not insignificant satisfaction of a shelf of books behind him that, as they wait for their ideal readers to discover them, will outlast him for a while,” Updike told readers. “The pleasures for him, of bookmaking – the first flush of inspiration, the patient months of research and plotting, the laser-printed final draft, the back-and-forthing with Big Apple publishers, the sample pages, the jacket sketches, the proofs, and at last the boxes from the printers, with their sweet heft and smell of binding glue – remain, and retain creation’s giddy bliss.”
But as Munro pointed out in her interview with The New York Times, there’s also a lot to be said for putting down the pen and enjoying life. “There is a nice feeling about being just like everyone else now,” she said.
A few days after Munro’s big splash in The Times, though, author Oliver Sacks published a Times essay about the joys of turning 80. He said he wants to keep working indefinitely. “When my time comes, I hope I can die in harness,” Sacks wrote.
The question of retirement for a writer boils down to personal choice, of course, but all the recent attention on the topic is a potent reminder of the wordsmiths who are still churning out poetry and prose, even in the full bloom of maturity.
Here, as a suggested theme for summer reading, are some recommended titles from five senior writers who are still on the job:
1) Oliver Sacks. Even at four-score years, Sacks routinely makes the bestseller list with his intriguing tales from the world of neurological science, including “Hallucinations,” just out in paperback. (Vintage, $15.95) Sacks proves as good as ever in this nonfiction account of what the eye sees – or thinks it sees – and the author’s reflections on his odd experiences with psychedelic drugs make this perhaps his most personal narrative yet.