Essays and Criticism
By John Updike
Random House Trade, Paperback, 9780449006283, 928pp.
Publication Date: October 3, 2000
In this collection of nonfiction pieces, John Updike gathers his responses to nearly two hundred invitations into print, each “an opportunity to make something beautiful, to find within oneself a treasure that would otherwise remain buried.” Introductions, reviews, and humorous essays, paragraphs on New York, religion, and lust—here is “more matter” commissioned by an age that, as the author remarks in his Preface, calls for “real stuff . . . not for the obliquities and tenuosities of fiction.” Still, the novelist’s shaping hand, his gift for telling detail, can be detected in many of these literary considerations. Books by Edith Wharton, Dawn Powell, John Cheever, and Vladimir Nabokov are incisively treated, as are biographies of Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth II, and Helen Keller. As George Steiner observed, Updike writes with a “solicitous, almost tender intelligence. The critic and the poet in him . . . are at no odds with the novelist; the same sharpness of apprehension bears on the object in each of Updike’s modes.”
“More Matter attests to Mr. Updike’s remarkable versatility and to his ardent drive to turn all his observations into glittering, gossamer prose. . . . In his strongest pieces, Mr. Updike’s awesome pictorial powers of description combine with a rigorous, searching intelligence to produce essays of enormous tactile power and conviction.”—The New York Times
“Our most productive critic, certainly; and also, as it happens, our finest . . . In this wide-ranging collection . . . there are both matter and art enough to satisfy the most demanding reader.”—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“More Matter will leave even his closest followers amazed. . . . Updike can write about anything, in any form and at any length, and do it with intelligence and knowledge and grace and agility and wit—and oh, the prose.”—Pittsburgh Tribune-Review