Essays and Criticism
Random House Trade, Paperback, 9780812983791, 997pp.
Publication Date: December 4, 2012
To complement his work as a fiction writer, John Updike accepted any number of odd jobs—book reviews and introductions, speeches and tributes, a “few paragraphs” on baseball or beauty or Borges—and saw each as “an opportunity to learn something, or to extract from within some unsuspected wisdom.” In this, his largest collection of assorted prose, he brings generosity and insight to the works and lives of William Dean Howells, George Bernard Shaw, Philip Roth, Muriel Spark, and dozens more. Novels from outposts of postmodernism like Turkey, Albania, Israel, and Nigeria are reviewed, as are biographies of Cleopatra and Dorothy Parker. The more than a hundred considerations of books are flanked, on one side, by short stories, a playlet, and personal essays, and, on the other, by essays on his own oeuvre. Updike’s odd jobs would be any other writer’s chief work.
“Dazzling . . . an exceptionally intelligent study of writers and their work that illuminates both the pleasures of literature in all its many guises and the alchemical transactions that go on behind its pages.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“[Updike’s] books of criticism must surely be the finest engagement with the contemporary novel by a living practitioner. [He is] not afraid to speak about the novel in its own language—to use metaphor not so much to explicate as to deepen the mystery of literary art.”—James Wood, Times Literary Supplement
“Updike’s talent is positively Victorian in its energy, productiveness, and scope—a prodigious talent, fueled by an enthusiasm for life and for ‘the wish to do justice to the real world’ that he finds embodied in books. . . . One of our greatest novelists is also, arguably, our greatest critic of literature.”—Phyllis Rose, The Boston Globe