Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, 1932 - 2009

John Updike was, like Martin Amis, one of those writers whose criticism gave me vastly more pleasure than his fiction. As with Amis, I could pull just about any sentence from any page of any novel and marvel at its intricacies. And, as with Amis, after a couple of novels I had zero desire to bother with another.

To continue with the Amis strain, it has always read to me as if the younger Martin wanted desperately to be adopted by Updike. When Updike committed his critical attention to the lad, and concluded with a sniff of disdain, Amis had a go at returning the favor. Not surprisingly, I think both authors were right in their final evaluation of the other.

To my mind they both did a better job at training their attention on the things that matter -- what makes for compelling fiction -- when they read someone else. Chalk it down to a deficient temperament and call me a literary heretic, but here's the truth: George Pelecanos commits himself to "no less than one page per day" (link -- two fewer than Updike) and I have no trouble finishing anything he gets published.

Updike's Reviewing Rules; An intimate look at Updike's marginalia; my favorite Martin Amis book; and finally one such from John Updike. UPDATE: Slate has one of the better round-ups of notables weighing in on Updike. It includes responses from Tom Perrotta and Donald Fagen.


Joel said...

Although I was introduced to Updike at college, I never got around to reading his rabbit books until a couple summers ago. I was surprised how much I enjoyed them.

Also, don't forget Updike's Simpson's appearence:

Whisky Prajer said...

I think I fell into the common trap of easy blogular summary. The fact is I'd pick up an Updike novel much quicker than one of Amis's. So many people are posting their favorite Updike passages it's a little hard to go against the grain and say I'd never re-read the man -- especially when I seem to be re-reading him with every click of the mouse. There's no doubt he held a very high standard for writing that everyone (including me) wanted to reach for. But by the same token, nothing I've read of Updike's has ever frightened me, or left me in stitches, or ... etc. I suppose he was a page-turner, but not of the primal instinct variety.