John Updike, Continued


Many complicated tributes to John Updike today. This was a writer with an ambivalent reputation among people of a certain age (and an impossibly glowing one with people of another). But facile opinions tend to fall away at moments like these. The New Yorker‘s Book Bench has gathered together a slate of writers to reflect on Updike’s legacy, including Paul Theroux, Thomas McGuane (who was once told by Updike “We don’t know who you are” at an awards ceremony), and a very funny George Saunders:

    • Back in 1992, I had my first story accepted by

The New Yorker

    . It was going to run in Tina Brown’s first issue. I soon learned that, in honor of the occasion, the magazine was going to run two short stories, and that the idea was to contrast the new (me) with the established. I was chagrined to find out that the establishment representative would be John Updike–chagrined because I had a foreboding, soon realized, that the contrast would go something like this: Wonderful, established, powerful representative of the Old Guard (Updike) kicks the butt of the flaky, superficial, crass, poseurish New Guy. This turned out to be true.

They also reprint John Cheever’s journal entry on the day in 1976 Cheever had been (mis)informed that Updike had died.

Elsewhere, the Times has a recent conversation with Updike up on video, the NBCC reprints an Updike conversation with James Marcus, and Martin Amis weighs in at the Guardian. AARP has an amazing recent essay from Updike called “The Writer in Winter.” At the Observer, Leon Neyfakh talks to many people who knew Updike, including Robert Silvers, while Salon reprints a lively Dwight Garner interview. As far as critical evaluations, there is David Ulin in the L.A . Times and Sam Anderson’s at Vulture–for my money, the kindest and most persuasive I’ve yet read. Finally, there’s this useful bit of ephemera: Reviewing 101: John Updike’s rules, still one of the best and most concise guides to reviewing in any field. It ends like this: “Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.”

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2009

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