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Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism [NOOK Book]


Here is the collection of nonfiction pieces that John Updike was compiling when he died in January 2009. It opens with a self-portrait of the writer in winter, a Prospero who, though he fears his most dazzling performances are behind him, reveals himself in every sentence to be in deep conversation with the sources of his magic. It concludes with a moving meditation on a world without religion, without art, and on the difficulties of faith in a disbelieving age. In between are pieces on Peanuts, Mars, and the ...
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Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism

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Here is the collection of nonfiction pieces that John Updike was compiling when he died in January 2009. It opens with a self-portrait of the writer in winter, a Prospero who, though he fears his most dazzling performances are behind him, reveals himself in every sentence to be in deep conversation with the sources of his magic. It concludes with a moving meditation on a world without religion, without art, and on the difficulties of faith in a disbelieving age. In between are pieces on Peanuts, Mars, and the songs of Cole Porter, a pageant of scenes from early Massachusetts, and a good deal of Updikean table talk. At the heart of the volume are dozens of book reviews from The New Yorker and illustrated art writings from The New York Review of Books. Updike’s criticism is gossip of the highest sort. We will not hear the likes of it again.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Before John Updike died in January 2009, he had already filled two boxes with the miscellaneous prose that has become this posthumous collection. Like its author, Higher Gossip is lively, eclectic, and stylish. Its pieces cover wide worlds; from reviews of books and art exhibitions to biographical essays to short stories to commentaries on his own work and reveries on golf. As always, his reflections on fellow writers are generous and sage; readers will delight particularly in his essays on John Cheever, Vladimir Nabokov, Ann Patchett, and John le Carré. In what will almost certainly be his final major work, Updike himself confirms what we already knew: He is one of the finest and most readable writers of our age.

Andrew Delbanco
Higher Gossip is a deftly edited reminder of what a prodigy we have lost…The essays on art…are a special pleasure, informative but personal, meticulously attentive to technique and effect, composed with almost wistful awe by a writer who had once hoped to be an artist himself.
—The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
Updike was that rare creature: an all-around man of letters, a literary decathlete who brought to his criticism an insider's understanding of craft and technique; a first-class appreciator of talent, capable of describing other artists' work with nimble, pictorial brilliance; an ebullient observer, who could bring to essays about dinosaurs or golf or even the theory of relativity a contagious, boyish sense of wonder…Higher Gossip offers the reader plenty of palpable pleasures, reminding us of the author's sorcererlike ability to evoke the worlds other artists created with a simple wave of his wand, and his talent for making scholarly topics feel utterly immediate and real.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Carduff has finished the job Updike began before his 2009 death, assembling nearly 100 uncollected pieces by “the preeminent literary journalist of our times.” Predominantly comprising literary and art criticism from a range of magazines, the volume also embraces poetry, fiction, memoir, and Updike’s comments on his own work. The hallmarks of his agile, eloquent prose are evident throughout, along with an exactitude of expression that was Updike’s alone as he reviews works by such writers as John Cheever, le Carré, and Nabokov. Essays on artists such as El Greco, William Blake, and Turner, and some lesser known artists, blend his considerable knowledge with sometimes cranky wit: “For sheer viewer discomfort,” a van Gogh show at the Met forces “too many people... in ‘docile masses’ to see practically nothing.” The seven stories, including one initially accepted, then rejected, by the New Yorker, while not his best, are lively. Five essays on golf are humorous and wistful. The first piece, “The Writer in Winter,” mourns the aging writer’s occasional inability to think of the right word and defines the essence of fine prose, which “should have a flow, a foreword momentum of a certain energized weight; it should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.” Updike’s does. 40 illus. (Nov. 2)
From the Publisher
“For my money . . . the late John Updike was the best American belletrist ever, and Higher Gossip . . . confirms everything I’ve believed about his brilliance, his versatility, and his depth.”—Larry McMurty, Harper’s
“As [Higher Gossip] reminds us, Updike was that rare creature: an all-around man of letters, a literary decathlete who brought to his criticism an insider’s understanding of craft and technique; a first-class appreciator of talent, capable of describing other artists’ work with nimble, pictorial brilliance; an ebullient observer, who could bring to essays about dinosaurs or golf or even the theory of relativity a contagious, boyish sense of wonder.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A timely reminder of the graceful companionship that Updike offered to his readers—a presence that will be sorely missed.”—The Christian Science Monitor
Library Journal
This gathering of Updike's previously uncollected essays and art/exhibition reviews—in a section here called "Gallery Tours"—exemplifies his wide range of interests from 1970 onward. He was pulling these pieces together when he died in early 2009. Updike's comments on the writing of Charles Schulz, Ann Patchett, and Toni Morrison are balanced with observations on Tiger Woods and recollections of a tour of a factory that constructed footballs. (There is probably no baseball here because the pieces have all been previously collected.) The collection enables readers to see with Updike's wide lens as well as his sharp focus. Essential for large literary collections.—J.S.
Kirkus Reviews

A potpourri of pieces from the busy pen of the gifted Updike (1932-2009), who shows that he could write convincingly about nearly anything.

Using material the author left in a couple of boxes for just such a publication, editor Carduff (who assembled the two William Maxwell volumes for the Library of America) arranged the pieces in a way he judged consistent with Updike's earlier collections (Picked-Up Pieces, 1975, etc.). The current volume contains poems and short fiction as well as book reviews, art criticism, forewords and afterwords, comments and letters and speeches. Reading them consecutively causes a reader's jaw to drop in astonishment at the range of Updike's talents and interests. There are valedictory pieces (an emotional poem about Massachusetts General Hospital, a piece about time's effects on a writer); explicit reminders that a writer's duty is to bring news to the reader; curmudgeonly complaints about crowded art exhibits; praise for colleagues; potshots at biographers (he did not care for Blake Bailey's Cheever: A Life, 2009); pieces that reveal his intimacy with subjects including Aimee Semple McPherson, the history of golf in Massachusetts, the drawings of Van Gogh, the planet Mars, the stories of his adopted town of Ipswich, Mass. Throughout are reminders of what readers lost when Updike died: the perfect word, the graceful sentences that somehow seem impossible to improve, the wry humor, the vast knowledge and the humility. In one essay, he identifies a handful of principles he followed in his book-reviewing, and in a dazzling long piece he talks about the genesis and composition of his four Rabbit novels—perhaps his greatest literary achievement.

A lyrical, lovely display of Updike's protean powers.

The Barnes & Noble Review

No American writer educated himself quite so publicly as John Updike. Prompted by a "dim sense that the humanities and arts need repeated injections of amateurism," Updike swabbed our arms and gave us the shot monthly. Over four decades he reviewed hundreds of books for The New Yorker and dozens upon dozens of art shows for the New York Review, and he would riff on just about anything for anyone: physics, aging, golf, pennies, photographs, humor, new Chinese writing, how to make a football. He was available, and he was game. Even the AARP newsletter and Massachusetts Golfing Association can call him a contributor.

Every eight or so years Updike compiled these literary errands into a book. They were fat volumes and grew fatter with time, his genial, apologetic prefaces conveying a wide array of excuses for their over-muchness: his Depression Era–born attitude about money, an alimony payment that was "his to make," curiosity. Updike is not here to aw-shucks over this posthumously published collection, Higher Gossip, assembled by Christopher Carduff, but if he were, one imagines he might talk a little bit about aging.

This is not an elderly man's book, but it is close. The collection begins with a note about touring bookstores in his seventies, and it ends with a brief essay on the sustaining fires of his conflicted Christianity. In between, Updike does what grandparents do. He dives into an increasing number of biographies, eulogizes close friends, and complains about the size of crowds at gallery shows. His generosity and forbearance — which gave his reviews their silken coziness — occasionally falter and a temper flares.

"Toni Morrison has a habit, perhaps traceable to the pernicious influence of William Faulkner, of plunging into the narrative before the reader has a clue to what is going on," Updike writes in a testy review of the Nobel laureate's A Mercy. "In the age of retirement," he writes, in a hilarious piece about wintering in Arizona, "we say what we think and ask what we wish."

It's a pleasure to encounter this slightly less genteel Updike on the page. Criticism, after all, is often about a collision between sense and sensibility. Updike's weakness as a critic was that he could be too dutiful, and rather than convey frustration, he would bury the reader in the cotton wool of regurgitated research. Higher Gossip, which collects some 170 pages of art reviews, features some striking examples of how excruciatingly boring it could be to follow Updike around a museum when he couldn't commit to really disliking something.

Updike's greatest skill — his genius — was in praising, in looking with a kind of devotional attention to the everyday world, and while Higher Gossip is marred by some too-kind reviewing, it also happily includes many examples of this brighter side of Updike's register. There are some familiar affinities — golf and baseball, early American drawing and Edith Wharton — but some surprising ones, too. "Of Carver's stories," he writes in a stirring eulogy of the American short story writer, "it must be said they are beautiful. Not since Hemingway, perhaps, has anyone built so lovingly in stacks of plain sentences." With photographs by Joel Meyerowitz and Robert Polidori of Ground Zero and New Orleans, respectively, the historic "record is indeed enhanced, for posterity to consult, and to use in ways we cannot imagine."

This is a large book, and Updike's prose makes music most of the time. In a piece on surrealism he remarks that "the overturning of conventionality becomes as boring as conventionality." The preface to a reissued version of his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, contains this gem: "The novel of the future seeks to give us in concentrated form the taste of time that flavors all novels, that makes their events more portentous than events of our own lives, where time passes unnoticed, but for the rare shudder, and the mechanical schedule."

It was easy to assume that Updike's voice — so ubiquitous, for so long — would bend the laws of time and continue appearing in The New Yorker forever. Higher Gossip reminds those of us who felt this way how foolish we were. Yes, this book could do without the essays on golf, and does it really need to reprint prefaces, the unfunny satirical dialogues? Still, if their inclusion here is the tariff we must pay for another encounter with Updike's fierce, devotional mind — to read his brilliant description of a football being made at a factory in Ohio — it is small change indeed.

John Freeman is the editor of Granta and the author of The Tyranny of E-mail.

Reviewer: John Freeman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307957177
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 528
  • File size: 7 MB

Meet the Author

John Updike was the author of more than sixty books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have been honored with the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hugging the Shore, an earlier collection of essays and reviews, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He died in January 2009.
Christopher Carduff, the editor of this volume, is a member of the staff of The Library of America.

From the Hardcover edition.


With an uncommonly varied oeuvre that includes poetry, criticism, essays, short stories, and novels, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike helped to change the face of late-20th-century American literature.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954. Following a year of study in England, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, establishing a relationship with the magazine that continued until his death in January, 2009. For more than 50 years, he lived in two small towns in Massachusetts that inspired the settings for several of his stories.

In 1958, Updike's first collection of poetry was published. A year later, he made his fiction debut with The Poorhouse Fair. But it was his second novel, 1960's Rabbit, Run, that forged his reputation and introduced one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. Former small-town basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom struck a responsive chord with readers and critics alike and catapulted Updike into the literary stratosphere.

Updike would revisit Angstrom in 1971, 1981, and 1990, chronicling his hapless protagonist's jittery journey into undistinguished middle age in three melancholy bestsellers: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest. A concluding novella, "Rabbit Remembered," appeared in the 2001 story collection Licks of Love.

Although autobiographical elements appear in the Rabbit books, Updike's true literary alter ego was not Harry Angstrom but Harry Bech, a famously unproductive Jewish-American writer who starred in his own story cycle. In between -- indeed, far beyond -- his successful series, Updike went on to produce an astonishingly diverse string of novels. In addition, his criticism and short fiction became popular staples of distinguished literary publications.

Good To Know

Updike first became entranced by reading when he was a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Pennsylvania. Afflicted with psoriasis and a stammer, he escaped his self-consciousness by immersing himself in drawing, writing, and reading.

An accomplished artist, Updike accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. He decided to attend Harvard University because he was a big fan of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

One of the most respected authors of the 20th century, Updike won every major literary prize in America, including the Guggenheim Fellow, the Rosenthal Award, the National Book Award in Fiction, the O. Henry Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, and the National Medal of the Arts.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Hoyer Updike (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 18, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Shillington, Pennsylvania
    1. Date of Death:
      January 27, 2009
    2. Place of Death:
      Beverly Farms, MA

Read an Excerpt


Young or old, a writer sends a book into the world, not himself. There is no Senior Tour for authors, with the tees shortened by twenty yards and carts allowed. No mercy is extended by the reviewers; but, then, it is not extended to the rookie writer, either. He or she may feel, as the gray-haired scribes of the day continue to take up space and consume the oxygen in the increasingly small room of the print world, that the elderly have the edge, with their established names and already secured honors. How we did adore and envy them, the idols of our college years-Hemingway and Faulkner, Frost and Eliot, Mary McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty! We imagined them aswim in a heavenly refulgence, as joyful and immutable in their exalted condition as angels forever singing.

Now that I am their age-indeed, older than a number of them got to be- I can appreciate the advantages, for a writer, of youth and obscurity. You are not yet typecast. You can take a distant, cold view of the entire literary scene. You are full of your material-your family, your friends, your region of the country, your generation-when it is fresh and seems urgently worth communicating to readers. No amount of learned skills can substitute for the feeling of having a lot to say, of bringing news. Memories, impressions, and emotions from your first twenty years on earth are most writers' main material; little that comes afterward is quite so rich and resonant. By the age of forty, you have probably mined the purest veins of this precious lode; after that, continued creativity is a matter of sifting the leavings. You become playful and theoretical; you invent sequels, and attempt historical novels. The novels and stories thus generated may be more polished, more ingenious, even more humane than their predecessors; but none does quite the essential earthmoving work that Hawthorne, a writer who dwelt in the shadowland "where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet," specified when he praised the novels of Anthony Trollope as being "as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case."

This second quotation-one writer admiring a virtue he couldn't claim- meant a lot to me when I first met it, and I have cited it before. A few images, a few memorable acquaintances, a few cherished phrases circle around the aging writer's head like gnats as he strolls through the summertime woods at gloaming. He sits down before the word processor's humming, expectant screen, facing the strong possibility that he has already expressed what he is struggling to express again.

My word processor-a term that describes me as well-is the last of a series of instruments of self-expression that began with crayons and colored pencils held in my childish fist. My hands, somewhat grown, migrated to the keyboard of my mother's typewriter, a portable Remington, and then, schooled in touch-typing, to my own machine, a beige Smith Corona expressly bought by loving parents for me to take to college. I graduated to an office model, on the premises of The New Yorker, that rose up, with an exciting heave, from the surface of a metal desk. Back in New England as a free-lancer, I invested in an electric typewriter that snatched the letters from my fingertips with a sharp, premature clack; it held, as well as a black ribbon, a white one with which I could correct my many errors. Before long, this clever mechanism gave way to an even more highly evolved device, an early Wang word processor that did the typing itself, with a marvellous speed and infallibility. My next machine, an IBM, made the Wang seem slow and clunky and has been in turn superseded by a Dell that deals in dozens of type fonts and has a built-in spell checker. Through all this relentlessly advancing technology the same brain gropes through its diminishing neurons for images and narratives that will lift lumps out of the earth and put them under the glass case of published print.

With ominous frequency, I can't think of the right word. I know there is a word; I can visualize the exact shape it occupies in the jigsaw puzzle of the English language. But the word itself, with its precise edges and unique tint of meaning, hangs on the misty rim of consciousness. Eventually, with shamefaced recourse to my well-thumbed thesaurus or to a germane encyclopedia article, I may pin the word down, only to discover that it unfortunately rhymes with the adjoining word of the sentence. Meanwhile, I have lost the rhythm and syntax of the thought I was shaping up, and the paragraph has skidded off (like this one) in an unforeseen direction.

When, against my better judgment, I glance back at my prose from twenty or thirty years ago, the quality I admire and fear to have lost is its carefree bounce, its snap, its exuberant air of slight excess. The author, in his boyish innocence, is calling, like the sorcerer's apprentice, upon unseen powers-the prodigious potential of this flexible language's vast vocabulary. Prose should have a flow, the forward momentum of a certain energized weight; it should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.

An aging writer wonders if he has lost the ability to visualize a completed work, in its complex spatial relations. He should have in hand a provocative beginning and an ending that will feel inevitable. Instead, he may arrive at his ending nonplussed, the arc of his intended tale lying behind him in fragments. The threads have failed to knit. The leap of faith with which every narrative begins has landed him not on a far safe shore but in the middle of the drink. The failure to make final sense is more noticeable in a writer like Agatha Christie, whose last mysteries don't quite solve all their puzzles, than in a broad-purposed visionary like Iris Murdoch, for whom puzzlement is part of the human condition. But in even the most sprawling narrative, things must add up.

The ability to fill in a design is almost athletic, requiring endurance and agility and drawing upon some of the same mental muscles that develop early in mathematicians and musicians. Though writing, being partly a function of experience, has few truly precocious practitioners, early success and burnout are a dismally familiar American pattern. The mental muscles slacken, that first freshness fades. In my own experience, diligent as I have been, the early works remain the ones I am best known by, and the ones to which my later works are unfavorably compared. Among the rivals besetting an aging writer is his younger, nimbler self, when he was the cocky new thing.

From the middle of my teens I submitted drawings, poems, and stories to The New Yorker; all came back with the same elegantly terse printed rejection slip. My first break came late in my college career, when a short story that I had based on my grandmother's slow dying of Parkinson's disease was returned with a note scrawled in pencil at the bottom of the rejection slip. It read, if my failing memory serves: "Look-we don't use stories of senility, but try us again."

Now "stories of senility" are about the only ones I have to tell. My only new experience is of aging, and not even the aged much want to read about it. We want to read, judging from the fiction that is printed, about life in full tide, in love or at war-bulletins from the active battlefields, the wretched childhoods, the poignant courtships, the fraught adulteries, the big deals, the scandals, the crises of sexually and professionally active adults. My first published novel was about old people; my hero was a ninety-year-old man. Having lived as a child with aging grandparents, I imagined old age with more vigor, color, and curiosity than I could bring to a description of it now.

I don't mean to complain. Old age treats free-lance writers pretty gently. There is no compulsory retirement at the office, and no athletic injuries signal that the game is over for good. Even with modern conditioning, a ballplayer can't stretch his career much past forty, and at the same age an actress must yield the romantic lead to a younger woman. A writer's fan base, unlike that of a rock star, is post-adolescent, and relatively tolerant of time's scars; it distressed me to read of some teen-ager who, subjected to the Rolling Stones' halftime entertainment at a recent Super Bowl, wondered why that skinny old man (Mick Jagger) kept taking his shirt off and jumping around. The literary critics who coped with Hemingway's later, bare-chested novel Across the River and Into the Trees asked much the same thing.

By and large, time moves with merciful slowness in the old-fashioned world of writing. The eighty-eight-year-old Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Elmore Leonard and P. D. James continue, into their eighties, to produce best-selling thrillers. Although books circulate ever more swiftly through the bookstores and back to the publisher again, the rhythms of readers are leisurely. They spread recommendations by word of mouth and "get around" to titles and authors years after making a mental note of them. A movie has a few weeks to find its audience, and television shows flit by in an hour, but books physically endure, in public and private libraries, for generations. Buried reputations, like Melville's, resurface in academia; avant-garde worthies such as Cormac McCarthy attain, late in life, best-seller lists and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

A pervasive unpredictability lends hope to even the most superannuated competitor in the literary field. There is more than one measurement of success. A slender poetry volume selling fewer than a thousand copies and receiving a handful of admiring reviews can give its author a pride and sense of achievement denied more mercenary producers of the written word. As for bad reviews and poor sales, they can be dismissed on the irrefutable hypothesis that reviewers and book buyers are too obtuse to appreciate true excellence. Over time, many books quickly bloom and then vanish; a precious few unfold, petal by petal, and become classics.

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. 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. Among those diminishing neurons there lurks the irrational hope that the last book might be the best.


In our fifth winter in the Southwest, my wife discovered that her gardening skills could be turned to xerophilous plants. All afternoon, she had served as my assistant and directress in pruning some ocotillo, and was enough exhilarated by the results to turn my attention to our overgrown hedge of mixed olive and oleander. Ocotillo is a tall, wandlike candlewood with vicious thorns and a feathery orange flower at its tip; handling it, even with thick leather gloves, requires the concentration of a bomb squad.

The electric trimmer I had borrowed for the massy hedge was dull and noisy. Further, the electric socket on our porch was distant, a hundred-foot extension cord away. I had to keep crawling on my hands and knees through gaps in the hedge to take the trimmer, trailing the gnarling extension cord, to the other side. And then there was the spindly aluminum stepladder that I had to keep shifting and leaning against springy branches to gain access to the hedge's overgrown top. Our condo sits on a slant, in the foothills of a pink-and-tan mountain range, which made moving the ladder one-handed and then balancing my weight on its higher steps feel heroically precarious.

My sense of triumph when my wife and I agreed that the job had been completed was marred by a mysterious circumstance: my hat had disappeared. Repeatedly getting down on my hands and knees to search beneath the hedge and circling the stony area of caliche where I had labored, I failed to find it. At this latitude, the elderly need to shelter their heads against the intemperate desert sun, and I discovered within myself an agitating grief in regard to the disappearance of the hat, a simple, brimmed floppy affair bearing the logo of an organization of which, years ago, I had been pleased to be elected a member.

Even as the shadows were deepening in the saguaro-studded mountain clefts, and the sun was lowering over the blue range to the west, I, with the circular compulsions of an aging brain, kept wandering out of doors, convinced that one more search in and around the hedge and the ocotillo would produce my missing headgear.

A breadth of paving passes close by the hedge. There, on the slanting asphalt, part parking lot and part side road, a curious confluence arose: an ancient man, brightly dressed in white trousers and a striped, starched shirt, made his ragged way downhill with the help of a cane, while, nearby, a Roto-Rooter operative in a khaki uniform was packing up his truck at the end of his workday. Oleander roots work their way into the clay drainage pipes of our aging complex and obstruct flow.

The gentleman in white trousers greeted me as if we had often met before, though we had not. "What are you doing?" he asked, tilting his head to receive the answer.

I decided to be honest, however foolish it made me seem. "I'm looking for my hat."

The Roto-Rooter man overheard us. "Hat?" he echoed. "There's a hat over here."

By "over here" he meant the curb on the far side of the asphalt, where it had never occurred to me, in all my peering around and under the hedge, to cast a glance. The hat must have fallen from my head in the course of my awkward, preoccupying struggles, and the desert breeze that springs up in the late afternoon had moved it twenty feet away.

"My hat!" I exclaimed. "It is!" I hurried over and, as if to prove my ownership to my two new companions, put it on my head. "Thank you, thank you," I said to each.

The man in khaki smiled, his share of my pleasure appropriately moderate, as he coiled his rooter and distributed the last of his tools to their places in the back of his truck. The older man, however, bent and bowlegged as he was, made my happiness his own. Quizzically beaming, he came closer to me, the shadow of his cane elongating to the east, where the last golfers at the local country club, calling to one another like birds at dawn, were finishing their rounds before darkness fell. "What does it say on your hat?" he asked me.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xvii

Real Conversation

The Writer in Winter 3

A Desert Encounter 8

Nessus at Noon 13

The Football Factory 16

The Beloved 25

The Lens Factory 41

Five Poems

Basium XVI 46

Head of a Girl, at the Met 48

Cafeteria, Mass. General Hospital 49

An Hour Without Color 50

Not Cancelled Yet 51

Book Chat

Humor in Fiction 55

Lives and Laurels

Seven Kierkegaard 70

F. Scott Fitzgerald 72

Ernest Hemingway 73

Kurt Vonnegut 75

L. E. Sissman 77

Raymond Carver 78

Forewords and Afterwords

The Haunted Major, by Robert Marshall 81

The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter, edited by Robert Kimball 85

The Lnzhin Defense, by Vladimir Nabokov 90

The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike with Katrina Kenison 96

Works and Days

The Changeling 106

Back-Chat, Funny Cracks 113

Imperishable Maxwell 121

Basically Decent 134

Fiction Now

Hugger-Mugger 140

Classics Galore 147

A Boston Fable 153

Nan, American Man 158

An Upstate Saga 163

Relative Strangers 168

Dreamy Wilderness 173


Famous Aimee 178

Laissez-faire Is More 185

Makeup and Make-Believe 192

Sparky from St. Paul 199

Gallery Tours

Old Masters

A Wistful Würzburger 209

Singular in Everything 217

More Light on Delft 225

Plain and Simplified 231

Romantics and Realists

"Therefore I Print" 241

Innerlichkeit and Eigentümlichkeit 249

Splendid Lies 257

A Lean and Optical Dane 264

Lear Far and Near 271

The Artist as Trailblazer 279

Van Gogh and Seurat

Uncertain Skills, Determined Spirit 287

The Purest of Styles 295

Pointillism in Black and White 302

Secessionists and Surrealists

Can Genitals Be Beautiful? 309

New Kind on the Block 316

Beyond Real 326

The Enduring Magritte 336

Jean Ipoustéguy 341


Visual Trophies 344

Aftermaths 352

Pet Topics

The Universe

The Valiant Swabian 363

Visions of Mars 370

Extreme Dinosaurs 373

The Commonwealth

Harvard Square in the Fifties 377

Ipswich in the Seventies

Three Texts from Early Ipswich 378

Lovell Thompson 381

Open Spaces 394

Memoirs of a Massachusetts Golfer 399

The Game

In Love with a Wanton 405

Playing with Better Players 407

Walking Insomnia 409

Lost Balls 412

Being Senior 414

Table Talk

The End of Authorship 419

In Defense of the Amateur Reader 422

A Poetics of Book Reviewing 424

An American View of English Fiction 425

Comment on "Poetry's Failure in the Marketplace" 426

Foreword to the 1982 Edition of The Carpentered Hen 426

Introduction to the 1977 Edition of The Poorhouse Fair 429

From the Afterword to Buchanan Dying 438

Reply to Paul Boyer's Appraisal of Memories of the Ford Administration 443

Letter to Rosemary Herbert, Book Review Editor of the Boston Herald, Anent Gertrude and Claudius 446

Introduction to Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels 448

Foreword to The Early Stories: 1953-1975 461

Foreword to Too Far to Go: The Maples Stories 467

Note on "The Indian" 467

Note on Bech: His Oeuvre 468

Replies to Three Questions About Licks of Love 469

The "Original Ending" of Self-Consciousness 471

On One's Own Style 472

Letter Included as an Afterword to the Introduction of Updike in Cincinnati 473

The Courage of Ballplayers 474

Post-Hubble Astronomy 475

On "The American Idea" 475

Commencement Address, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1993 476

Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conference on Christianity and Literature 479

Index 481

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 19, 2011

    Well written, of course, but not his best.

    Well written, but not his best. Some material just simply isn't very interesting.

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