Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism

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“Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea,” writes John Updike in his Foreword to this collection of literary considerations. But the sailor doth protest too much: This collection begins somewhere near deep water, with a flotilla of short fiction, humor pieces, and personal essays, and even the least of the reviews here—those ...

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“Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea,” writes John Updike in his Foreword to this collection of literary considerations. But the sailor doth protest too much: This collection begins somewhere near deep water, with a flotilla of short fiction, humor pieces, and personal essays, and even the least of the reviews here—those that “come about and draw even closer to the land with another nine-point quotation”—are distinguished by a novelist’s style, insight, and accuracy, not just surface sparkle. Indeed, as James Atlas commented, the most substantial critical articles, on Melville, Hawthorne, and Whitman, go out as far as Updike’s fiction: They are “the sort of ambitious scholarly reappraisal not seen in this country since the death of Edmund Wilson.” With Hugging the Shore, Michiko Kakutani wrote, Updike established himself “as a major and enduring critical voice; indeed, as the pre-eminent critic of his generation.”

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, Hugging the Shore is an enormously intelligent, witty collection of essays by John Updike. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist sheds keen light on everything from the first kiss to going barefoot to the world's greatest writers. First time in paper.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“No living American novelist can match Updike in the range and responsiveness of his reading. . . . [Literature is] a house with many mansions, and in Hugging the Shore Updike gives a splendid, striding tour.”—James Wolcott, Harper’s
“These reviews are models of craft—and something more. . . . Hugging the Shore bristles with erudition, energy, and (quietly asserted) high seriousness; it is also one of the year’s most entertaining books.”—Bruce Allen, The Christian Science Monitor
“[Updike’s is] a body of literary criticism unmatched in range, discrimination and eloquence by any American novelist since Henry James.”—The Boston Globe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812983784
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/15/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 896
  • Sales rank: 642,633
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.


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

Table of Contents

Foreword xvii

Persons and Places

Interviews With Insufficiently Famous Americans

The Pal 3

One's Neighbor's Wife 5

The Running Mate 6

The Counsellor 8

The Golf Course Proprietor 11

The Child Bride 12

The Mailman 14

The Widow 16

The Undertaker 18

The Bankrupt Man 20

The Tarbox Police 23

Venezuela for Visitors 28

The Chaste Planet 32

Invasion of the Book Envelopes 37

Golf Dreams 39

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Masters 41

New England 52

The First Kiss 52

Out There 55

Going Barefoot 56

Common Land 59

New England Churches

A Meld 'Complaint' 63

Other People's Books

Three Talks on American Masters 67

Hawthorne's Creed 67

Melville's Withdrawal 73

Whitman's Egotheism 97

Letters 109

The Bear Who Hated Life 109

Simple-Minded Jim 120

Advancing Over Water 128

Nothing Is Easy 138

An Armful of Field Flowers 139

Hem Battles the Pack; Wins, Loses 146

The Doctor's Son 164

The Shining Note 173

Wilson and Nabokov 182

Edmund Wilson's Fiction: A Personal Account 182

An Earlier Day 192

The Cuckoo and the Rooster 201

An Introduction to Nabokov's Lectures 207

The Fancy-Forger Takes the Lectern 220

Proud Happiness 226

Vale, VN 227

Bellow, Vonnegut, Tyler, Le Guin, Cheever 230

Draping Radiance with a Worn Veil 230

Toppling Towers Seen by a Whirling Soul 237

All's Well in Skyscraper National Park 245

Family Ways 254

Loosened Roots 259

Imagining Things 263

On Such a Beautiful Green Little Planet 272

Some British 279

Jake and Lolly Opt Out 279

Indestructible Elena 286

An Introduction to Three Novels by Henry Green 289

Green Green 298

Through the Mid-Life Crisis with James Boswell, Esq. 306

Spark, Murdoch, Trevor, Drabble 318

Topnotch Witcheries 318

Worlds and Worlds 327

Drabbling in the Mud 336

Of Heresy and Loot 340

Coming into Her Own 344

Some Irish 350

Small Cheer from the Old Sod 350

Flann Again 358

An Old-Fashioned Novel 363

Jarry, Queneau, Céline, Pinget 368

Human Capacities 368

Thirty-four Years Late, Twice 375

The Strange Case of Dr. Destouches and M. Céline 383

Robert Pinget 389

Northern Europeans 396

A Primal Modern 396

Saddled with the World 401

Scheherazade 405

Brecht's Dicta 412

Discontent in Deutsch 413

Disaffection in Deutsch 419

Calvino, Grass, Böll 427

Metropolises of the Mind 427

Card Tricks 432

Readers and Writers 440

Fish Story 446

The Squeeze Is On 451

Eastern Europeans 459

Polish Metamorphoses 459

Czarist Shadows, Soviet Lilacs 465

Czech Angels 416

Lem and Pym, Stead and Jones 482

Lem and Pym 482

Selda, Lilia, Ursa, Great Gram, and Other Ladies in Distress 491

Eva and Eleanor and Everywoman 491

Some Nachtmusik, From All Over 504

No Dearth of Death 504

Dark Smile, Devilish Saints 512

Layers of Ambiguity 521

Stalled Starters 528

Frontiersmen 532

Barthes, Berlin, Cioran 539

Roland Barthes 539

Texts and Men 546

The Last of Barthes 553

A Monk Manqué 558

Poets 565

The Heaven of an Old Home 565

Alone but Not Aloof 578

Owlish and Fishy 584

Sissman's Prose 588

Sissman's Poetry 591

Three Poems on Being a Poet, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko 595

Stand Fast I Must 603

Tales 609

Magic Mirrors 609

Fiabe Italiane 613

A Feast of Reason 620

Happy on Nono Despite Odosha 627

The World Called Third 633

African Accents 633

Mixed Reports from the Interior 643

Journeyers 657

Raman and Daisy and Olivia and the Nawab 665

India Going On 671

The Far East 677

Spent Arrows and First Buddings 677

From Fumie to Sony 687

The Giant Who Isn't There 695

The Long and Reluctant Stasis of Wan-li 702

Art and Act 710

Gaiety in the Galleries 710

Tote That Quill 716

Wright on Writing 723

Borges Warmed Over 727

Pinter's Unproduced Proust Printed 733

Suzie Creamcheese Speaks 740

Female Pilgrims 749

Long Views 759

A Cloud of Witnesses 759

Who Wants to Know? 765

To the Tram Halt Together 771

Appendix: On One's Own Oeuvre 783

Index 821

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2014


    It was verry busy and people were everywhere. I was walking around in circles for hours until i run into my uncle.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2014


    How did you get lost?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2004

    A master at work

    The preeminent fiction writer who is also one of America's supreme cultural critics shows his amazing range of interest, and incredible perceptiveness in this collected work of essays . The dazzling Updike line is at work in many of them .In Kierkegaardian terms I found this work a great example of the ' aesthetic man' at work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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