…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
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
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)
“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
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.
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.