If you are among the legions who paused in January 2009 to mourn John Updike passing, then Higher Gossip, a posthumous collection of essays, reviews, poems, and other writings, will make you cry all over again. While the title refers to an Updike quote regarding book reviews, this volume demonstrates that being one of America's greatest post-war novelists and short story writers was only part of his great talents. Indeed, when Updike died America lost one of its great - and most prolific - public intellectuals.
Like a broken pinata, what pours of this volume is a bounty of surprising delights. For example, you might expect to read Updike on Fitzgerald, Carver, or Nabokov (which are just a few among those dealing with authors), but his brief piece on Kierkegaard offers a slit window into the author's spiritual side. Almost 150 pages of reviews and meditations on art exhibitions and artists further speaks to his wide interests. Several previously uncollected poems similarly delight, as does a section titled "Pet Topics" which includes considerations on subjects ranging from Albert Einstein, to dinosaurs, to Updike's devotion to golf. Added into this thrilling mix are talks on varied topics (one on humor in fiction stands out as particularly fine), as well as Updike's introductions to some later editions of his own work.
As often as not, when volumes such as this appear after a great writer death, one receives a hastily collected hodgepodge of works of varying quality and importance. Christopher Carduff, the editor of this book, is therefore deserving of much praise for creating something which Updike lovers will surely treasure. Instead of reading it in one sitting, consider imbibing these pieces a little bit at a time; give yourself a chance to savor the unique genius that was John Updike.