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More Matter: Essays and Criticism Paperback – October 3, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; First Thus edition (October 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044900628X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449006283
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,664,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ever since he made his two-pronged prose debut in 1959 with The Poorhouse Fair and The Same Door, John Updike has delivered approximately one work of fiction per year. Few modern novelists have approached this level of productivity, which suggests a kind of late-Victorian stamina and linguistic lust for life. Even fewer have simultaneously churned out, as Updike has, a constant stream of reviews, essays, reminiscences, and occasional pieces. His custom is to collect this abundance every decade or so, disguising the substantial nature of these volumes with throwaway titles like Picked-Up Pieces and Odd Jobs. The latest such cornucopia is More Matter--and, like its predecessors, this 928-page behemoth reminds us that Updike is among our most discerning and omnivorous critics.

His title, this time, echoes Queen Gertrude's editorial advice to Polonius: "More matter, with less art." Only reluctantly does Updike assent to our age's appetite for facts, facts, and more facts, with fiction relegated to a kind of imaginative finger bowl:

Human curiosity, the abettor and stimulant of the fiction surge between Robinson Crusoe's adventures and Constance Chatterley's, has become ever more literal-minded and impatient with the proxies of the imagination. Present taste runs to the down-home divulgences of the talk show--psychotherapeutic confession turned into public circus--and to investigative journalism that, like so many heat-seeking missiles, seeks out the intimate truths, the very genitals, of Presidents and princesses.
Strong stuff, that last line, especially from the man whom Nicholson Baker called "the first novelist to take the penile sensorium under the wing of elaborate metaphoric prose."

But if Updike's critical investigations tend to stay above the belt, they remain as wide-ranging and elegant as ever. In More Matter, he takes on Herman Melville and Mickey Mouse, Abraham Lincoln and the male body--not to mention the cream of modern cosmology. His formulations on almost any subject seem ripe for the commonplace book. Here he is on sexual appetite: "Lust, which begins in a glance of the eye, is a searching, and its consummation, step by step, a knowing." On the short story: "The inner spaces that a good short story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion." On the austerity of biblical narrative: "The original Gospels evince a flinty terseness, a refusal, or inability, to provide the close focus and cinematic highlighting that the modern mind expects." And finally, on the raw intimacies of John Cheever's published journals:

His confessions posthumously administer a Christian lesson in the deep gulf between outward appearance and inward condition; they present, with an almost unbearable fullness, a post-Adamic man, an unreconciled bundle of cravings and complaints, whose consolations--the glory of the sky, the company of his young sons--have the ring of hollow cheer in the vastness of his dissatisfaction. Comparatively, the journals of Kierkegaard and Emerson are complacent and academic.
These sentences neatly unite the author's literary and theological concerns--although the latter topic takes something of a back seat in More Matter--and remind us of the compound pleasures of his prose. In his preface, Updike refers to the book as "my fifth such collection and--dare we hope?--my last." We very much hope not. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Many American writers this century have been called brilliant and accomplished, but Updike is the real thing, as this huge collection of personal essays, social commentary, book reviews, introductions, interviews and occasional pieces amply attests. It is astonishing that a volume of nearly 200 piecesAmost written for such intellectual venues as the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, but some penned for the mass audiences of Newsweek and USAir MagazineArepresents only eight years' work at a time when Updike was producing roughly a novel every two years. But perhaps even more surprising is his range, depth and originality. Segueing freely from the latest biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the nature of evil to cars, cartoons and burglar alarms, these essays are bursting with sentiments and observations that defy ideology or neat categorization. Just when you think Updike is a cultural conservative (he deems young men's haircuts "hostile," mocks Borges and debates the serial comma), he defends Jacques Derrida (against Camille Paglia, no less). Just when you think he is refined and cautious (shaving the metaphysical line between "freedom" and "equality"), he turns irreverent (referring to Helen Keller jokes and "God in a lilac shortie nightgown" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). Some pieces are prophetic, such as his comments in 1996 on our fascination with the Titanic disaster. Unlike most journalism, Updike's occasional writing is so exquisite as to repay multiple readings. And not least among the many virtues of this book, the 50th of his career, is its sheer fact of convenient assembly. BOMC alternate selection. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. 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, and since 1957 lived in Massachusetts. He was the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mark K. Jensen on August 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
One of the most annoying things about many of the reviews that accompanied the publication of *More Matter* in the fall of 1999 was the ungrateful tone of reviewers who complained about the heft, the bulk, the sheer immensity, the allegedly self-indulgent inclusiveness of Updike's most recent collection of prose. Containing -- by my count and including the preface -- some 191 separate items, the size of this assemblage of "Essays and Criticism" (as Updike subtitles the volume, despite his protestation on page 810 that "I write not criticism but book reviews") would seem to justify such complaints. But such carping must really have been due to the understandable and forgivable (albeit unprofessional) readerly fatigue of grubstreet reviewers laboring against a deadline. Their griping is as absurd as nieces and nephews complaining that some rich uncle has left them too much money. The grace and insight that have marked Updike's prose since he became a professional writer almost fifty years ago distinguish every page of this collection.
The volume is arranged in four parts. About 100 pages address "Large Matters"; in this election year, it would be well if every American read the first piece, on freedom and equality. Five hundred pages consist of "Matter under Review," mostly book reviews but including some articles that a candid Updike would have to admit to be genuine criticism, since they go far beyond the "matter under review." Especially good are essays on Mickey Mouse, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Theodore Dreiser, F.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Brown on June 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Nowhere on the modern scene do we find a writer with an appettite as voracious as John Updike's. Thankfully, Updike has the skill and savvy to handle his way around just about any subject with artfulness and dignity, so that his appetite never seems to consume his talent. Only Updike would be able to put together a collection like this for the third time without having to let it flounder in sub-par material-- most writers wouldn't stand up through just one such collection. Each piece, with only the rarest of exceptions, finds its feet and leads the reader someplace interesting and substantial. Most of all, this collection shows that Updike is just plain good at the modern essay. He has such a nice, consistent balance of content and flair, that reading his pieces becomes enjoyable no matter what the subject interests of the reader may be. Reading his collections can be a sort of tour-de-force clinic in the art of the essay: this one is no exception. Read it as an exercise in appreciation for the master of modern literary form.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jim Kibble on February 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Usually I'd be happy to let Updike fend for himself, but the misguided comments below finally got my goat. His status as a first-rate critic--not to mention a first-rate novelist and essayist--is so glaringly apparent that I must take Mr. Finn's remarks as perverse contrarianism. And that goes double for his loopy defense of Tom Wolfe, whose amusing and observant novels can't hold a candle to the brilliance of Updike's Rabbit Angstrom series. Do you really believe that 100 years from now, old men will be uttering lines from "A Man in Full" on their deathbeds? What an absurdity!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eric Krupin on January 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
I could plump just as vigorously for any of Updike's other collections of non-fiction ("Hugging The Shore" is my sentimental favorite, probably because it was my first) but since this, being the most recent, is the one I am likeliest to persuade you to buy, I'll say here that he seems to me virtually the ideal book reviewer: unfailingly interesting and articulate, fair minded, broad searching, neither too breezy nor long-winded.
The feud set off by his filing Tom Wolfe's "A Man In Full" under Entertainment rather than Literature (not, to my mind, a seriously disputable judgement) is a very silly bit of sibling bickering, not even as compelling in its own tiny dimensions as the old hostilities between Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal. (Any geezers out there who remember the ink spilled over that one?) That it has taken away even a small bit of the attention that should have been paid to Updike's delightfully long-lived vitality in this field is a downright shame.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
No matter where you open this one up, there's something interesting to read about, described in beautiful prose. The range and variety of topics and styles of essay are astounding.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jay (sshscoach@midkan.net) on November 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As varied as HUGGING THE SHORE, but far more eloquent and intorspective. His remarks on Welty are the best I've ever read and he is not afraid to be honest about literure's flavor of the month: Tom Wolfe. (Agree with him or not, he presents a thought provoking argument and isn't that what an essay is for. His comments about Melville add to the previous work, but stand on their own. Updike is a stud!
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