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Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism Hardcover – October 15, 1991


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 919 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (October 15, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679404147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679404149
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #606,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An amazingly prolific man of letters, Updike serves up a feast in this massive compilation of essays, speeches, prefaces, a playlet and dozens of book reviews, the latter of which make up the bulk of the book. In conversational, urbane, witty prose he offers a dizzying smorgasbord of opinions on baseball, pop music, architecture, national monuments, the Gospel of St. Matthew, Ben Franklin, Mozart's music (it "gives us permission to live") and the modern artist as courter of risk and danger. While his portrayal of women as "reasonable and right" non-protesters, a trait he implies is biogenic, smacks of male chauvinism, he is more enlightening in discussing Eros and men's mythologizing of women's bodies. Along with appreciations of Edmund Wilson ("a paragon of intellectual energy and curiosity") and John Cheever, there are travel pieces ranging from Finland to dysfunctional New York City. Whatever the topic, Updike never fails to offer a perspicacious comment and fresh observation. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is Updike's fourth collection of nonfiction, or "odd literary jobs," as he calls them: "the prefaces and puffs, the 'few paragraphs' on beauty or baseball--that a persevering writer, aging into a shaky celebrity, gets increasingly asked to do." There are short notices, a travel piece, and occasional pieces on assigned topics like fiction, women, national monuments, popular music, New York architecture, being on TV, and speeches. But mostly there are essays and reviews, a few on science or technical topics, but generally literary: from tributes to Edmund Wilson and John Cheever, to reflections on Matthew's Gospel or the criticism of Q.D. Leavis, to reviews of Roth, Murdoch, Shaw, Ecco, and many others. An appendix of comments on his own works ends the book. Everything, as we've come to expect, is very well and wittily handled, with broad, sometimes surprising knowledge and insights--perhaps precious and New York -ish at times, perhaps the work of one who can "write term papers for pay instead of grades," but clearly superior literary journalism. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/91.
- Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Moore on February 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Heft this book in your hand (and recall that he produced several more volumes of nearly this bulk) to appreciate Updike's productivity as a literary and cultural critic and shrewd, minute observer of contemporary and historic scenery.

For me, Updike's greatness lies not so much in his skill as a novelist as in his essays, which reveal the depth and breadth of his personal interests in easy, droll, delightful prose. Dip into this collection anywhere and find brief or extended bursts of his erudition and his ability to deal interestingly with topics fresh or worn.

Example: His review of the 2-volume collected diaries of Tolstoy (a chronic melancholic who dwelt constantly on his own shortcomings); the writer's perseveration and the collection itself are panned, but in an easy, rambling 14 pages that wittily convey much about Tolstoy's career, misogyny, self-criticism, long life and achievements.

Example: In the first of four short, genial appreciations of John Cheever, he writes, "He was often labelled a writer about suburbia; but many people have written about suburbia, and only Cheever was able to make an archetypal place out of it, a terrain we can recognize within ourselves, wherever we are or have been. Only he saw in its cocktail parties and swimming pools the shimmer of dissolving dreams; no one else satirized with such tenderness its manifold distinctions of class and style, or felt with such poignance the weary commuter's nightly tumble back into the arms of his family." This is marvelous characterization of a writer who in many ways was Updike's twin in chronicling that post-war American era of domestic life resumed, with its delight in, mismanagement of, and eventual boredom with success, power, and love.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Great Faulkner's Ghost TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's a shame that these earlier essays by Updike have gone out of print. Perceived in the same graceful style of his most famous essay collection, Hugging the Shore, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the readings in Picked Up Pieces are no less startling in their breathtaking insights and sympathetic readings of a wide range of authors and their works. Updike is so at ease with all aspects of the language and the culture that reading him is like a guided tour into the greatest pleasure and deepest instincts of the the literary terrain of the time. Highly recommended, and a vote to reprint these essays for our own time.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Great Faulkner's Ghost TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a shame that these earlier essays by Updike have gone out of print. Perceived in the same graceful style of his most famous essay collection, Hugging the Shore, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the readings in Picked Up Pieces are no less startling in their breathtaking insights and sympathetic readings of a wide range of authors and their works. Updike is so at ease with all aspects of the language and the culture that reading him is like a guided tour into the greatest pleasure and deepest instincts of the the literary terrain of the time. Highly recommended, and a vote to reprint these essays for our own time.
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