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Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 1, 2011
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“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 text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
John Updike was the author of more than sixty books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have been honored with the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hugging the Shore, an earlier collection of essays and reviews, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He died in January 2009.
Christopher Carduff, the editor of this volume, is a member of the staff of The Library of America.
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in his Forward to The Early Stories: 1953 - 1975, found here, john updike wrote: A selection, surely, is best left to others, when the writer is no longer alive to obstruct the process.' i gratefully accept this suggestion as his invitation to read Higher Gossip not as a collection but as a selection of delights to be savored over time.
Updike did have plans for another volume of essays and criticism from work he collected in a three shirt boxes placed inside a carton which, after his death, arrived in book form as Higher Gossip under the editorship of christopher carduff. along with selections from the boxes, carduff tracked down fugitive pieces; in all, the writings here, including poems and a few short stories, span in years from a `comment solicited by the Times Literary Supplement' in 1964 to articles published in The National Geographic Magazine, one of them on dinosaurs, in 2007 and 2008.
nearly a third of the volume is comprised of writings on gallery art. two hundred and fifty pages of text discussing paintings, drawings, and photographs the majority of them not included here, is a lot to ask even the most ardent fan of updike and appreciator of art to make do with merely a few photos in black and white copy. no one should read the art pieces straight through; they are best enjoyed at leisure, with computer as companion piece to linger over the artist discussed while reading updike's text.
to the end, john updike continued homage to his influences, and , as a young man of the fifties, the authors of light verse, a form which had its heyday that decade, and the writers who graced, as did he, the pages of The New Yorker. also shared in print are his reponses to awards and tributes he received over the years, comments on his own works, and the vast array of reviews of books written by authors from around the globe.
the several golf essays contain some of his best writing, as with this description from Walking Insomnia: `Golf at its measured pace permits an electric excess of mental activity. Your brain pours a rain of advice down upon your body, like a seasoned old coach who is at first patient and fatherly with a dull-witted athlete, then louder and blunter in his sideline advice, and finally livid with frustration. Who could sleep in such a racket of inward stricture?' such a metaphor would be as easily at home in a work of fiction.
as a writer he measured his game against the greats. his career, thanks to The New Yorker, was a fortunate one; his high talent never lacked place to shine--a quintessential american writer, who began in the 1950s, brought what he admired, emulated, learned, and transmuted from foreign writers to places like his imaginary tarbox. he was ambitious, but ambitious with his delicious tongue in cheek self-consciousness which failed to hide a humility which over decades deepened into grace and fine manners; i believe he never really expected to better his precursors, and he didn't, the roster of greats remains intact, but that he wanted to find a place among them, so that when we talk about the literary game we might for a moment mention him as one on the playing field.
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.
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