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Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism Hardcover – October 15, 1991
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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.
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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.
This and the other volumes of essays are wonderful books to have at hand for casual reading and discovery. Updike wrote knowledgeably about the literature of and before his time, and his essays will be valued by any student of the second half of the literary 20th century. Here is a master essayist and thinker who rarely fails to entertain and inform.