Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sad Literary News

John Updike has died at age 76. Very sad -- and, to me, anyway -- very sudden. He had lung cancer, and I don't know whether it was kept a secret or I just wasn't following his life that closely. It seemed that he was vibrant and would go on writing forever.

I can't say his fictional sensibility was my favorite, but he was inarguably and widely brilliant, and it's hard to imagine a larger loss -- tangible or symbolic -- for American literature. Like Joyce Carol Oates, his pen was mind-bogglingly prolific. Last year, I posted this paragraph by Martin Amis, in which he compares Updike and Samuel Beckett:
Beckett was the headmaster of the Writing as Agony school. On a good day, he would stare at the wall for eighteen hours or so, feeling entirely terrible; and, if he was lucky, a few words like NEVER or END or NOTHING or NO WAY might brand themselves on his bleeding eyes. Whereas Updike, of course, is a psychotic Santa of volubility, emerging from one or another of his studies (he is said to have four of them) with his morning sackful of reviews, speeches, reminiscences, think-pieces, forewords, prefaces, introductions, stories, playlets and poems. Preparing his cup of Sanka over the singing kettle, he wears his usual expression: that of a man beset by an embarrassment of delicious drolleries. The telephone starts ringing. A science magazine wants something pithy on the philosophy of subatomic thermodynamics; a fashion magazine wants 10,000 words on his favorite color. No problem -- but can they hang on? Updike has to go upstairs again and blurt out a novel.



Anonymous PaddyDog said...

Thanks John. With all respect to Heath Ledger, I am amazed by the lack of interest in the death of a a writer of Updike's caliber versus the constant coverage of a movie star's death. You've probably seen by now that The Washington Post is discontinuing its Book Section. Soon, it will just be you, the Highlander of book lovers. I'll still be reading you.
On a happier note: shout out to Sebastian Barry for winning the The Costa Book Award.

3:00 PM  

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