cover image More Matter: Essays and Criticism

More Matter: Essays and Criticism

John Updike. Knopf Publishing Group, $35 (928pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40630-0

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 pieces--most 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 Magazine--represents 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.)