What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In Praise of Updike's Nonfiction

Phillip Lopate, in his recent review of Jonathan Franzen’s new essay collection Farther Away ("Manageable Discontents," The New York Times Sunday Book Review, May 18, 2012), says that, “John Updike was an ever-graceful critic, but few of his nonfiction pieces stir the blood the way his short stories or novels can.” For me, it’s the other way around. It’s Updike’s essays and criticism that stimulate me. If my house caught fire and I had only a few seconds to grab a handful of books from the flames, I’d pick my collection of Updike’s nonfiction: Assorted Prose (1965), Picked-Up Pieces (1975), Hugging the Shore (1983), Just Looking (1989), Odd Jobs (1991), More Matter (1999), Still Looking (2005), Due Considerations (2007), and Higher Gossip (2011). That’s quite an armload! And if I had to reduce it to one choice, I’d select Picked-Up Pieces, which contains, among so many wonderful articles, Updike’s incomparable appreciation of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (“Remembrance of Things Past Remembered”). Updike’s essays and criticism are, for me, a tremendous source of reading pleasure. 

Credit: The above portrait of John Updike is by Tom Bachtell.

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