Excerpt: "The Collected Blurbs of John Updike"

 “How rarely it can be said of any of our great American writers that they have been equally gifted in both long and short forms,” reads the citation composed for John Updike upon his winning the 2006 Rea Award. Updike possessed a gift for short forms, indeed. This remarkable volume collects some of his most enlightening and stirring blurbs, on our time’s most crucial novels, short stories, essays, reference books and travel guides. “Contemplating John Updike’s monumental achievement in the [blurb],” the Rea Award citation continues, “one is moved to think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps William Faulkner—writers whose reputations would be as considerable, or nearly, if short [blurbs] had been all that they had written. From his remarkable early [blurbs] . . . through his beautifully nuanced [blurbs] of family life and the bittersweet humors of middle age and beyond . . . John Updike has created a body of work in the notoriously difficult form of the short [blurb] to sit beside those of these distinguished American predecessors. Congratulations and heartfelt thanks are due to John Updike for having brought such pleasure and such illumination to so many readers for so many years.”

An excerpt from The Collected Blurbs of John Updike is below.



“Greene’s masterpiece.”
            —John Updike, on Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory


“Fearless and fresh.”
            —John Updike, on Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying


“Entrancing, vivacious…[a] dazzling, whirlwind account of Western costume.”
            —John Updike, on Anne Hollander’s Sex and Suits


“This writer is not merely good, she is wickedly good.”
            —John Updike, on Anne Tyler’s Searching for Caleb


“There is much to enjoy and admire in Schulz and Peanuts.…The pervasive magic of syndicated cartooning in the twentieth century is knowingly sketched by Michaelis.”
            —John Updike, on David Michaelis’s Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography


“In the vast literature of love, The Seducer’s Diary is an intricate curiosity—a feverishly intellectual attempt to reconstruct an erotic failure as a pedagogic success, a wound masked as a boast.”
            —John Updike, on Søren Kierkegaard The Seducer’s Diary


“A midlife crisis has rarely been sketched in fiction with better humor.”
            —John Updike, on William Dean Howells’s Indian Summer


“I loved Mrs. Caliban. So deft and austere in its prose, so drolly casual in its fantasy….”
            —John Updike, on Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs. Caliban


“A runaway truck of a novel, crammed with bonsai trees, big machines, and babies who talk to God…. At the end, the reader wants the ride to go on indefinitely—or to start all over again.”
            —John Updike, on Robert Olmstead’s Trail of Hearts Blood Wherever We Go: A Novel


“Brilliant… Opulent… Atwood is a poet…. as well as a contriver of fiction, and scarcely a sentence of her quick, dry yet avid prose fails to do useful work, adding to a picture that becomes enormous.”
            —John Updike, on Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin: A Novel


“No one has written a more satisfying, more enjoyable travel book in our time.”
            —John Updike, on Philip Glazebrook’s Journey to Kars


“One of those dangerous reference works that you reach for at a moment of horticultural crisis or indecision only to find yourself an hour later browsing far beyond the page where you began.”
            —John Updike, on Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts: Writer in the Garden


“Many people have written about suburbia, only Cheever was able to make an archetypal place out of it.”
            —John Updike, on John Cheever’s John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings


“The prints in The Art of the American Snapshot are reproduced at their actual modest size, with lots of blazingly white space, and have taken their riddles into oblivion with their anonymous creators.”
            —John Updike, on Sarah Greenough, Diane Waggoner, Sarah Kennel, and Matthew
            S. Witkovsky The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978


“…a rollicking novel laden with rue, a self-portrait of a creative personality who never found a creative outlet that he could respect, a paean to the pleasures and perils of drink, a celebration of ice hockey and tap dancing, a lament for a multicultural Montreal now torn and depressed by Quebecois separatism, a broad window into the bustle of Canadian Jewry, an intermittent disquisition on authorship, an extended meditation on the relations between the sexes, even a murder mystery, with uproarious conclusion.”
            —John Updike, on Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version


“García Marquez has composed, with his usual sensual gravity and Olympian humor, a love letter to the dying light.”
            —John Updike, on Gabriel García Márquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores


“Amazing…one of the most interesting novelists at work.”
            —John Updike, on Thomas Mallon’s Henry and Clara: A Novel


“Drew and Sternberger lump dust jackets with paperback covers and trace their intertwined development in terms of modernism and postmodernism.”
            —John Updike, on Ned Drew and Paul Sternberger’s By Its Cover: Modern American
            Book Cover Design


“[A] many-layered epic of class, politics, sex, death, and social history . . . Its reach is wide and its touch often masterly.”
           —John Updike, on Ethan Canin’s America America


“Splendid…carries us through a multitude of moments of wonder and pity, terror and comedy…with an elegiac compassion and prose of a glittering, swift-moving economy.”
           —John Updike, on E.L. Doctorow’s The March


“A groaning table of brutal incident, magic realism, woman-worship, nature description, and far-flung metaphor. . . . Impressive and ardent.”
           —John Updike, on Mo Yan’s Big Breasts and Wide Hips: A Novel


“An insistently metaphysical mind-bender.”
           —John Updike, on Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore


“Saramago has the gift of gab. Our impression is of a writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any impossibility to life by hurling words at it.”
           —John Updike, on Jose Saramago’s The Double


“A marvel.”
           —John Updike, on Colm Tóibín’s The Master


           —John Updike, on Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli: A Novel


My Life as a Fake is so confidently brilliant, so economical yet lively in its writing, so tightly fitted and continuously startling.”
           —John Updike, on Peter Carey’s My Life As a Fake


“Mistry harks back to the 19th-century novelists. . . . The reader is moved, even to tears.”
           —John Updike, on Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters


“Bernard Shaw couldn’t do it. Henry James couldn’t do it, but the ingenious English author Michael Frayn does do it: write novels and plays with equal success. [He] has extended his reach and seriousness while keeping a sprightly intellectuality.”
           —John Updike, on Michael Frayn’s Spies: A Novel


“Were Elizabeth Cady Stanton alive now…she could not but rejoice at seeing women storm the bastion of biblical scholarship.”
           —John Updike, on Cullen Murphy’s The Word According to Eve


“A major work…conscience-ridden and carefully wrought, tonic in its scope, candor, and humor…with suspense at every dimpled vortex….Pamuk [is Turkey’s] most likely candidate for the Nobel Prize.”
           —John Updike, on Orhan Pamuk’s Snow


“Brilliant…Intelligently planned and generously provisioned…The action is simple but stately, a curve of neediness, attractions, pursuit, capture, fulfillment, disillusion, and departure.”
           —John Updike, on Norman Rush’s Mating


“The tidy paperback volume, exactly seven hundred pages of smallish Trump Mediaeval, with a warm and informative introduction by Francisco Goldman, has the supple heft of a newborn classic, a latter-day “Don Quixote” whose central persona, both amusingly shadowy and adamantly consistent, moves around the globe somewhat as the Knight of the Mournful Countenance traversed the plains of Spain.”
           —John Updike, on Alvaro Mutis’s The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll


“A beautiful and majestic fictional panorama.”
           —John Updike, on Ian McEwan’s Atonement


“A murder mystery set in sixteenth-century Istanbul [that] uses the art of miniature illumination, much as Mann’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ did music, to explore a nation’s soul….Erdag Goknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk’s finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, sly pedantic debates, [and] eerie urban scenes.”
           —John Updike, on Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red


“Does what writing should do; it refreshes our sense of the world….An ambitious, finely chiseled work.”
           —John Updike, on Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days


On Histories and Stories…offer[s] the most spirited and knowledgeable discussion of fiction’s basic questions that I have read for some time. …[Readers must] be grateful to have the art of fiction reworked in such knowing hands, by one to whom the pleasures and rewards of reading are so fundamental.”
           —John Updike, on A.S. Byatt’s On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays (Richard Ellmann
            Lectures in Modern Literature)


“Strangely gripping and gnomically illuminating. . . . Spark has produced one of the best of her sui-generis novels.”
           —John Updike, on Muriel Spark’s Aiding and Abetting: A Novel


“The ingenuity, empathy, and poetic ear that the novelist brings to his feat of imposture cannot be rated too high.”
           —John Updike, on Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang: A Novel


“Such rarity, such marvelous originality, intuition, sensuality and finish…”
           —John Updike, on Henry Green’s Pack My Bag: A Self-Portrait


“…One must admire the wealth of detail and documented anecdote that fuels [Allyn’s] steamy narrative….”
           —John Updike, on David Allyn’s Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered


“Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully. His eye for nature is keen and tender, his sense of weather, both inner and outer, strong. He has an architect’s feeling for décor and for the pathos of the sturdy buildings that our moods fit through….The psychologies of his numerous heroes are shrewdly traced, most revealing in those intervals when each is alone.”
           —John Updike, on Alan Hollinghurst’s The Spell


“Esterhazy’s prose is jumpy, allusive, and slangy; we feel that something is being lost in translation, though Sollosy gamely comes up with a lot of tricksome English…. Still, there is vividness, an electric crackle. The sentences are active and concrete. Physical details leap from the murk of emotional ambivalence.”
           —John Updike, on Peter Esterhazy’s She Loves Me


“A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.”
           —John Updike, on Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things: A Novel


“Curious, humorous, didactic and dazzling….It contains more human interest and play of fancy than most fiction.”
           —John Updike, on Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life


“One of the most unmistakable voices in contemporary fiction.”
           —John Updike, on Muriel Spark’s Reality and Dreams


“Quietly penetrating…fresh…fervent….His gospel is written in a direct, rather relaxed English that yet has an eerie, neo-Biblical dignity.”
           —John Updike, on Norman Mailer


“Wagner knows his Hollywood, and writes like a wizard . . . His prose, out from under the constraints of script manufacture, writhes and coruscates.”
           —John Updike, on Bruce Wagner’s I’m Losing You


“Sarah Bradford’s biography of this exalted being is well researched. Bradford likes Elizabeth, and we get to share her liking, along with a sneaking fondness for all the Windsors. Neither flashy nor clever, they have tended to rise to what the occasion demanded…and in their earthbound stodginess have kept a connection with the British masses.”
           —John Updike, on Sarah Bradford’s Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain’s Queen


“Peru’s best novelist—one of the world’s best.”
           —John Updike, on Mario Vargas Llosa’s Death in the Andes: A Novel


“An oddly beautiful, or beautifully odd, book—a witty and rueful exercise in self-deprecation….Not Entitled remarkably conveys the ‘microclimate’ of depression at the heart of a clever diffidence while being steadily entertaining, and even poetical.”
           —John Updike, on Frank Kermode’s Not Entitled: A Memoir


“The Romantic Movement sheds light on the nature of relationships . . . The method of telling much and showing little produces a good deal of wit, cogency, and humor.”
           —John Updike, on Alain de Botton’s The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel


“The garden next door to reality is art, and…there is no denying Donoso’s essential point: it takes imagination to live as well as to write.”
           —John Updike, on Jose Donoso’s The Garden Next Door: A Novel


“An often perfect American blend of rue and buoyancy, narrative verve and grace.”
           —John Updike, on Donald Hall’s The Museum of Clear Ideas


“By skillfully weaving together whatever material has come to hand…[Norris] has contrived a powerful evocation of an experience notoriously difficult to put into words.”
           —John Updike, on Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography


“[It] offers the reader many fascinating data about human artifacts….Petroski is an amiable and lucid writer….He belong[s] with the poets, extending the Romantic embrace of nature to the invented, manufactured world that has become man’s second nature.”
           —John Updike, on Henry Petroski’s The Evolution of Useful Things


“A tale of astonishing success—the small groups slowly grew, joined with other groups, and became a partisan force able to blow up bridges, attack German convoys, rescue other Jews, and exact revenge for earlier betrayals… This account has the authority of unvarnished human testimony; Mr. Werner’s matter-of-fact tone makes the story he tells all the more horrifying.”
           —John Updike, on Harold Werner’s Fighting Back


“Even his lighter-hearted fictions…make us hold our breath, and the endings don’t let us quite exhale.”
           —John Updike, on Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s A Cat, a Man, and Two Women


“[This book is] no mere curiosity but a thoroughly enchanting novel—sophisticated and accomplished in its poetic prose and narrative deftness, yet drawing resonance from its roots in one of Europe’s most primitive societies.”
           —John Updike, on Ismail Kadare’s Chronicle in Stone: A Novel


“The blasphemous and dwarfing revelation of ‘deep time’ forms the underlying drama of [this book]…Gould’s lucid animated style, rarely slowed by even a touch of the ponderous, leads us deftly through the labyrinth of faded debates and perceptions…Gould, with a passion that approaches the lyrical, argues for a retrospective tolerance in science and against fashions that would make heroes and villains of men equally committed to the cause of truth and equally immersed in the metaphors and presumptions of their culture and time.”
           —John Updike, on Stephen Jay Gould’s Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in
            the Discovery of Geological Time


“The story and perhaps the words are another’s but the élan is all Gabriel García Márquez’s.”
           —John Updike, on Gabriel García Márquez’s Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of
            Miguel Littin


“Excellent…Yanan is a lovable protagonist whose travels and travails we follow with continuous concern…wonderful…a tour de force.”
           —John Updike, on Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s Reindeer Moon: Reindeer Moon


“No other writer combines such a surface of colloquial relaxation and even dishevelment with such a dense load of mediating intelligence….Roth has never written more scrupulously or, in spots, more lovingly.”
           —John Updike, on Philip Roth’s The Counterlife


“Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.”
           —John Updike, on Vladimir Nabokov’s The Enchanter


“An elaborate and erudite opus saturated in the verbal bravura of classic modernism.”
           —John Updike, on Augusto Roa Bastos’s I, The Supreme


“A miracle, a fresh slant on the old magic.”
           —John Updike, on Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden


“With [The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta] Mario Vargas Llosa…has replaced Gabriel García Márquez as the South American novelist for gringos to catch up on.”
           —John Updike, on Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta: A Novel


“The stories are rich and startling in their matter and confident and eloquent in their manner…They are—the word cannot be avoided—magical.”
           —John Updike, on Gabriel García Márquez’s Collected Stories


“Listening, via the printed word, to these relaxed and yet highly explicit discourses, one realizes that never again will there be a mind and memory stocked just this way, with such benign and extensive curiosity, such patient and expectant attention to ancient texts. Bent upon conveying treasure, Borges reveals himself a treasure.”
           —John Updike, on Jorge Luis Borges’s Seven Nights


“A masterpiece….[Bernhard’s] world is so powerfully imagined that it can seem to surround you like little else in literature.”
           —John Updike, on Thomas Bernhard’s Concrete


“A sense of caring intimacy lifts Kazin’s survey above the usual inventory of masterworks…An American Procession is a refresher in the best sense…It vivaciously refreshes our awareness.”
           —John Updike, on Alfred Kazin’s An American Procession


“Miss Emcheta’s prose has a shimmer of originality, of English being re-invented….Issues of survival lie inherent in her material and give her tales weight.”
           —John Updike, on Buchi Emcheta’s Double Yoke


The Anatomy Lesson is a ferocious, heartfelt book…lavish with laughs and flamboyant inventions.”
           —John Updike, on Philip Roth’s The Anatomy Lesson


“A sprightly novel. Schine has a real caricaturist’s flair.”
           —John Updike, on Cathleen Schine’s Alice in Bed


“A stunning exhibit; the interviewed subjects…enunciate their memories of the days of Haile Selassie with a magical elegance that…achieves poetry and aphorism.”
           —John Updike, on Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor


Between Fantoine and Agapa for all its buffoonery was a venture into the unknown.”
           —John Updike, on Robert Pinget’s Between Fantoine and Agapa


“At the novel’s end…we do feel we have lived in a French village at a bone-deep level no logic-bound tale could have reached.”
           —John Updike, on Robert Pinget’s The Libera Me Domine


Passacaglia…an intense, somber and moving work.”
           —John Updike, on Robert Pinget’s Passacaglia


“Like such other anarchic spirits as Flann O’Brien and Céline, Konwicki has a lovely way of writing, which never clogs chaos with self-pity and bestows upon the direst pages sentences of casual magic….Konwicki is effortlessly witty.”
           —John Updike, on Tadeusz Konwicki’s The Polish Complex


“A thoughtful, intricate, ambivalent novel with the reach of greatness in it.”
           —John Updike, on Milan Kundera’s The Joke


“Astonishing…elegantly experimental yet quite warm…A forthright sensuality mixed with a fine historical feeling for the nightmare moments in modern history, a dreamlike fluidity and quickness.”
           —John Updike, on D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel


“[Calvino] manages to charm and entertain the reader in the teeth of a scheme designed to frustrate all reasonable readerly expectations.”
           —John Updike, on Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler


“A constantly surprising work, grimly humorous, total in its empathy and pungent with the scent of evil and corruption.”
           —John Updike, on William Trevor’s Other People’s Worlds


“Sylvia Townsend Warner’s brilliantly varied and self-possessed literary production never quite won her the flaming place in the heavens of repute that she deserved. In Lolly Willowes, her first novel, she moves with somber confidence into the realm of the supernatural, and her prose, in its simple, abrupt evocations, has something preternatural about it. This is the witty, eerie, tender but firm life history of a middle-class Englishwoman who politely declines to make the expected connection with the opposite sex and becomes a witch instead.”
           —John Updike, on Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes: Or the Loving Huntsman


“An immense anthropological erudition is here wielded by one of the world’s finest minds, and the myths themselves have never been taken more seriously….[Lévi-Strauss] raises issues and then resolves them with the suspenseful cunning of a mystery novelist.”
           —John Updike, on Claude Lévi-Strauss’s The Origin of Table Manners: Mythologiques,
            Volume 3


“As a fictional portrait of this war, Going After Cacciato is hard to fault, and will be hard to better.”
           —John Updike, on Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato


“Pinter’s unproduced script affords us the pleasure of having our memory of Remembrance of Things Past refreshed, and provides yet another angle of perception upon a work so elaborate and many-faceted it never fails to give back new light.”
           —John Updike, on Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay: A la Recherche du Temps Perdu


“This book relates the tortured love/hate story of Nietzsche and his sister.”
           —John Updike, on Heinz Friedrick Peters’s Zarathustra’s Sister: The Case of Elizabeth
            and Friedrich Nietzsche


“The reality of magic in Mr. Ousmane’s interweave of erotic farce and stern social comment hints, to a Westerner, of what magically fragile constructs our personal pretensions are.”
           —John Updike, on Sembène Ousmane’s Xala


“There probably have rarely been any funnier, more apt descriptions of the language and style of sixties political groups.”
           —John Updike, on John Sayles’s Union Dues: A Novel


“[Carlito’s Way] is in the grisly tradition of Little Caesar, The Jones Men, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and it is the equal of any of them.”
           —John Updike, on Edwin Torres’s Carlito’s Way


“[Narayan] retains the rare gift of making us trust his characters and believe in their idealism and good will….In the bustling, puzzling Malgudi of 1972…the city’s chronicler keeps his anachronistic capacity for reverence.”
           —John Updike, on R,K. Narayan’s The Painter of Signs


“Quiroga’s stories are, like Poe’s, full of psychological shocks and eerie effects, and are bracingly, if ruthlessly, realistic.”
           —John Updike, on Haracio Quiroga’s The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories


“Patrick C. Power has performed sorcery in translating a work so specific in its allusions and exotic in its language. Again and again, so consistently that we come to take it for granted, Mr. Power re-creates Garlic music in English.”
           —John Updike, on Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story About the Hard Life


Divine Right’s Trip shows itself to be a subtly written and morally passionate epic of the counterculture, a fictional explication of the hopeful new consciousness come to birth…Divine Right is bigger than life, and in giving the story thus far of a segment of his generation, in prose nicely threaded between the vernacular and the symbolic, Gurney Norman has shown a noble reach and a healthy grasp.”
           —John Updike, on Gurney Norman’s Divine Right’s Trip: A Novel


“A startling reminder that solitude may be chosen and that a lively, full novel can be constructed entirely within the precincts of that regressive virtue, feminine patience.”
           —John Updike, on Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women


“Ambitious, caustic, and impassioned.”
           —John Updike, on Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood

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