John Updike, 1955
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images, via NYMag
The ‘net is fairly bursting with Updike appreciations, but I especially like this one from Sam Anderson at New York, which notes that amid what can seem an intimidating body of work, Updike’s essays offer an easy and richly satisfying introduction or revisit.
I always go back, first, to his essays, which strike me as the purest expression of his personality: easy, sociable, curious, smart, funny, generous, and almost pathologically cheerful. He was, for my money, one of the greatest belletrists of all time — a master of the short, casual, elegant, whimsical, roving piece about absolutely anything. …He could take the fruits of high culture — obscure philosophy, art history, sociological scraps — and translate it, for a wide audience, into little miracles of focused thought, all written in an elegant verbal music.
It was wonderful, for instance, to see Updike, beginning in his late fifties, set out to make himself a deeply informed writer on art, which he did; most of that work ended up in the New York Review of Books.
He had the prose equivalent of a perfect baseball swing: effortless, smooth, and with a very high rate of success.
See too this admiration from the NEH site:
Of all modern American writers, Updike comes closest to meeting Virginia Woolf’s demand that a writer’s only job is to get himself, or herself, expressed without impediments.