Why is the best stuff always written about authors right after they die? I’d like to request a similar quantity of analysis–right now!–of the writing of Don Delillo, Tom Wolfe, John Irving, and, oh, Junot Diaz as that we’ve seen lately of Updike, Mailer, et al.
Anyway, enjoyed this piece about Updike by Sam Anderson in New York magazine. For one, it gave me more appreciation of writing small. (My predeliction–for reading and writing–tends to swing toward the epic.) For another, there’s this:
His solution to the daily crisis of inspiration was simply not to have it: He wrote steadily, with very little angst, three pages a day, five days a week.
I’ve recently been semi-fascinated by the idea of the unreliable narrator. I like to be somewhat playful when writing, and I think it makes for a richer experience for the reader if he or she has to make some decisions along the way. The writer can’t do all the work, right?
Anyway, I read much of Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano. I finally gave up. I just wasn’t enjoying it, although that may something to do with the fact that, at the time, I only had time to read a few pages a night. The book is complicated. A few pages a night is short shrift. Now, 2666 is the magnum opus du jour (see Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Underworld). Personally, I’m going to hold out.
Came across this New York Times article yesterday. Seems that Bolano may have embellished, or let others embellish, his life story. Seems about right. The author as the ultimate unreliable narrator. Very meta.
John Updike died yesterday. I can’t claim to have read much of his work, which slightly disturbs me. I did read The Terrorist, which I loved. It was amazing to me how he, as a writer, could completely inhabit the mind of a young Muslim who gets recruited to be a suicide bomber. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was a sympathetic portrait. Perhaps empathetic? I really should better understand the difference between those two words. But still, I learned from that.
Also, I read at least part of Rabbit, Run, and paraphrased/appropriated the first line of the book for a magazine story I wrote about pickup basketball.
Today, NPR’s Fresh Air played three excerpts of previous John Updike interviews. I drove in my car then sat at the kitchen table and ate lunch then sat on my couch and listened to them. I admire (and, dare I write, empathized with the fact) that he took hold of a relatively simple life (a Protestant and, he said, “a bit of country boy”) and wrote from that, all the while jealous of the Beats and the urban Jews. Although he did observe that not everyone could be on the road all the time like Jack Kerouac “or nothing would get done.”
Terry Gross read a line from one of his essays that I liked. Something about (I have terrible memory for quotes) how whenever any of us look at our own reflection, it is with the hope that something has changed.
Here’s the interview, plus some bonus coverage.
Here’s John Irving remembering Updike for Slate.
Here’s The Times’s appraisal.
And here’s The Times’s obit.
I’m thinking of growing a soul patch, because I saw one on some guy in a car today, and it looked kinda cool. That’s how it works.