Wednesday, February 11, 2009

John Updike teaches from beyond the grave

Reading The New Yorker's artful collection of excerpts from the late author's oeuvre is like taking a tiny master class. From a droll poem about neutrinos (which in 1960 were a hot topic) to the sensuality and unnerving suspense of "Elsie by Starlight" (2004), the magazine's tribute effectively demonstrates to Updike neophytes why he's so widely celebrated.

As a writer, I appreciate the way this assortment hopscotches from fiction to poetry, then to memoir, and back to fiction, with a few book reviews tossed in for good measure. It's an impressive display of Updike's versatility, but it's also inspiring, since he makes genre-hopping look tremendously fun and rewarding. Also well worth a look: Adam Gopnik's lovely obituary, and Roger Angell's even lovelier one. The first makes me want to read Updike; the second makes me want to write fiction.

On an equally vital cultural note: the stories behind various Muppets, courtesy of (by way of Kelly).

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