Writer Adam Begley has written a biography of John Updike that I’m going to get around to reading sooner or later, but the article that I’m linking to about it in The Boston Globe already has me worked up.
Apparently in the book, Begley needs to come to Updike’s defense at times. Other writers have stated that Updike’s work has a lack of substance and/or depth. A friend of David Foster Wallace once famously said that Updike is “a penis with a thesaurus.”
Some are now being critical of the number of books Updike put out in his lifetime—about 60 including 20 novels. Some are saying that shows a lack of restraint and some are saying some of his work wasn’t very good.
Yes. “Some,” the critics, are full of it. I don’t think these “some” people have won all the writing awards Updike won and this includes two Pulitzer Prizes.
One of the things I’ve always liked about John Updike is what he considered himself and that was a freelance writer. That’s why he released a book a year, wrote regularly for The New Yorker and also contributed to other magazines and publications. It was his job. It is how he supported himself and his family.
I also suspect he loved doing what he was doing.
I haven’t read all of Updike’s work but I’ve read a lot of it. So much of it is masterful. So much of it is very good. A little of it isn’t that great. Can’t we say this about other writers too? You’re not going to hit a homerun every time.
Like Updike, I’m a freelance writer. Like him I need to make money and that’s why I write books and write for CityBeat and try to get my byline in other publications too. I know that some of my words are better than others. I suspect Updike had the same kind of feelings about his work.
I think what I’m trying to say here is give John Updike his due. He was, by and large, a wonderful writer. Those of us who read know that and you critics trying to bring him down look very small in comparison to this literary giant.
(Photo from venturegalleries.com)