Wyatt Mason on Updike’s criticism.

Here’s an excerpt from a very good piece by Wyatt Mason (as most of them are), this time on the subject of the recently passed Updike’s work in criticism:

…as much as writers were inspired by him, his example also provided a way for the young writer to define herself against him. The recent vogue for starry-eyed “mentoring” elides the no less necessary, perhaps more needed, role played by the king’s statue in the town square: something to tilt at, taunt, topple.

I also very much liked this:

Updike wrote about writing as reading in the way David Gates, in his beautiful Jernigan, defines the practice: it was “not just going along with the words but thinking about things at the same time.”

And, finally, also:

His reviews were generous, but not in the sense that he regularly mollycoddled mediocrity. He tried to take at books on the terms they set for themselves, then tried to evaluate how well they managed on those terms, then looked at whether those terms were themselves adequate, useful, or beautiful. This habit of mind alone is unusual in the practice of long form literary criticism, which in lesser hands attached to meaner minds devolves into a sport of knaves.


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