BookTV ran a three-hour interview with John Updike on In Depth on Sunday, and it was very interesting. He is very charismatic. Very intelligent. Engaging. A perfect blend of good humor and modesty in the sense of speaking plainly and unapologetically about his strengths and talents without coming off as arrogant or pretentious, (although I’m not so sure I would say that he never comes off that way in his writing). Perhaps it’s just the age, (I think he said he was 73), but he’s got that appealing apolitical, detached, “above it all”, “what will be will be”, “roll with the punches” type of attitude. (At least appealing in someone whom you’re watching on BookTV.) I will definitely read his stuff in a new light. We frequently remind each other, (in today’s legal profession), that you have to be careful with E-Mail, because the “tone” is frequently lost. Perhaps, in a similar way, Updike’s tone is lost in The New Yorker.
In any event, he said a lot of interesting things, but he said two interesting things in particular about writing.
First, he commented that the problem with modern art was similar to the problem with current literature. Which is that writers have read too much. And they are too boggled up with all of the styles of all of the writers who have come before. And he thinks it would likely be helpful if we could just wipe the slate clean and start anew.
Second, he was asked whether he kept a journal. And he said no. Because you have all of these sketches and scenes and the temptation becomes too great to try to fit the words into the work. It’s like, he says, when you are trying to bake cranberry muffins and you are trying to figure out how you are going to fit in these huge cranberries. Whereas, when you’re really cooking, things just kind of flow.
Without reading any of Updike’s poems, I found it refreshing to hear him opine that you needed to put meter and rhyme back into poetry.
He was also gracious to someone who found his works “boring” commenting that in the world of books, as in my father’s house, there are many mansions, and so it was good that there were so many books, and there seem to be more and more (even as the death of reading has been pronounced) increasingly available every day from more and more publishers, which is good. But then adding: “in a way”.