Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From Writing to Reviewing and Back: John Updike in Memoriam

When I started this blog, I quickly moved from writing fiction to writing reviews of other people's fiction. Granted, I have been a frequent participant on lit chat boards, but here I can spout off without any moderators other than my own conscience.

John Updike's passing this week at the age of 76 has brought two lovely pieces of his work into my sphere and I hope and expect both to inspire me further with this blog, my fiction writing, my various lit projects and interests, my family and my relationship to my country and this world of ours.

The first is a superb essay at NPR that is part of their This I Believe series.

In Updike's words:
I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing... as a mode of truth telling, self-expression and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness.

The second is his five rules for reviewing from Picked-Up Pieces
, a collection of essays.

The rules are:

1. Try to understand what the author wishes to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give enough direct quotation—at least one extended passage—of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending….

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?

I feel like there's some karma involved at some point in reviewing the works of others. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging that I may not be the target reader, and that tastes differ. That said, I try to be honest about whether I liked or didn't like a work, and whether it worked or didn't and why.


  1. John Updike possessed a truly beautiful mind; he didn't just write well, he wrote wisely

  2. I totally agree! - thanks for stopping by Coffee.