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"Updike knows everything about ..."

Posted by Christopher Shea  May 21, 2009 12:47 PM

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Julian Barnes, in a tribute to John Updike in the New York Review of Books (not online yet, evidently) revives this classic observation by Philip Roth. The occasion was the publication of "Rabbit is Rich" (1981):


Updike knows so much, about golf, about porn, about kids, about America. I don't know anything about anything. His hero is a Toyota salesman. Updike knows everything about being a Toyota salesman. Here I live in the country and I don't even know the names of the trees. I'm going to give up writing.

The names of trees: perhaps writers could be divided into the ones that know them and those that don't -- nonfiction writers, too. It seems to be a useful distinction, though, as Roth's career shows, the inability to distinguish varieties of oak is not an automatic disqualifier.

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1 comments so far...
  1. I don't know if Barnes gives any more context, but it seems possible to read Roth's statement as a (deliciously subtle) putdown.

    Posted by steven May 21, 09 02:25 PM
 
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