Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Updike: Due Considerations

Over his 50-year career, John Updike has penned poems, plays, short stories, novels, novellas, essays, reviews, and countless introductions, yet throughout the ephemera collection Due Considerations: Essays And Criticism, he keeps insisting that he's slowly shutting down. "My desk is ominously clean," he writes. Which means the end must be nigh.

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Perhaps that's why so much of Due Considerations reads like the reminiscences of old man, reacting wistfully and articulately to social change. The book even includes an essay called "A Sense Of Change," all about how Updike adores pennies and nickels because he remembers what they used to buy. Updike fills Due Considerations with reflections on his youth, his favorite cartoonists, the writers he admires, his evolving Christian faith, the wonders of world travel, and the comforts of art. Between this book and all his previous non-fiction collections, Updike has written a kind of back-door autobiography, piecing together the continuity between his young, precocious self—a kid who once read T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land primarily because he wanted to be that kind of person—and his elderly self, who feels disoriented by the emptiness of New England when he returns from a trip abroad.

Given that Due Considerations' 600-odd pages are mostly packed with scraps from the past 10 years, it's hard to completely buy the notion that Updike is about to pack away his typewriter for good. For half a century now, he's been like a proto-blogger, completing and preserving nearly every thought that's crossed his mind. Here, those thoughts range from his love of early animation ("what I really want is to be a set of dancing lines, indestructible and jivey") to his decades-old floating poker game ("players hang around, tossing in their quarters, because folding is not belonging, and belonging is what poker's little democracy is all about"). Mostly though, he writes about books, whether he's wrestling with the work of his contemporaries, asserting his belief that some married couples stay together because they don't want to pack up their heavy libraries and move, or rhapsodizing about the insights faithful readers can glean from literary masters' "late works." Of which Due Considerations is now one.