29 January 2009

John Updike on writing

John Updike was, by all accounts, an outstanding novelist of the Protestant middle class of small-town America. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever managed to get into his prose (in spite of the links some people make between him and Karl Barth (e.g. see this article)) but one of his poems, ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’, has stayed with me. And I was struck by this quotation from Updike, which comes from one of the many obituaries that have appeared this week:
From earliest childhood I was charmed by the materials of my craft, by pencils and paper and, later, by the typewriter and the entire apparatus of printing. To condense from one’s memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me, after nearly 30 years concerned with the making of books, a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another.

I think this is a wonderful summary of the fascination of writing (and, indeed, of the entire publishing process).

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