The smiling, Bermuda-shorted figure on the jacket of John Updike’s new volume of essays and criticism looks engagingly pleased with the world and himself, and the first sentences of his Foreword tell us why:
Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea. At sea, we have that beautiful blankness all round, a cold bright wind, and the occasional thrill of a gleaming dolphin-back or the synchronized leap of silverfish; hugging the shore, one can always come about and draw even closer to the land with another nine-point quotation. This is a big book but perhaps a quarter of the words belong to other people.
It all sounds pretty good to someone who’s been shore-bound for years, and whose memory of dolphin-backs is not as fresh as it might be.