It seems only a year or so ago that Hugging the Shore, John Updike’s last burly collection of essays and reviews, shouldered its way on to the bookshelf. In the preface he deplored its length, and quoted what he had written in its predecessor Picked Up Pieces: ‘Let us hope, for the sake of artistic purity and paper conservation, that ten years from now the pieces to be picked up will make a smaller heap.’ Yet, like a giant bolt of Savile Row cloth, they roll on, crafted, even, discreet. Odd Jobs weighs in at 919 judicious pages, Hugging the Shore a tailored 878 in paperback. Updike blames the bulk on the advent of the word-processor – ‘With his wonderful new tool of ease, how can a writer say No?’ – but this is disingenuous: the rate at which he writes and publishes has been constant over 20 years. Yet prodigious. This volume would satisfy most writers as the sum of eight years’ work, but in the same period Updike has also published a volume each of stories, art criticism, poems
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