Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the desk of David R. Godine

Yesterday afternoon, I heard the news that John Updike has passed away. This is a sad turn of events for the world of letters, and also for this press — we had the privilege of publishing at least three of his Introductions and Prefaces, the first for our Nonpareil edition Edmund Wilson's "Memoirs of Hecate County," the last for Daniel Fuchs' "The Golden West." I have often argued, and in public, that if any American deserved, and had earned, the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was John Updike. He was a writer whose curiosity knew no bounds; he could do anything and, when it came to literature in its broadest sense, at one time or another he did do everything, even memorably recording Ted Williams' last time at bat at Fenway Park. His energy and his output were astounding. He wrote verse, criticism, short stories, an important string of novels, book reviews, essays, and he was no slouch as an art critic either. He was as much an advocate for foreign literature and foreign authors (a bias and distinction that should not have been lost on the Nobel Committee) as for the efforts of his American peers, and it could be argued that his lengthy and learned book reviews in The New Yorker did more to introduce unknown writers to an American audience than all other hype sites put together. He was among the fortunate Knopf authors (along with Julia Child) who had Judith Jones as his editor for almost his entire writing career, and among the very few Knopf authors who had total control of his jackets, which were not, to my mind, terribly distinguished, but showed a mind engaged in the process of design and typography. He was among a small handful of authors I ever encountered who could actually name more than one typeface and who had very pronounced opinions about all of them (including a peculiar and unfortunate affection for the designs of Frederic Goudy). He was, in short, our consummate man of letters (both written and drawn), the Boswell and the Johnson of the twentieth century. We will not see his likes again.

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