One-Minute Book Reviews

November 1, 2008

Children’s Poems About November by J. Patrick Lewis and John Updike

The words May and June are easier to rhyme. But November has inspired its share of poetry, including children’s poems by J. Patrick Lewis and John Updike that build toward a Thanksgiving meal.

Lewis celebrates the joys of the month in “November,” a 16-line rhyming poem collected in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems (HarperCollins, 1989, ages 7 and up), edited by Caroline Feller Bauer and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. He writes of pumpkin pies, “the thank-you bird” and other seasonal pleasures:

Red squirrels, busy packing
Oak cupboards for weeks,
Still rattle the branches
With seeds in their cheeks.

The meaning of that quatrain is clearer than the first lines of the poem: “The bottoms of autumn / Wear diamonds of frost.” Are the lines talking about part of the natural landscape, such as the low areas next to rivers known as “bottoms”? Or are they referring to the patterns left on our clothes when we sit on frost-covered park benches?

John Updike’s more eloquent “November” is among the 12 poems, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pp., $6.99, paperback, ages 4 and up), a Caldecott Honor book beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. His “November” is a quiet poem, written in iambic meter – the closest to natural speech – instead of high-stepping anapests and dactyls. But it’s so thoughtful, you wish it were also available in a chapter-book format, too. Updike’s “November” describes a region — it looks like northern New England — that by Thanksgiving has lost more than the leaves on the maples and the birds in the air: “And yet the world, / Nevertheless, / Displays a certain / Loveliness.”

Updike suggests that in the barren trees of November, we see the world exposed to the bone, the way God must “see our souls” – an extraordinary subtle idea compared with so much of the pap that publishers fling at 4-to-8-year-olds. Older children – who might see more of the layers in his poem — might snub it because it appears in a picture book. Teenagers would have another reason to give thanks if Updike produced a young-adult book that combined all the poems in A Child’s Calendar with those in his earlier collections.

To read about A Child’s Calendar and see the cover if you can’t see it here, visit the Holiday House site. holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=978082341445

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 8, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda – Why Isn’t John Updike on the Odds-Makers Lists of Favorites for the Nobel?

A mystifying aspect of the lists of bookies’ favorites for the Nobel Prize in literature: Why isn’t John Updike’s name on any that I’ve seen?

Yes, the requirements for the prize specify that it should go to a writer whose work has an “idealistic tendency” or promotes the good of humanity. And that standard might not favor Updike’s novels about the lascivious Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. But that test also wouldn’t favor a lot of the work of Philip Roth and Don De Lillo, whose names appear often on lists of bookies’ favorites. And Updike is much more elegant writer than Joyce Carol Oates, though she has given so much support to other writers – especially female writers – that she may come closer to meeting the test of idealism.

Updike’s novels vary tremendously in quality. But he is the best all-around writer in America – not just one of our leading novelists but a great story story writer, a good poet and an elegant critic. Do bettors discount him because his short stories are perhaps his best work and he wrote many of them decades ago? Or because they don’t count his criticism and poetry? What role does the unofficial geographic distribution requirement — and that the U.S. has more novelists than most countries – play in all of this? If Updike lived in Greenland, he would have had the Nobel Prize decades ago.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 23, 2008

John Updike (1932-2009) Explains What His Books Are ‘About’

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:42 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

John Updike has died of lung cancer at the age of 76. This is a re-publication of an earlier post about his work.

Critics often fault John Updike for not having a social message or making a point that runs throughout all his books. Is this fair? Updike deals with the meaning of his books in an interview in Picked-up Pieces (Knopf, 1975), one of his early collections of essays, reviews and other nonfiction:

“My books are all meant to be moral debates with the reader, and if they seem pointless — I’m speaking hopefully — it’s because the reader has not been engaged in the debate. The questions is usually, ‘What is a good man?’ or ‘What is goodness?’ and in all the books an issue is examined. Take Harry Angstrom in Rabbit, Run: there is a case to be made for running away from your wife. In the late Fifties beatniks were preaching transcontinental traveling as the answer to man’s disquiet. And I was just trying to say: ‘Yes, there is certainly that, but then there are all these other people who seem to get hurt.’ That qualification is meant to frame a moral dilemma.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 13, 2008

How Does Fiction Capture and Hold Our Interest? Quote of the Day / John Updike

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:03 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Great critics have the ability to make you see things about books that are at once obvious yet so subtle many others have overlooked them. John Updike is a great critic partly because he has this skill. I disagree with many of his views and, when I don’t, sometimes suspect him of pulling punches out of kindness to his fellow novelists. But I admire his book reviews for The New Yorker and other publications partly because they often call attention to something essential that other critics haven’t expressed or expressed as well. A case in point is his answer to the question: How does fiction hold our attention? It appears in his review of Denton Welch’s A Voice Through a Cloud, collected in Picked-up Pieces (Knopf, 1975), one of Updike’s early collections of essays, reviews and other nonfiction.

“Fiction captures and holds our interest with two kinds of suspense: circumstantial suspense – the lowly appetite, aroused by even comic strips, to know the outcome of an unresolved situation – and what might be called gnostic suspense, the expectation that at any moment an illumination will occur. Bald plot caters to the first; style, wit of expression, truth of observation, vivid painterliness, brooding musicality, and all the commendable rest pay court to the second. Gnostic suspense is not negligible – almost alone it moves us through those many volumes of Proust – but it stands to the other rather like charm to sex in a woman. We hope for both, and can even be more durably satisfied by charm than by sex (all animals are sad after coitus and after reading a detective story); but charm remains the ancillary and dispensable quality.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

« Previous Page

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 369 other followers

%d bloggers like this: