Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike — 1932-2009

I think I was about twelve or so when I first read a short story by John Updike. I think it was in The New Yorker. I don’t remember the plot of the story, but I do remember how he told the story; how he used ordinary images — the graceful curves of the tire tracks of cars backing up in a snow-covered parking lot — to illustrate and small movements to vividly fill my imagination and bring me into the moment.

“Snow fell against the high school all day, wet big-flake snow that did not accumulate well. Sharpening two pencils, William looked down on a parking lot that was a blackboard in reverse; car tires had cut smooth arcs of black into the white, and wherever a school bus had backed around, it had left an autocratic signature of two V’s.”

He wrote prolifically — sixty books, plus hundreds of articles, reviews, essays — and shamed those of us who aspire to reach readers with one or two. He never overwhelmed; he spoke softly and gently, and in doing so he inspired, enthralled, and gave us pause to stop and enjoy the actual little moments.

Go in peace… and thank you.