Saturday, March 19, 2011

John Updike on Loving the Now

Image from the New York Times, text From Friday's Writer's Almanac:

When he was 19, John Updike wrote to his parents: "We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled. This age needs rather men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic. Whatever the many failings of my work, let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born."

One of my writing teachers once told us "The difference between great writing and sentimental writing is specificity." That is what I love about this quote- he is saying that in order to write really well, you have to pay close attention to the moment, the now. The things that are odd about that moment are what make it special and worthy of attention. It is details that bring vitality to writing (and all art, really).

Also, isn't it lovely to be so crazy about the time in which you were born that you can turn it into something beautiful for other people to enjoy too? That is certainly what Shakespeare did.

I've never read any of Mr. Updike's work, but it looks like it is time to pick one up. Have you ever read him? Favorites to suggest?

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