In John Updike’s second collection of assorted prose he comes into his own as a book reviewer; most of the pieces picked up here were first published in The New Yorker in the 1960s and early ’70s. If one word could sum up the young critic’s approach to books and their authors it would be “generosity”: “Better to praise and share,” he says in his Foreword, “than to blame and ban.” And so he follows his enthusiasms, which prove both deserving and infectious: Kierkegaard, Proust, Joyce, Dostoevsky, and Hamsun among the classics; Borges, Nabokov, Grass, Bellow, Cheever, and Jong among the contemporaries. Here too are meditations on Satan and cemeteries, travel essays on London and Anguilla, three very early “golf dreams,” and one big interview. Picked-Up Pieces is a glittering treasury for every reader who likes life, books, wit—and John Updike.
“[Updike’s] interests are wide . . . his prose is clear and straight, and his powers of organization and explication are formidable. . . . There is an immensely attractive, nonacademic attentiveness to his reviews. At his best he goes right to the human center, the heart of a writer expressed in his art.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Updike is a strong reviewer. . . . He describes precisely, praises judiciously, criticizes fearlessly, and ponders seriously.”—The New Republic
“Updike possesses that intuitive sense of other writers’ temperaments that raises literary criticism to the level of art. . . . If he wished, Updike could become one of our finest literary critics as well as novelists, an heir to that imposing predecessor in the pages of The New Yorker, Edmund Wilson.”—James Atlas, The New York Times Magazine