John Updike was one of the most wide-ranging and conscientious book reviewers in the history of American publishing. For half a century he operated as a “psychotic Santa of volubility” (in the words of Martin Amis), producing hundreds of reviews and occasional essays for the New Yorker and other publications.
Updike assembled compendiums of this non-fictional prose at regular intervals throughout his career: Assorted Prose (1965), Picked-Up Pieces (1975), Hugging the Shore (1983), Odd Jobs (1991), More Matter (1999), and Due Considerations (2007). Despite the seeming modesty of their titles, and the mock-apologetic tone of their prefaces, these collections are enormously ambitious and comprehensive.
This paper critically examines Updike’s methods of collating his non-fictional prose, the efforts of a meticulous self-anthologist building a uniform oeuvre. It will discuss critical responses to Updike’s collections, as well as contrasting publication practices by contemporary essayists including Anthony Burgess and Gore Vidal.