“Sound feminist or something grounds”

The New York Times‘ book blog, Paper Cuts, points to David Updike‘s eulogy for his father, John Updike, at a March tribute at the New York Public Library. David is, pretty much inevitably, an underrated writer, and his new story collection, Old Girlfriends, is worth tracking down. He’s inherited a lot of his dad’s themes but his stories don’t feel like mimickry, as if having that last name freed him instead of overwhelmed him. (The time-pressed might head straight for “Kinds of Love,” in which a man attends church with the woman with whom he’s having an affair.)

The nice thing about the Paper Cuts post is that it also points to a complete transcript [PDF] of the New York Public Library Tribute. The usual kindnesses were voiced by Knopf and New Yorker cohorts like Sonny Mehta, David Remnick, Roger Angell, and others. But Ann Goldstein, who edited Updike’s book reviews for the magazine, provided some of the most interesting commentary—it’s a window into how Updike came off as somebody openly willing to accept editing without having to change a damn thing. Goldstein reads a couple of examples of his reactions to edits:

From 1992: “My criticism inspires me with an increasing impatience. It seems simultaneously timid and reckless, a callow papering over of an invincible ignorance. Toward the end, on galley 12, I wearily brushed your suggested revisions aside, unable to rise to the occasion and finding my own phrasing more succinct and natural.” (laughter)

From 1989: “I noticed that somebody went through and deleted the Miss on I’m sure sound feminist or something grounds. It just seems a little discourteous to an elderly fellow like me to call her ‘Dillard,’ like some androgynous housekeeper or gruff governess. (laughter) The one beginning the paragraph on galley 9 seemed especially curt. It was our way in the days of Shawn to give all living female authors the courtesy of a Miss or Mrs.—Mrs. Spark, Miss Murdoch—but I am happy to go with the new ways if it seems important.”

Editing, for Updike, was “scraping off the fuzzballs”—something dutiful, fussy, perhaps even a little unnecessary (if you’re Updike, anyway). And though he liked the fussing, according to Goldstein he particularly loved it when a piece needed a quick turnaround—as any writer who’s written for a print publication knows, a signal that your copy won’t be mucked with much. “What fun, this sudden shuttle of proofs back and forth,” he’d tell Goldstein in those moments, “as though I live in the real world after all.”

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