A Christian novelist tries to describe the world as it is.
A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.
A house, having been willfully purchased and furnished, tells us more than a body, and its description is a foremost resource of the art of fiction.
A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself the woe of the people. There are few men so foolish, hence the erratic quality of leadership in the world.
A lot of the Koran does not speak very eloquently to a Westerner. Much of it is either legalistic or opaquely poetic.
A narrative is like a room on whose walls a number of false doors have been painted; while within the narrative, we have many apparent choices of exit, but when the author leads us to one particular door, we know it is the right one because it opens.
A number of American colleges are willing to pay a tempting amount to pinch and poke an author for a day or two.
A person believes various things at various times, even on the same day.
A room containing Philip Roth, I have noticed, begins hilariously to whirl and pulse with a mix of rebelliousness and constriction that I take to be Oedipal.
A seventeenth-century house can be recognized by its steep roof, massive central chimney and utter porchlessness. Some of those houses have a second-story overhang, emphasizing their medieval look.
A seventeenth-century house tends to be short on frills like hallways and closets; you must improvise.
All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth is especially so.
All love comes from the family.
America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.
America is beyond power; it acts as in a dream, as a face of God. Wherever America is, there is freedom, and wherever America is not, madness rules with chains, darkness strangles millions. Beneath her patient bombers, paradise is possible.
American art in general… takes to surreal exaggerations and metaphors; but its Puritan work ethic has little use for the playful self-indulgence behind Parisian Surrealism.
Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them.
An affair wants to spill, to share its glory with the world. No act is so private it does not seek applause.
An aging writer has the not insignificant satisfaction of a shelf of books behind him that, as they wait for their ideal readers to discover them, will outlast him for a while.
Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right or better.
Arabic is very twisting, very beautiful. The call to prayer is quite haunting; it almost makes you a believer on the spot.
Art is like baby shoes. When you coat them with gold, they can no longer be worn.
As movers and the moved both know, books are heavy freight, the weight of refrigerators and sofas broken up into cardboard boxes. They make us think twice about changing addresses.
Authors should be honored only for their works.
Baseball skills schizophrenically encompass a pitcher’s, a batter’s and a fielder’s.
Being naked approaches being revolutionary; going barefoot is mere populism.
Belief, like love, must be voluntary.
Billy Collins writes lovely poems. Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides.
Books externalise our brains and turn our homes into thinking bodies.
Bookstores are lonely forts, spilling light onto the sidewalk. They civilize their neighborhoods.
But for a few phrases from his letters and an odd line or two of his verse, the poet walks gagged through his own biography.
By the mid-17th century, telescopes had improved enough to make visible the seasonally growing and shrinking polar ice caps on Mars, and features such as Syrtis Major, a dark patch thought to be a shallow sea.
By the time a partnership dissolves, it has dissolved.
Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face.
Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.
Customs and convictions change; respectable people are the last to know, or to admit, the change, and the ones most offended by fresh reflections of the facts in the mirror of art.
Does fiction, artistic writing, have much of a future? I must say it’s on the way out.
Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.
Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day’s progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.
Eros is everywhere. It is what binds.
Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant. Of a teacher and a learner.
Existence itself does not feel horrible; it feels like an ecstasy, rather, which we have only to be still to experience.
Fiction is burdened for me with a sense of duty.
For a long time, I was under the impression that ‘Terry and the Pirates’ was the best comic strip in the United States.
For male and female alike, the bodies of the other sex are messages signaling what we must do, they are glowing signifiers of our own necessities.
For many years, I read mystery novels for relaxation. But my tastes were too narrow – and, having read all of Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, I discovered that the implausibility and the thinness of the people distracted me unduly from the plot.
For some of us, books are intrinsic to our sense of personal identity.
For whatever crispness and animation my writing has I give some credit to the cartoonist manque.
Four years was enough of Harvard. I still had a lot to learn, but had been given the liberating notion that now I could teach myself.
From infancy on, we are all spies; the shame is not this but that the secrets to be discovered are so paltry and few.
Gods don’t answer letters.
Golf appeals to the idiot in us and the child. Just how childlike golf players become is proven by their frequent inability to count past five.
Golf at its measured pace permits an electric excess of mental activity.
Golf’s ultimate moral instruction directs us to find within ourselves a pivotal center of enjoyment: relax into a rhythm that fits the hills and swales, and play the shot at hand – not the last one, or the next one, but the one at your feet, in the poison ivy, where you put it.
Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading.
Harvard has enough panegyrists without me.
Hobbies take place in the cellar and smell of airplane glue.
Humor is my default mode.
I didn’t need to write historical epics, no, or science fiction, though I read a lot of science fiction as a kid and rather liked it. But I didn’t have the mentality.
I don’t know; I think I’d be gloomy without some faith that there is a purpose and there is a kind of witness to my life.
I don’t think women are dumb.
I don’t write about too many male businessmen, and I’m not apt to write about too many female businessmen.
I feel old only when I look at my hands or at myself in the mirror.
I find in my own writing that only fiction – and rarely, a poem – fully tests me to the kind of limits of what I know and what I feel.
I have never liked haircuts.
I know more about what it’s like to be elderly and infirm and kind of stupid, the way you get forgetful, but on the other hand I’m a littler, wiser, dare we say? The word ‘wisdom’ has kind of faded out of our vocabulary, but yeah, I’m a little wiser.
I like short stories.
I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone.
I love Shillington not as one loves Capri or New York, because they are special, but as one loves one’s own body and consciousness, because they are synonymous with being.
I must say, when I reread myself, it’s the poetry I tend to look at. It’s the most exciting to write, and it’s over the quickest.
I never really made a choice to live in America, so I should be aware of the social strata outside of the ones that I may live in.
I picked up ‘On Moral Fiction’ in the bookstore and looked up myself in the index, but I didn’t read it through. I try not to read things that depress me.
I see no intrinsic reason why a doubly talented artist might not arise and create a comic-strip novel masterpiece.
I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing, whether in the form of verse or fiction, as a mode of truth-telling, self-expression and homage to the twin miracles of creation and consciousness.
I seem to have this need to belong to some church. I get worried on Sunday mornings.
I should mention something that nobody ever thinks about, but proofreading takes a lot of time. After you write something, there are these proofs that keep coming, and there’s this panicky feeling that ‘This is me and I must make it better.’
I still want to give my public, such as it is, a book a year.
I suppose sequels are inevitable for a writer of a certain age.
I think books should have secrets, like people do.
I think my first story sold for $550. This was in 1954, and it seemed like quite a lot of money, and I said to myself, ‘Hey, I’m a professional writer now.’
I think you remember certain phrases from bad reviews. You don’t remember all the bad reviews.
I was an only child. I needed an alternative to family life – to real life, you could almost say – and cartoons, pictures in a book, the animated movies, seemed to provide it.
I was raised in the Depression, when there was a great sense of dog-eat-dog and people fighting over scraps.
I was trying to support a family with writing. I didn’t have a private income. I had no other profession.
I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles if I had to.
I’m a dull person.
I’m trying to get the terrorist out of the bugaboo category and into the category of a fellow human being.
I’ve always tried to write about America. It’s very worth a writer’s effort.
If men do not keep on speaking terms with children, they cease to be men, and become merely machines for eating and for earning money.
If my mother hadn’t been trying to be a writer, I don’t know if I would have thought of it myself.
If the worst comes true, and the paper book joins the papyrus scroll and parchment codex in extinction, we will miss, I predict, a number of things about it.
Imagine writing a poem with a sweating, worried-looking boy handing you a different pencil at the end of every word. My golf, you may say, is no poem; nevertheless, I keep wanting it to be one.
In a city like New York, you’re aware of the rich and poor.
In any interview, you do say more or less than you mean.
In art, anything goes, and if it goes, it goes.
In becoming an icon, it is useful to die young.
In fiction, imaginary people become realer to us than any named celebrity glimpsed in a series of rumored events, whose causes and subtler ramifications must remain in the dark. An invented figure like Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary emerges fully into the light of understanding, which brings with it identification, sympathy and pity.
In leaving New York in 1957, I did leave without regret the literary demimonde of agents and would-be’s and with-it nonparticipants; this world seemed unnutritious and interfering.
In my first 15 or 20 years of authorship, I was almost never asked to give a speech or an interview. The written work was supposed to speak for itself, and to sell itself, sometimes even without the author’s photograph on the back flap.
In tennis, there is the forehand, the backhand, the overhead smash and the drop volley, all with a different grip.
Inspiration arrives as a packet of material to be delivered.
It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.
It is not an aesthetic misstep to make the viewer aware of the paint and the painter’s hand. Such an empathetic awareness lies at the heart of aesthetic appreciation.
It’s so hard to make a good tee shot after a birdie.
It’s sort of good to see your vocation as a daily task and have fairly modest expectations for financial or reward in other coin – glory, love, whatever.
John Barth, I think, was really a writer of my own age and somewhat of my own temperament, although his books are very different from mine, and he has been a spokesman for the very ambitious, long, rather academic novel. But I don’t think that what he is saying, so far as I understand it, is so very different from what I’m saying.
Mars has long exerted a pull on the human imagination. The erratically moving red star in the sky was seen as sinister or violent by the ancients: The Greeks identified it with Ares, the god of war; the Babylonians named it after Nergal, god of the underworld. To the ancient Chinese, it was Ying-huo, the fire planet.
Memories, impressions and emotions from the first 20 years on earth are most writers’ main material; little that comes afterward is quite so rich and resonant.
Memory has a spottiness, as if the film was sprinkled with developer instead of immersed in it.
Most Americans haven’t had my happy experience of living for thirteen years in a seventeenth-century house, since most of America lacks seventeenth-century houses.
Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.
My actinic keratosis is a result of the triumphalism of the beach. The sun exacerbates it.
My attempt has been really to, beyond making a record of contemporary life, which is what you inevitably do, is trying to make beautiful books – books that are in some way beautiful, that are models of how to use the language, models of honest feeling, models of care.
My complaint, as an exile who once loved New York and who likes to return a half-dozen times a year, is not that it plays host to extremes of the human condition: There is grandeur in that, and necessity.
My father taught only math.
My first ambition was to be an animator for Walt Disney. Then I wanted to be a magazine cartoonist.
My generation was maybe the last in which you could set up shop as a writer and hope to make a living at it.
My golf is so delicate, so tenuously wired together with silent inward prayers, exhortations and unstable visualizations, that the sheer pressure of an additional pair of eyes crumbles the whole rickety structure into rubble.
My interest generally is the hidden Americans; the ones who live far away from the headlines.
My last vivid boyhood fright from books came when I was 15; I was visiting my uncle and aunt in Greenwich, and, emboldened by my success with ‘The Waste Land,’ I opened their copy of ‘Ulysses.’ The whiff of death off those remorseless, closely written pages overpowered me. So: back to soluble mysteries, and jokes that were not cosmic.
My life is, in a sense, trash. My life is only that of which the residue is my writing.
My reading as a child was lazy and cowardly, and it is yet. I was afraid of encountering, in a book, something I didn’t want to know.
My transition from wanting to be a cartoonist to wanting to be a writer may have come about through that friendly opposition, that even-handed pairing, of pictures and words.
My wife and I had children when we were children ourselves.
Nature refuses to rest.
New York is a city with virtually no habitable public space – only private spaces expensively maintained within the general disaster.
New York is, of course, many cities, and an exile does not return to the one he left.
New York, like the Soviet Union, has this universal usefulness: It makes you glad you live elsewhere.
Now that I am sixty, I see why the idea of elder wisdom has passed from currency.
Old age treats freelance writers pretty gently.
Our artistic heroes tend to be those self-exercisers, like Picasso, and Nabokov, and Wallace Stevens, who rather defiantly kept playing past dark.
People are incorrigibly themselves.
Perhaps I have written fiction because everything unambiguously expressed seems somehow crass to me; and when the subject is myself, I want to jeer and weep.
Professionalism in art has this difficulty: To be professional is to be dependable, to be dependable is to be predictable, and predictability is esthetically boring – an anti-virtue in a field where we hope to be astonished and startled and at some deep level refreshed.
Publishers are looking for blockbusters – all the world loves a megaseller.
Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
Reagan has turned America into a tax haven.
Religion enables us to ignore nothingness and get on with the jobs of life.
Reminiscence and self-parody are part of remaining true to oneself.
Sex is like money; only too much is enough.
Smaller than a breadbox, bigger than a TV remote, the average book fits into the human hand with a seductive nestling, a kiss of texture, whether of cover cloth, glazed jacket, or flexible paperback.
Some golfers, we are told, enjoy the landscape; but properly, the landscape shrivels and compresses into the grim, surrealistically vivid patch of grass directly under the golfer’s eyes as he morosely walks toward where he thinks his ball might be.
Some stories or passages are more difficult and demand more fussing with than others, but, in general, I’m a two-draft writer rather than a six-draft writer, or whatever.
Somehow, it is hard to dislike a man once you have played a round of golf with him.
Sometimes it seems the whole purpose of pets is to bring death into the house.
That a marriage ends is less than ideal; but all things end under heaven, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.
The cinema has done more for my spiritual life than the church. My ideas of fame, success and beauty all originate from the big screen. Whereas Christian religion is retreating everywhere and losing more and more influence; film has filled the vacuum and supports us with myths and action-controlling images.
The dwelling places of Europe have an air of inheritance, or cumulative possession – a hive occupied by generations of bees.
The essential self is innocent, and when it tastes its own innocence knows that it lives for ever.
The essential support and encouragement comes from within, arising out of the mad notion that your society needs to know what only you can tell it.
The firmest house in my fiction, probably, is the little thick-walled sandstone farmhouse of ‘The Centaur’ and ‘Of the Farm’; I had lived in that house, and can visualize every floorboard and bit of worn molding.
The first author I met socially was Joyce Cary.
The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop.
The Founding Fathers in their wisdom decided that children were an unnatural strain on parents. So they provided jails called schools, equipped with tortures called an education.
The good ending dismisses us with a touch of ceremony and throws a backward light of significance over the story just read. It makes it, as they say, or unmakes it. A weak beginning is forgettable, but the end of a story bulks in the reader’s mind like the giant foot in a foreshortened photograph.
The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion.
The Internet doesn’t like you to learn too much about explosives.
The lust to meet authors ranks low, I think, on the roll of holy appetites; but it is an authentic pang.
The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.
The reader knows the writer better than he knows himself; but the writer’s physical presence is light from a star that has moved on.
The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.
The rich – they just live in another realm, really.
The study of literature threatens to become a kind of paleontology of failure, and criticism a supercilious psychoanalysis of authors.
The substance of fictional architecture is not bricks and mortar but evanescent consciousness.
The theme of old age doesn’t seem to fascinate Hollywood.
The writer must face the fact that ordinary lives are what most people live most of the time, and that the novel as a narration of the fantastic and the adventurous is really an escapist plot; that aesthetically, the ordinary, the banal, is what you must deal with.
The writers we tend to universally admire, like Beckett, or Kafka, or TS Eliot, are not very prolific.
There is a great deal of busywork to a writer’s life, as to a professor’s life, a great deal of work that matters only in that, if you don’t do it, your desk becomes very full of papers. So, there is a lot of letter answering and a certain amount of speaking, though I try to keep that at a minimum.
There is no pleasing New Englanders, my dear, their soil is all rocks and their hearts are bloodless absolutes.
There should always be something gratuitous about art, just as there seems to be, according to the new-wave cosmologists, something gratuitous about the universe.
There’s a crystallization that goes on in a poem which the young man can bring off, but which the middle-aged man can’t.
There’s almost nothing worse to live with than a struggling artist.
There’s something very reassuring… about the written record.
Thinking it over, I can’t locate another artist in the Updike family.
Tiger Woods did not always win majors with ease; after his narrow victory in the 1999 PGA, he slumped and sighed as if he’d been carrying rocks uphill all afternoon.
To be a human being is to be in a state of tension between your appetites and your dreams, and the social realities around you and your obligations to your fellow man.
To be President of the United States, sir, is to act as advocate for a blind, venomous, and ungrateful client.
To guarantee the individual maximum freedom within a social frame of minimal laws ensures – if not happiness – its hopeful pursuit.
Toni Morrison has a habit, perhaps traceable to the pernicious influence of William Faulkner, of plunging into the narrative before the reader has a clue to what is going on.
Truth should not be forced; it should simply manifest itself, like a woman who has in her privacy reflected and coolly decided to bestow herself upon a certain man.
Until the 20th century it was generally assumed that a writer had said what he had to say in his works.
We are drawn to artists who tell us that art is difficult to do and takes a spiritual effort, because we are still puritan enough to respect a strenuous spiritual effort.
We are most alive when we’re in love.
We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one.
We don’t really want to think that the artist is only very skilled, that he has merely devoted his life to perfecting a certain set of intelligible skills.
We take our bearings, daily, from others. To be sane is, to a great extent, to be sociable.
We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings… Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.
What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.
What interests me is why men think of women as witches. It’s because they’re so fascinating and exasperating, so other.
When I was born, my parents and my mother’s parents planted a dogwood tree in the side yard of the large white house in which we lived throughout my boyhood. This tree I learned quite early, was exactly my age – was, in a sense, me.
When I went away to college, I marveled at the wealth of bookstores around Harvard Square.
When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.
When you sit at your desk, if you’re lucky, there’s a moment when you feel empowered to be someone or something else, to leap into another skin.
Without books, we might just melt into the airwaves and be just another set of blips.
Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.
Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.
Writing makes you more human.
Young or old, a writer sends a book into the world, not himself.