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A Christian novelist tries to describe the world as it is.

John Updike

A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

A lot of the Koran does not speak very eloquently to a Westerner. Much of it is either legalistic or opaquely poetic.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

A number of American colleges are willing to pay a tempting amount to pinch and poke an author for a day or two.

John Updike

A person believes various things at various times, even on the same day.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

A seventeenth-century house tends to be short on frills like hallways and closets; you must improvise.

John Updike

All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth is especially so.

John Updike

All love comes from the family.

John Updike

America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them.

John Updike

An affair wants to spill, to share its glory with the world. No act is so private it does not seek applause.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right or better.

John Updike

Arabic is very twisting, very beautiful. The call to prayer is quite haunting; it almost makes you a believer on the spot.

John Updike

Art is like baby shoes. When you coat them with gold, they can no longer be worn.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Authors should be honored only for their works.

John Updike

Baseball skills schizophrenically encompass a pitcher’s, a batter’s and a fielder’s.

John Updike

Being naked approaches being revolutionary; going barefoot is mere populism.

John Updike

Belief, like love, must be voluntary.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Books externalise our brains and turn our homes into thinking bodies.

John Updike

Bookstores are lonely forts, spilling light onto the sidewalk. They civilize their neighborhoods.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

By the time a partnership dissolves, it has dissolved.

John Updike

Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face.

John Updike

Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Does fiction, artistic writing, have much of a future? I must say it’s on the way out.

John Updike

Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Eros is everywhere. It is what binds.

John Updike

Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant. Of a teacher and a learner.

John Updike

Existence itself does not feel horrible; it feels like an ecstasy, rather, which we have only to be still to experience.

John Updike

Fiction is burdened for me with a sense of duty.

John Updike

For a long time, I was under the impression that ‘Terry and the Pirates’ was the best comic strip in the United States.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

For some of us, books are intrinsic to our sense of personal identity.

John Updike

For whatever crispness and animation my writing has I give some credit to the cartoonist manque.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

From infancy on, we are all spies; the shame is not this but that the secrets to be discovered are so paltry and few.

John Updike

Gods don’t answer letters.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Golf at its measured pace permits an electric excess of mental activity.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading.

John Updike

Harvard has enough panegyrists without me.

John Updike

Hobbies take place in the cellar and smell of airplane glue.

John Updike

Humor is my default mode.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

I don’t think women are dumb.

John Updike

I don’t write about too many male businessmen, and I’m not apt to write about too many female businessmen.

John Updike

I feel old only when I look at my hands or at myself in the mirror.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

I have never liked haircuts.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

I like short stories.

John Updike

I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

I see no intrinsic reason why a doubly talented artist might not arise and create a comic-strip novel masterpiece.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

I seem to have this need to belong to some church. I get worried on Sunday mornings.

John Updike

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.’

John Updike

I still want to give my public, such as it is, a book a year.

John Updike

I suppose sequels are inevitable for a writer of a certain age.

John Updike

I think books should have secrets, like people do.

John Updike

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.’

John Updike

I think you remember certain phrases from bad reviews. You don’t remember all the bad reviews.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

I was raised in the Depression, when there was a great sense of dog-eat-dog and people fighting over scraps.

John Updike

I was trying to support a family with writing. I didn’t have a private income. I had no other profession.

John Updike

I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles if I had to.

John Updike

I’m a dull person.

John Updike

I’m trying to get the terrorist out of the bugaboo category and into the category of a fellow human being.

John Updike

I’ve always tried to write about America. It’s very worth a writer’s effort.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

If my mother hadn’t been trying to be a writer, I don’t know if I would have thought of it myself.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

In a city like New York, you’re aware of the rich and poor.

John Updike

In any interview, you do say more or less than you mean.

John Updike

In art, anything goes, and if it goes, it goes.

John Updike

In becoming an icon, it is useful to die young.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

In tennis, there is the forehand, the backhand, the overhead smash and the drop volley, all with a different grip.

John Updike

Inspiration arrives as a packet of material to be delivered.

John Updike

It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

It’s so hard to make a good tee shot after a birdie.

John Updike

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 Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Memory has a spottiness, as if the film was sprinkled with developer instead of immersed in it.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.

John Updike

My actinic keratosis is a result of the triumphalism of the beach. The sun exacerbates it.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

My father taught only math.

John Updike

My first ambition was to be an animator for Walt Disney. Then I wanted to be a magazine cartoonist.

John Updike

My generation was maybe the last in which you could set up shop as a writer and hope to make a living at it.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

My interest generally is the hidden Americans; the ones who live far away from the headlines.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

My life is, in a sense, trash. My life is only that of which the residue is my writing.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

My wife and I had children when we were children ourselves.

John Updike

Nature refuses to rest.

John Updike

New York is a city with virtually no habitable public space – only private spaces expensively maintained within the general disaster.

John Updike

New York is, of course, many cities, and an exile does not return to the one he left.

John Updike

New York, like the Soviet Union, has this universal usefulness: It makes you glad you live elsewhere.

John Updike

Now that I am sixty, I see why the idea of elder wisdom has passed from currency.

John Updike

Old age treats freelance writers pretty gently.

John Updike

Our artistic heroes tend to be those self-exercisers, like Picasso, and Nabokov, and Wallace Stevens, who rather defiantly kept playing past dark.

John Updike

People are incorrigibly themselves.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Publishers are looking for blockbusters – all the world loves a megaseller.

John Updike

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.

John Updike

Reagan has turned America into a tax haven.

John Updike

Religion enables us to ignore nothingness and get on with the jobs of life.

John Updike

Reminiscence and self-parody are part of remaining true to oneself.

John Updike

Sex is like money; only too much is enough.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Somehow, it is hard to dislike a man once you have played a round of golf with him.

John Updike

Sometimes it seems the whole purpose of pets is to bring death into the house.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

The dwelling places of Europe have an air of inheritance, or cumulative possession – a hive occupied by generations of bees.

John Updike

The essential self is innocent, and when it tastes its own innocence knows that it lives for ever.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

The first author I met socially was Joyce Cary.

John Updike

The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion.

John Updike

The Internet doesn’t like you to learn too much about explosives.

John Updike

The lust to meet authors ranks low, I think, on the roll of holy appetites; but it is an authentic pang.

John Updike

The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

The rich – they just live in another realm, really.

John Updike

The study of literature threatens to become a kind of paleontology of failure, and criticism a supercilious psychoanalysis of authors.

John Updike

The substance of fictional architecture is not bricks and mortar but evanescent consciousness.

John Updike

The theme of old age doesn’t seem to fascinate Hollywood.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

The writers we tend to universally admire, like Beckett, or Kafka, or TS Eliot, are not very prolific.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

There is no pleasing New Englanders, my dear, their soil is all rocks and their hearts are bloodless absolutes.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

There’s almost nothing worse to live with than a struggling artist.

John Updike

There’s something very reassuring… about the written record.

John Updike

Thinking it over, I can’t locate another artist in the Updike family.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

To be President of the United States, sir, is to act as advocate for a blind, venomous, and ungrateful client.

John Updike

To guarantee the individual maximum freedom within a social frame of minimal laws ensures – if not happiness – its hopeful pursuit.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Until the 20th century it was generally assumed that a writer had said what he had to say in his works.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

We are most alive when we’re in love.

John Updike

We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

We take our bearings, daily, from others. To be sane is, to a great extent, to be sociable.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.

John Updike

What interests me is why men think of women as witches. It’s because they’re so fascinating and exasperating, so other.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

When I went away to college, I marveled at the wealth of bookstores around Harvard Square.

John Updike

When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.

John Updike

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.

John Updike

Without books, we might just melt into the airwaves and be just another set of blips.

John Updike

Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.

John Updike

Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.

John Updike

Writing makes you more human.

John Updike

Young or old, a writer sends a book into the world, not himself.

John Updike

Arthur Lydiard
Alison Moyet
Francis Drake
Rodman Philbrick