Thursday, January 29, 2009

Late John Updike on Google and the feel of books

John Updike who could turn a sentence like very few died Tuesday north of Boston. I was not a big Updike head - never got through one of his novels - but like many literate micks in this neck of the woods-o in the late 20th century I read and admired his poetry, short stories and literary criticism, especially in the New Yorker and New York Review of Books.

He was not like more favorite fellow writers Mailer and Kerouac. He strove as said in NYT Obit for a burgherly life. No harm, no foul. The threads of his prose were poetic zephyrs - like larks a'wing.

Moon Traveller Herald once did write about Updike. It was just when some people were beginning to grok on the possibility that Google was nigh on a Golden Calf. Where is all this algortighmic parsing and free text borrowing going? He pegged aptly the problem with the new Digital Google Golem to its bloody wall of techno pap. He sang the praise of the physical book, the oily old book store and reminded the Google-eyed usurpers of the facts of the business of letters. Well done, John!

It was June 2006 in some of our weird 'Shroud writings' we said that Updike’s criticism was a needed shot across the bow of Google's book digitizing ploys. It's linked to below [includes I believe a still working link to his speech on this topic of Google Futurama, but here's a bit from the post, for you of tired clicking fingers.

In his description of Harvard Sq. book life he is telling. He recalls the Grolier, among others, including used book stores. He recalls as well the book stores of his home town, and those of New York, including Doubledays, and the ‘baronial’ Scribners, both with spiral staircases. [My recollection of Doubledays was it was a grotto to the book, and, that one dark day, Danny Kaye [Walter Mitty!] was there -- famed -- and the staff doted, and I smiled.]

Updike recalls the feel of the books, the covers. As opposed, say, to the Firefox browser and Gutenberg Project Web site. Miss Lonely Hearts, Adventures in the Skin Trade, Season in Hell. New Directions books all. Of most concern to him is how authors make a living, and reach an audience during their life times. The immediate impetus for covering this topic his Kevin Kelly’s New York Times Magazine article [May 14] on the future of the book...

Hoping this is fair in the context of fair use.. A stanza from a poem in an upcoming Updike work.

It's called Requiem, it is about death, and it appeared in today's New York Times...

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.

Requiem - NYTimes
Shroud on Updike, 2006 - Moon Traveller

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