Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009

I ate my sandwich, brewed a cup of tea, returned to my desk, and loaded up the New York Times. The first thing I saw was a photo of John Updike, with his typical air of worldly amusement. I started to smile, thinking there'd be an article or interview I could read before snugging back down to work. Then I read the headline and spilled my tea. Updike is dead.

I'm shocked by how shocked I am. People call Naipaul the greatest living writer of English prose. If by "English" you mean "in the English language", then for my money that was Updike. Until today.

He once famously remarked of Nabokov that he "writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically," which of course is just the way Updike himself wrote.

I almost never sit down before my laptop to write something--anything--without remembering a line from Updike's foreword to Hugging the Shore. The writer begins, he said, by "taking a deep breath, leaning out over the typewriter, and trying to dive a little deeper than the first words that come to mind."

I read the Times headline and the first word that came to mind was "No".

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy new year

So as a new year's present to the nation the Express has fired B.C. Pires, that newspaper's best writer. His final column there appears today.

Sentence for sentence, paragraph for paragraph, insight for insight, B.C. is one of the finest writers at work not just in Trinidad and Tobago but in the Caribbean. He is fiercely intelligent, profoundly sane, a masterful craftsman of prose, and, on top of all that, funny. His column is one of the few things in the daily press worth buying a newspaper for. He is exactly the sort of writer the Express should be seeking out and nurturing. Instead....

The only consolation is that B.C. is now writing a column for the Barbados Nation--what has the world come to, when Bajans have more of a sense of humour than Trinis? And in a fortnight he will launch a new website, So he's certainly not disappearing. Still, it's sad and frankly embarrassing that the Express apparently thinks there is no place for a writer like B.C. Pires in our national conversation.