Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'Eleven a.m. is the hour for optimists'


“At eleven in the morning, the day is young but not too young. It is on its feet; its coltish wobbles and blinks are outgrown. This is the hour, if ever, for getting down to business. In my own work rhythms, it is when, breakfast absorbed, the mail answered, all procrastinatory maneuvers executed, I am at last covering blank paper with words that matter, at least to me and perhaps to others eventually. If one is a tourist, it is the hour when everything is open; the fresco, the pyramid, the museum, the cathedral, the expensive shops are delightfully receptive to investigation. The first time I came to England, it was on a British liner. How surprising and welcome were the bells to elevenses--hot bouillon and soda crackers served on the tipping deck, high sun gleaming on the polished brass and spray-wet rails! Eleven a.m. is the hour for optimists, when much remains to be done, yet a healthy bite has been taken from the day.”

-- John Updike's response to the London Observer's request that “it would be lovely if you could choose an hour of day and write about it in some way.” God, could the man write. Mr. Updike once described his art as giving “the mundane its beautiful due.” Or, as Michiko Kakutani rephrased it, an act of “memorializing the everyday mysteries of love and faith and domesticity with extraordinary nuance and precision.”

PLUS: George Saunders--“A John Updike is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, if that generation is lucky: so comfortable in so many genres, the same lively, generous intelligence suffusing all he did. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but, as I expect is the case with many readers, I internalized him, and am a better person for the urbane, hopeful, articulate voice he put in my head.”

More tributes and memories here, by Julian Barnes, T. Coraghessan Boyle and John Cheever, among others.

[Photo: Robert Spencer/The New York Times]

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