In a brief piece originally published in The Scotsman and reprinted by WOW24-7, David Robinson writes,

“Apart from Harvard, biographers Adam Begley and Barry Miles agreed, their subjects – John Updike and William Burroughs respectively – had almost nothing in common, though as Begley generously pointed out, ‘even if Burroughs hadn’t written a word, his life would still have made a fascinating biography.’

“In his fiction, Updike’s nostalgia for his small-town childhood home of Shillington, Pennsylvania, was intense. It was, he said, where all his ‘artistic eggs were hatched.’ And while Burroughs headed out for life’s extremes, at least Ulpdike did go home again.”


The Internet is full of new news and old, and what surfaced on August 13, 2014 was a piece from the New Republic archives, “John Updike Beautifully Explains How Difficult It Was To Read John Cheever’s Tortured Journals.

“A journal,” Updike writes, “even when cut to 5 percent of its bulk, reflects real time, where we can experience how sluggishly our human adventure unravels and how unprone people are to change. In a novel, Cheever’s alcoholism would have been introduced, dramatized in a scene or two, and brought to a crisis in which either it or he would have been vanquished. In these journals, the decades of heavy drinking, of hangovers and self-rebukes and increasingly ominous physical and mental symptoms, just drag on.”

Updike adds, “To speak personally, this old acquaintance and longtime admirer of Cheever’s had to battle, while reading these Journals, with the impulse to close his eyes. They tell me more about Cheever’s lusts and failures and self-humiliations and crushing sense of shame and despond than I can easily reconcile with my memories of the sprightly, debonair, gracious man, often seen on the arm of his pretty, witty wife.”

One begins to understand, rereading this in the context of Adam Begley’s recent biography, why Updike was so adamantly opposed to literary biography.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 8.21.27 AMUpdike fans in the U.K. may be interested to know that Adam Begley will speak, along with William Burroughs biographer Barry Miles, in an Edinburgh International Book Festival session on Tuesday, August 19, at the Royal Bank of Scotland Theatre.

The festival PR people had a nice way of describing Begley and his bio:

“In getting to the heart of an acclaimed author’s soul, sometimes you simply have to look at the work. Adam Begley did just that as he compiled his biography of John Updike, who died five years ago with around 60 books to his name.”

The session is scheduled from 4-5 p.m. Here’s the link.

Oxford Journals subscribers can download the full text of an article on “An Existentialist Ars Moriendi: Death and Sacrifice in John Updike’s The Centaur,” which was first published in the August 12, 2014 issue of Literature and Theology.

Here’s the link, and the abstract:

“An Existentialist Ars Moriendi: Death and Sacrifice in John Updike’s The Centaur
Michial Farmer, Assistant Professor of English, Crown College, St. Bonifacius, MN;

John Updike originally conceived his 1963 novel The Centaur as a companion piece to Rabbit, Run, published two years before. If the earlier novel was about a life-embracing man constitutionally unable to sacrifice himself for any person or idea, the later one is its opposite: a novel about a man obsessed with his own death who is nevertheless able to sacrifice himself for the betterment of his family. He thus exchanges his literal, physical death for a series of smaller, spiritual, daily deaths—the deaths of his dreams, his ambitions, everything but his love for his wife and son. What Updike is attempting in this novel, I will argue, is a 20th-century Ars Moriendi—an art of holy dying wherein George Caldwell will model a Christian attitude towards death and sacrifice. But Updike’s faith is always mixed with doubt, and thus his updated Ars Moriendi belongs firmly to the existentialist tradition wherein the black hole of death creates an inescapable anxiety. Updike implicitly adopts Martin Heidegger’s notion of Sein-zum-Tode (being-towards-death); to live authentically is to remember at all times that death is awaiting you. But, typically for Updike’s fiction, The Centaur charts a middle way: If Updike cannot resign himself to death with the calmness suggested by medieval Christianity, neither can he subscribe to Heidegger’s atheism. Caldwell’s daily sacrifices become a Christian response to this anxiety; by sacrificing himself every day, he prepares himself for the physical death that awaits him.



The Old Life Theological Society posted a reaction piece by D.G. Hart titled “The Protestant Novel?” in which he considers “whether Protestantism has produced novelists the way that Roman Catholicism allegedly has.”

To answer that question he turns to Wikipedia and writer David Lodge, who writes, “If there was ever such a species as the Protestant novelist . . . Mr. Updike may be its last surviving example.”

Hart concludes, “Protestants intuitively know (but often refuse to admit) that novels don’t need to be Christian, that the question of whether a novel is Christian is actually silly. Some of the worst novels have tried to be redemptive, while some of the best don’t make the slightest reference to religion, let alone sin and grace.”


After reading Louis Menand’s review of Updike, the writer of a blog titled Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science jotted down his reactions and thoughts—most of which revolved around Updike, O’Hara, and Menand’s sin of omission (not mentioning O’Hara).

Here’s the link:  “Updike and O’Hara”

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 9.49.57 AMAlvernia University announced in a press release that David Updike has officially accepted a position as the next John Updike Scholar in Residence at Alvernia, starting in August 2014.

As Alvernia states, “[David] Updike’s first duty as Scholar in Residence comes as the John Updike Society Conference returns to its original location at Alvernia University, October 2-4 [it's 1-4, actually], 2014. Updike will talk about his father’s life ‘in pictures and prose’ during the conference’s only session open to the public:  Oct. 2, 2 p.m., in Francis Hall Theater.”

David Updike is the author of the short story collections Old Girlfriends and Out on the Marsh, as well as an illustrated quartet for young readers: A Winter Journey, An Autumn Tale, A Spring Story, and The Sounds of Summer. His short stories, as the release points out, have been published in The New Yorker, making him the third in his family to see his work appear in the magazine—the others, of course, being his father, John Updike, and paternal grandmother, Linda Hoyer Updike, who placed 10 stories in the prestigious magazine.

Here is the story on Updike’s appointment, as reported by

ON LINE opinion, Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, today published a piece on “Updike!”by Peter Sellick, who begins by saying that Updike’s death “precipitated a dilemma” in his household because for so many years his wife would buy him the latest Updike book for Christmas. But he quickly turns to observation, some of it based on his rereading of the LOA short stories and the Begley bio:

“Updike served up his immediate experience; all was grist for his mill. So much so that after telling his children that he was leaving the family of his first marriage, a painful episode for all, he published, soon after, an episode in the Maple stories, ‘Separating’ that was drawn with little disguise from the event. One wonders at the facility of a writer who could do such painful things to his family and then serve it all up in a short story to the New Yorker for a fairly large amount of money. One wonders about his facility for detachment! For Updike all of experience was fodder for his literature. He could be called the Vermeer (one of Updike’s favorite artists) of American letters, so intent was he on the gravity and beauty of the everyday. The glory of the small town of Shillington where he grew up was often celebrated in his short stories as if it were the centre of the universe.”   Read the rest of this entry »

Adam Begley, in Scotland for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, gave an interview to Alan Taylor of The Herald that was assigned the somewhat titillating headline “The final sin of John Updike.”

In the long interview, which was published in the Saturday, August 9 online version, Begley covers a lot of ground and concludes that Updike had given up all but one of his vices—smoking, drinking, sleeping around. “‘It’s true, his last sin was writing,’ says Adam Begley. ‘This compulsion to take other people’s lives and use them for his own ends. Other than that, he had given up naughtiness.’”

Says Begley, “I didn’t think Updike’s biography was difficult to write because my training is in literary criticism and my inclination is towards literary criticism. What Updike offers to me is much more valuable that [Norman Mailer-esque] derring-do or political campaigns; punching one’s colleagues in the faces or biting their ears or stabbing your wife. What he did is write books that drew me to them like a magnet and stories that I could turn to.”

“The character who emerges from Begley’s book is complex and fascinating and, to a degree, elusive,” Taylor writes. “There was, for example, the public figure, who could turn on the charm as one might a light. He was studiedly polite and played the part of literary gent almost to the point of parody. By nature, Updike was also careful and cautious and conservative. For much of his life, moreover, he had a stammer and was plagued with psoriasis. And, having grown up as a single child in a family that always had to count pennies, he could never fall back on privilege.

“But there was also another side to him, observes Begley, that of the daredevil and the practical joker. As a teenager he would woo his pals with stunts, jumping on the running board of his parents’ old black Buick and steering it downhill through the open window. He was prone to tomfoolery, as if determined to draw attention to himself. He liked to leap over parking meters and would through himself downstairs as if he were part of a slapstick act. ‘So there is that contradiction in him,’ says Begley, ‘that is elemental in him and that biographers like and which they pretend they can explain, but can’t.”

Every story that appears on The John Updike Society website/blog is also posted on the Society’s Facebook page, but don’t forget to “Like” JUS on Facebook. Otherwise you’ll miss out on the John Updike quote memes posted there from time to time that are not added to this website. Why? Because Facebook is a lighter, more visually oriented medium.

The top three favorites thus far? “My characters are very fond of both safety and freedom . . . and yet the two things don’t go together, quite, so they’re in a state of tension all the time.” That meme circulated to 31,520 people.


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