The latest publication to include Adam Begley’s biography, Updike, on their Best of 2014 lists is The DC Spotlight Newspaper, which numbers it among their “Books To Know – Top 10 List – September 2014.”

4. Updike

By Adam Begley, April 2014

Updike is Adam Begley’s masterful, much-anticipated biography of one of the most celebrated figures in American literature: Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike—a candid, intimate, and richly detailed look at his life and work.

In this magisterial biography, Adam Begley offers an illuminating portrait of John Updike, the acclaimed novelist, poet, short-story writer, and critic who saw himself as a literary spy in small-town and suburban America, who dedicated himself to the task of transcribing “middleness with all its grits, bumps and anonymities.”

Updike explores the stages of the writer’s pilgrim’s progress: his beloved home turf of Berks County, Pennsylvania; his escape to Harvard; his brief, busy working life as the golden boy at The New Yorker; his family years in suburban Ipswich, Massachusetts; his extensive travel abroad; and his retreat to another Massachusetts town, Beverly Farms, where he remained until his death in 2009. Drawing from in-depth research as well as interviews with the writer’s colleagues, friends, and family, Begley explores how Updike’s fiction was shaped by his tumultuous personal life—including his enduring religious faith, his two marriages, and his first-hand experience of the “adulterous society” he was credited with exposing in the bestselling Couples.

With a sharp critical sensibility that lends depth and originality to his analysis, Begley probes Updike’s best-loved works—from Pigeon Feathers to The Witches of Eastwick to the Rabbit tetralogy—and reveals a surprising and deeply complex character fraught with contradictions: a kind man with a vicious wit, a gregarious charmer who was ruthlessly competitive, a private person compelled to spill his secrets on the printed page. Updike offers an admiring yet balanced look at this national treasure, a master whose writing continues to resonate like no one else’s.

The featured poem for August 31, 2014 on The Writer’s Almanac, with Garrison Keillor, was Updike’s poem “August,” from A Child’s Calendar. Here’s the link.

 

Novelist Ian McEwan was recently interviewed for the Books/Culture section of The Observer in a piece published on Saturday, August 30, 2014:  “Ian McEwan: ‘I’m only 66—my notebook is still full of ideas.’”

Although interviewer Robert McCrum mostly asks about McEwan’s latest book, The Children Act, he also describes a moment in the interview in which McEwan evoked John Updike:

“Out of the blue he remembers interviewing the late John Updike in his final years. ‘We talked about all this,’ he recalls. ‘He told me: The older you get the less frightening death becomes.’ He frowns in puzzlement. ‘I’m not sure whether to believe him.’

“So does he believe him?

“‘No.’ A beat. ‘Do you believe those obituaries that say, ‘Died peacefully in his sleep?’ (McEwan was at Christopher Hitchens’s bedside shortly before he died.) ‘Still, wouldn’t be a bad way to go.’”

WAMC/Northeast Public Radio—a regional network serving parts of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania—released its “Programming Notes: September 2014″ and the month’s offerings include Labor Day readings from Updike.

“At 11AM, we’ll bring you two of the short stories from American writer John Updike. In this Selected Shorts special, hosted by television actress and comedian extraordinaire Jane Kaczmarek, Kaczmarek will read Updike’s “Unstuck,” and screen legend Sally Field will perform “Playing with Dynamite.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 8.01.48 AMHigh Life (UK) published a piece in their Culture section titled “What I’m reading this summer,” a round-up in which celebrities share what was on their summer 2014 reading list.

Writer William Boyd responded,

Updike by Adam Begley. I’m a John Updike fan and this is the first biography. Also The Wooden Horse by Eric Williams as I’m writing a film script about PoWs.”

Ever since Paul Moran began sharing Updike ephemera on a blog called The Other John Updike Archive (the link to which you can find on our home page), Updike scholars have been wondering where he got the materials—with many speculating that he may have rescued them from a dumpster after Updike died.

Now in a story titled “The Man Who Made Off With John Updike’s Trash” by Adrienne LaFrance, posted on The Atlantic website on August 28, 2014, the mystery is explained . . . sort of.

Moran, a bicyclist, cycled past the Updike house and grabbed bags of trash, some of which Updike himself had just carried out. He did this regularly, and the family didn’t seem to mind, Moran says. Martha Updike is not quoted—only Estate literary agent Andrew Wylie, who says that Moran would “steal the Updike’s trash bags every Wednesday” and that the family tried to get him to stop.

The article is subtitled “Who really owns a great writer’s legacy?” but the law is pretty clear here. It’s not illegal to take someone’s trash from the curb. People do it in every town everywhere in America, so Moran did nothing against the law. And if he had taken the items after what amounted to an Estate housecleaning, thrown away after Updike’s death, he could be considered heroic for saving things that future scholars might find useful. I would have done it myself.

Even if he got the items while Updike was still alive, if there was no objection, where’s the foul? The problem, for some people, comes if the Updikes truly did want him to stop. That adds a moral dimension to it, and as someone who’s put the brakes on an idea the minute that Updike objected, my own inclination on such things has always been to abide by Updike’s wishes. Still, there are other collectors and scholars who would argue that preservation of the materials is more important than personal feelings, just as Updike, as we read in Begley’s recent biography, put fiction ahead of people. And it’s not clear from the Atlantic article whether the family truly objected, or to what degree. One quote from a literary agent doesn’t make the case.

The law is pretty clear regarding the items themselves. The physical items are owned by whoever bought or in this case salvaged them. And it’s terrific that Moran has chosen to share them with the world. He can get away with “publishing” items like the Hotel Algonquin bill, or ticket stubs, or invitations, or a call to jury duty, because they’re artifacts not subject to intellectual property law. Any drawings that Updike did, any doodles, any notes, anything that expressed a thought or opinion of his are covered by that law and Moran cannot make those items public because the content is owned by the Updike Estate, even though he owns the physical objects.

Puzzles remain, though: Updike was a pack-rat. He saved everything. So why throw away these things after holding onto them so long, especially all of those old slides and photographs? Why not give the latter to his children? I know from talking with him that he cared very little about the honorary degrees, but I find it hard to believe that he didn’t include them with the Harvard materials, or that “Mrs. Updike said it was fine and she was glad [the honorary degrees Moran found and sold] were going to support a local bookstore.”

So there are aspects about this that we may never know. Moran is quoted as saying that “he’s looked for permanent homes for the archive” but “says everyone he’s approached has turned him down.” Maybe he wants something in return, and the price is too high. But I do know that if the items were displayable and not a violation of intellectual property laws, if the items were Pennsylvania-related, and if the board of The John Updike Childhood Home approved, some of those items would find quite a welcome home.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 8.45.22 PMWilliam Pritchard, known in Updike circles for his book, Updike: America’s Man of Letters (Steerforth Press, 2000), graduated from Amherst College in 1953 and, now retired as a Professor Emeritus after teaching for the same institution for many decades, has written a piece for Amherst Magazine titled “Life After Amherst?”

In it, he talks about his career and a piece he thought about writing, though he admits, “When I revealed to my spouse that I was going to write something vaguely on the subject of life after Amherst, she scoffed, declaring that there was, for me, no life after Amherst.”

Here is the link.

a546b96a8b003e659d8a2aad37a78542b2c85b4aOn Tuesday, October 7, 2014, Updike biographer Adam Begley will be interviewed by Professor Jacques Berlinerblau of the Program for Jewish Civilization on “John Updike and the Jews.”

The program is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Georgetown University and it is free and open to the public. An RSVP is requested, with a light lunch served.

Location:  Copley Hall, Copley Formal Lounge, 37th and O St., N.W., Washington, D.C.

Here is the link.

One of the events at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival paired two biographers:  Adam Begley and William Burroughs biographer Barry Miles.

Nick Major posted “EBIF2014: Adam Begley on Updike and Barry Miles on Burroughs” as a guest blogger—a summary of the presentation and a reminder, perhaps, that comparative studies need not always be of kindred spirits.

“The discussion chopped and changed between talk of Burroughs and Updike,” he writes. “It was almost a real-life replica of Burroughs’ famous cut-up technique of writing novels. Although it was thankfully told in plain English and only the occasional sentence was sliced in two. Updike was from a poor background. Burroughs came from wealth. Updike went to Harvard. So did Burroughs. Updike went on to work for The New Yorker. Burroughs became a heroin addict. Updike quit The New Yorker to become a full time novelist. Burroughs quit the country after a game of William Tell went wrong and he killed his wife, Joan Vollmer. Updike ‘never broke any laws.’ Burroughs made his own laws.

“Begley shadowed Updike as a journalist in the mid-1990s. Burroughs invited Miles to catalogue his archives in 1972. . . . It was a woefully small audience that were fortunate enough to hear these two biographers talk about their subjects in such fine detail. It was a shame such fascinating insights found so few ears. Most of those present were there out of an interest in Updike, so the last words should go to that notoriously generous reviewer who ‘took in the entire globe as a critic.’ Responding to Burroughs’ Port of Saints Updike wrote: ‘claptrap, but murderous claptrap and for that we owe it respect.’”

Here’s the full article.

 

On August 20, 2014 another thesis on John Updike was listed on Shodh ganga: a reservoir of Indian theses. The 274-page thesis, in English, came out of Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. The researcher-author, Tehreem Zehra, wrote about the “Idea of America in select novels of John Updike.”

Abstract:
A literature which emerged out of the roots of wilderness managed to wipe out the stain of plagiarism whenever accused by the already rich and mature European typewriters outpourings and has always been ready to reform itself through the oeuvre of distinguished writers of the nation in every literary era. What Hawthorne did for American Puritanism was further carried out by Updike in his literary career through 20th century America. Beginning with Rabbit series which make up the backbone of his literary outburst he seldom eulogises the American spirit of adultery selfishness capitalism consumerism and wavering faith. He puts his heart and soul to reform the deteriorating self and values of his nation.

 

« Older entries