Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.58.28 PMIn Rancho Cucamonga, which sounds like a made-up place, “Parents were shocked when they discovered a novel with erotic dialogue was being checked out and read by their children in their middle school’s library,” according to a CBS Los Angeles report.

The novel was Rabbit Is Rich, and the reaction is no surprise. Even Updike scholars would probably tell their pre-teens to hold off on that one until high school or college.

The principal removed the book from the school’s library. “After the investigation, if it is determined that the book had been checked out by other students, those students’ parents will be notified”—which sounds a little like people with sexually transmitted diseases having to notify all their partners.

The book apparently was donated, which is why it flew under the radar. Bottom line:  Rabbit Is Rich won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s a great book. But at what age?

“District Investigates After 12-Year-Old Gets Novel With Sexual Passages FRom School Library.” 

Franco Library at Alvernia University, which houses The John Updike Society Archive (renamed, apparently, John Updike Collection), has catalogued the holdings digitally and made them available online so scholars and researchers can see the full range of items in the collection and decide whether there are materials that might be of use/interest.

In fact, archivist Gene Mitchell says that if any Society members email him to set up an appointment while they’re in Reading to attend The Third Biennial John Updike Society Conference, he will make arrangements to have those materials ready and waiting.

Here’s the link to the John Updike Collection.

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It’s funny how one appraisal leads to another, or a conversation . . . or a debate.

William Deresiewicz’s essay-review of Updike for The New Republic has already inspired a favorable response from National Review, that other side of the aisle publication. That’s encouraging, because these days Updike appears to be one of the few subjects that a liberal or conservative can agree upon.

Now Peter J. Leithart (First Things) weighs in with “Painter of Surfaces,” posted online on September 10, 2014, which oddly enough has nothing much to do with Updike’s painterly style.

“No one has to defend Updike’s skill as a writer,” Leithart writes, “and he was surely a success, as Deresiewicz’s rapid-fire summary indicates. . . . Updike’s reputation suffers more because he was, in Deresiewicz’s words, ‘an unembarrassed, unreconstructed middle-American. . . . Updike’s life and work are testaments to the idea that mid-American values, beliefs, and sensibilities are adequate to address and interpret modern experience.’ That cannot be forgiven.

“Nor can Updike’s theological conviction. . . . But he, like the non-judgmental God of his novels, stays on the surface. Updike will be remembered as a chronicler of his times, but Deresiewicz doesn’t convince me that his novels have the depth to be of enduring importance.”

“It’s not cool to like the writing of John Updike,” National Review‘s Michael Potemra declares in “Looking at Updike, Again.” “But it’s the right thing to do.”

Wasn’t that what actor Wilford Brimley told us about eating oatmeal?

Potemra explains that the “anti-feminist rap against Updike deserves, in our current cultural plight, a little more attention. The locus classicus of this opinion was the famous phrase of David Foster Wallace, who quoted a female friend’s gibe that Updike was ‘a penis with a thesaurus.’ Now, David Foster Wallace has basically been canonized as a secular saint, and to be dismissed by him in this fashion amounts to having the phrase NOT. COOL. branded on your forehead.”

Potemra was apparently inspired to reconsider Updike after reading a New Republic book review of Adam Begley’s Updike by William Deresiewicz, whom he quotes:

“Updike—and Mailer, and Roth, and the other men (and women) of their generation—were situated at a complicated juncture in the history of sexuality. They came of age before the revolution, but not so long before that they couldn’t try to join it. Sexual freedom descended on them not as a birthright, but as a miracle. Of course they went a little wild. When the Pill came out in 1960, the oldest member of the baby boom was fourteen. Updike was 28. If he spent a lot of time thinking about sex, it’s not a big surprise. Updike, like his contemporaries, was also too early for feminism. That may not be conducive to the most progressive attitudes . . . but it also means that Updike stood between the old and new Victorianisms.”

Potemra adds, “Deresiewicz is pointing to something important: Updike, as a man of his generation, did not view ideologizing about men and women to be his basic calling in life. It was sufficient for him to watch men and women, to notice, and to record his observations in some of the best prose ever produced by an American writer.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 8.28.25 AMPlaying now through September 27 at John Lane’s Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine is a staged musical-comedy adaptation of the movie based on Updike’s novel, The Witches of Eastwick.

From the Ogunquit Playhouse website:

The Witches of Eastwick are the original “desperate housewives!” The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be selected by Cameron Mackintosh to be the American Northeast premiere of his hit stage adaptation of The Witches of Eastwick, the sexy new musical comedy based on the Warner Brothers hit motion picture starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher.

Brewing and stewing about their dull lives, three small town New England women wish for the man of their dreams – and they get far more than they bargain for when all hell breaks loose and the devil incarnate, Darryl Van Horne, arrives to liven things up! Come on over to the dark side with this hysterical and devilish show, with its beautiful original score, that was declared “musical comedy heaven” by London’s Daily Mail. Three sexy witches and one lucky devil will leave you asking the question – “Trick or treat?”

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission.

“High caliber production . . . sex, sass and wicked good fun!”—BroadwayWorld Boston

“A rollicking, slightly raunchy, really fun romp of a show!”—Portsmouth Herald

The September 11, 2014 issue of The New Yorker included a piece titled “Reacting to September 11th,” which tells of the first issue published after 9/11 in which “Updike and eight writers grappled with the September 11th attacks.”

“‘A four-year-old girl and her babysitter called from the library, and pointed out through the window the smoking top of the north tower, not a mile away.’ That’s how John Updike found out about 9/11, according to the Talk of the Town story he wrote for the September 24, 2001 issue of this magazine.”

Updike’s complete September 24, 2001 column is available online here.

“From the viewpoint of a tenth-floor apartment in Brooklyn Heights, where I happened to be visiting some kin, the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers had the false intimacy of television, on a day of perfect reception,” Updike wrote.

“As we watched the second tower burst into ballooning flame (an intervening building had hidden the approach of the second airplane), there persisted the notion that, as on television, this was not quite real; it could be fixed; the technocracy the towers symbolized would find a way to put out the fire and reverse the damage.

“And then, within an hour, as my wife and I watched from the Brooklyn building’s roof, the south tower dropped from the screen of our viewing; it fell straight down like an elevator, with a tinkling shiver and a groan of concussion distinct across the mile of air. We knew we had just witnessed thousands of deaths; we clung to each other as if we ourselves were falling.”

Film critic A.O. Scott dips one toe in familiar waters and the other in American literature to discuss what he perceives as “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” which was published on September 11, 2014.

Both Philip Roth and John Updike are mentioned—Roth, more so than Updike.

“While [Leslie] Fiedler was sitting at his desk in Missoula, Mont., writing his monomaniacal tome [on Love and Death in the American Novel], a youthful rebellion was asserting itself in every corner of the culture. The bad boys of rock ‘n’ roll and the pouting screen rebels played by James Dean and Marlon Brando proved Fiedler’s point even as he was making it. So did Holden Caulfield, Dean Moriarty, Augie March and Rabbit Angstrom—a new crop of semi-antiheroes in flight from convention, propriety, authority and what Huck would call the whole ‘sivilized’ world.

“From there it is but a quick ride on the Pineapple Express to Apatow. The Updikean and Rothian heroes of the 1960s and 1970s chafed against the demands of marriage, career and bureaucratic conformity and played the games of seduction and abandonment, of adultery and divorce, for high existential stakes, only to return a generation later as the protagonists of bro comedies. We devolve from Lenny Bruce to Adam Sandler, from Catch-22 to The Hangover, from Goodbye, Columbus to The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

In a Wall Street Journal piece titled “Mortality as Muse; L.E. Sissman deserves to be revived,” a Sightings columnist tells about a now-obscure ad man turned poet whose premature death from cancer elicited remarks from John Updike.

“So why read him now? John Updike put it well in his New Yorker obituary: ‘One said goodbye to Ed wondering each time if it would be the last time. It marks the quality of the man that this shadow became something pleasant: an extra resonance in the parting smile, a warmth in the handshake. He helped us all, in his work and in his courage, to bear our own mortality.’ He still does, as do Ms. Adams and Mr. Myers, whose willingness to write with equal honesty should inspire all of those who grapple with the common dilemma, whether its coming be imminent or merely prospective.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 7.25.35 PMNaxos, “The World’s Leading Classical Music Group,” published an article last year that might have slipped everyone’s notice, but since lately the Updike detractors have been rattling the picket fence with their sticks, it seemed a good time to post “Kenneth Fuchs and JoAnn Falletta record fourth disc with the London Symphony Orchestra” (September 23, 2013). The recording includes Falling Man (based on a fragment from Don DeLillo’s post-9/11 novel), Movie House (“seven poems by John Updike for baritone voice and chamber ensemble”) and Songs of Innocence and of Experience (inspired by four of William Blake’s poems).

Fuchs writes, “When I read John Updike’s new novel Rabbit Is Rich in 1982, I knew I had come upon a writer whose words would inspire me for a very long time. Updike’s observations about American life and the objects and desires of the American sensibility spoke directly to me. I fell under the spell of his poetry and found many poems that I thought would be right for musical setting. Movie House is a cycle of seven poems set for baritone voice and chamber ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, string trio, and harp) from Updike’s second volume of poetry, Telephone Poles, published in 1963. The poems include ‘Telephone Poles,’ ‘Maples in a Spruce Forest,’ ‘Seagulls,’ ‘The Short Days,’ ‘Movie House,’ ‘Modigliani’s Death Mask,’ and ‘Summer: West Side.’

“When performed together, the collection lasts about 31 minutes. I was attracted to these poems because of their optimistic evocations of life during the 1950s, the decade in which I was born. Read some fifty years later, the poems have a nostalgic quality that seems both ironic and poignant. I chose the title of the poem ‘Movie House’ as the title of the entire work. The first poem, ‘Telephone Poles,’ introduces the phrase ‘our eyes’ and the idea of observation, which runs throughout the cycle. The music accompanying that phrase (an ascending major second followed by an ascending major sixth) forms the musical motive from which the melodic and harmonic structure of the entire work evolves. Like the images on a movie screen, the musical setting of each poem is meant to provide the listener with an aural, visual, and emotional perspective from which to observe the world.”

Amazon is currently selling the CD for $11.47.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 7.09.42 PMIn her review of Daphne Merkin’s The Fame Lunches, “45 wide-ranging essays that straddle the high/low cultural fault line with aplomb,” NPR’s Helen McAlpin writes,

“‘A Tip of the Hat,’ Merkin’s judicious 2009 tribute to John Updike shortly after his death, exemplifies her literary chops. She highlights his remarkable range and attention to detail, his ‘honed, even finicky words,’ but also explains how, after 1990, ‘His vaunted cosmopolitanism began to feel dated.’ She adds, with a dapper flourish: ‘He began to seem like a man who always wore a hat to work.’ Bingo.”

“Lip Gloss, Handbags And Margaret Drabble in ‘The Fame Lunches'”

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