On Updike’s birthday, site unearths the first “Rabbit” reviews

The “Book Marks” website celebrated what would have been John Updike’s 87th birthday with a list of early reviews to the “Rabbit” novels for which the author is most famous. Here are a few of them:

“Rabbit, Run is a tender and discerning study of the desperate and the hungering in our midst. A modest work, it points to a talent of large dimensions—already prove in the author’s New Yorker stories and his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, John Updike, still only 28 years old, is a man to watch.”

–David Boroff, The New York Times, November 6, 1960

“There is a great deal in Rabbit Redux, but only because John Updike has put it there. There is more activity than purposefulness: an intricate scheme of parallelisms with the moon shot; a rich (but in the end funked or slighted) sense of possible parallels between oral sex and verbalism or certain verbal habits; likewise a sense of parallels between the job of linotyping and the job of writing. The book is cleverer than a barrel full of monkeys, and about as odd in its relation of form to content. It never decides just what the artistic reasons (sales and nostalgia are another matter) were for bringing back Rabbit instead of starting anew; its existence is likely to do retrospective damage to that better book Rabbit, Run.”

–Christopher Ricks, The New York Review of Books, December 16, 1971

“If Rabbit Is Rich has a central theme it has to do with the one-directional nature of life: life, always waiting to be death. Rabbit swans on down the long slide, clumsy, lax and brutish, but vaguely trying.

“The technical problem posed by Rabbit is a familiar and fascinating one. How to see the world through the eyes of the occluded, the myopic, the wilfully blind? At its best the narrative is a rollicking comedy of ironic omission, as author and reader collude in their enjoyment of Rabbit’s pitiable constriction. Conversely, the empty corners and hollow spaces of the story fill with pathos, the more poignant for being unremarked.”

–Martin Amis, The Observer, January 17, 1982

“Rabbit at Rest is certainly the most brooding, the most demanding, the most concentrated of John Updike’s longer novels. Its courageous theme—the blossoming and fruition of the seed of death we all carry inside us—is struck in the first sentence … This early note, so emphatically struck, reverberates through the length of the novel and invests its domestic-crisis story with an unusual pathos. For where in previous novels, most famously in Couples (1968), John Updike explored the human body as Eros, he now explores the body, in yet more detail, as Thanatos. One begins virtually to share, with the doomed Harry Angstrom, a panicky sense of the body’s terrible finitude, and of its place in a world of other, competing bodies: ‘You fill a slot for a time and then move out; that’s the decent thing to do: make room.’”

–Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times, September 30, 1990

“The centerpiece of [Licks of Love]—and the one compelling reason to read it—is a novella-length piece called ‘Rabbit Remembered,’ a sad-funny postscript to Mr. Updike’s quartet of Rabbit novels, which takes up the story of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom’s family and friends as they try to come to terms with his death and chart the remainder of their own lives.

“As in his last Rabbit novel, Mr. Updike writes with fluent access to Harry Angstrom’s world, chronicling the developments in his hero’s small Pennsylvania hometown with the casual ease of a longtime intimate. With compassion and bemused affection, he traces the many large and small ways in which Harry’s actions continue to reverberate through the lives of his widow, Janice, and their son, Nelson, and the equally myriad ways in which their decisions are influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by their memories of him.

–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, November 7, 2000

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Society learns the JU Childhood Home will get a historic marker

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission announced yesterday afternoon that The John Updike Childhood Home was one of 18 new historical markers approved out of 55 nominees. The other high-profile approval was musician Jim Croce’s home.

John Updike, who lived in the house at 117 Philadelphia Avenue until he was 13 (1932-45),  received the 1983 Distinguished Pennsylvania Artist Award from the governor in a Harrisburg ceremony. Updike wrote often about the house, Shillington, Reading, and the surrounding area, and was honored by presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush in White House ceremonies.

This article from the NBC Philadelphia affiliate gets the county wrong—Shillington is in Berks, not Bucks County—but it’s a fact that soon there will be a state-approved marker placed outside The John Updike Childhood Home. The property is owned by The John Updike Society and will be operated as a museum and literary landmark. A grand opening for the house-museum is scheduled for October 3, 2020. While the restoration is complete, what remains is to decide on which items would make for informative and satisfying displays, and to mouth those permanent exhibits.

Updike’s Pennsylvania-inspired fictions include The Poorhouse Fair, The Centaur, Of the Farm, Pigeon Feathers, Olinger Stories, and the Rabbit tetralogy (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest). The approval of the historic marker comes near the 10th anniversary of The John Updike Society’s founding in May 2009.

The society’s application for inclusion on the National Historic Register is separate, and is now with the National Park Service, who will make their determination sometime between now and the beginning of May.

See also “John Updike historical marker among 18 approved by state” (Reading Eagle)

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Updike panels set for 30th ALA conference

The John Updike Society will be well represented at the 30th annual American Literature Association Conference in Boston, May 23-26. In addition to a business meeting scheduled for noon on Thursday, May 23, the society will sponsor two panels:

“Updike’s Global Reach: The Coup at 40″
Thursday, May 23, 10:30-11:50 a.m.
Moderator:  Sylvie Mathé, Aix-Marseille University
Kirk Curnutt, Troy University
Quentin Miller, Suffolk University
James Schiff, University of Cincinnati
Matthew Shipe, Washington University

“Updike’s The Maples Stories: Quirky or Quintessential Chronicle of a Marriage?”
Thursday, May 23, 4:30-5:50 p.m.
Moderator:  James Plath, Illinois Wesleyan University
Marshall Boswell, Rhodes College
Biljana Dojčinović, University of Belgrade
Lynn Leibowitz, Mercy College
Gail Sinclair, Rollins College

The society was launched 10 years ago at the ALA conference in Boston, so it also will be an anniversary celebration for those members who attend.

The Westin-Copley Place off Copley Square, site of the 30th ALA Conference.
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John Updike Review Vol. 6 No. 2 is published

Members of The John Updike Society should be receiving a copy of the latest issue of The John Updike Review in their mailboxes. And it will be hard to miss. Mr. Updike appears shirtless on the cover of Vol. 6 No. 2 (Fall 2018) in a color family photo taken by either David Updike or Mary Updike Weatherall circa 1966-67.

The contents are striking too. In the innovative ongoing feature “Three Writers on . . .,” this issue’s topic is “At War with My Skin,” with Updike’s essay reprinted, accompanied by essays from David Hicks (“It pains me to write these pages”: Updike and the Art of Self-Scrutiny”), James Seitz (“An Intimate Rankness: Updike and the High Art of Description”), and Elizabeth Hornsey (“Genetic Terrors”: Updike’s ‘At War with My Skin’ and the Difficulties of Inheritable Illnesses”).

Also included are essays by James Plath (“In the Manner of Michelangelo: John Updike’s The Poorhouse Fair“), Peter J. Bailey (“‘Richard Had Forgotten Why’: Deflection and Sublimation in Updike’s Problems and Other Stories), Robert M. Luscher (“Changing Names and the Keys to Memory in Updike’s ‘Walter Briggs'”), and Donald J. Greiner (“John Updike, Ted Williams, and the Complexity of ‘Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu'”).

In the issue Judie Newman reviews John Updike Remembered by Jack De Bellis, Sue Norton reviews Writers and Their Mothers by Dale Salwak, and Michial Farmer reviews Understanding John Updike by Frederic Svoboda.

The John Updike Review is published twice yearly by the University of Cincinnati and The John Updike Society, edited by James Schiff with help from managing editor Nicola Mason. Members of The John Updike Society automatically receive copies. Here is the membership link. For institutional subscriptions and single copies, email james.schiff@uc.edu.

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Interviewed memoirist mentions Updike

John Updike was mentioned in ​The Forward​’s article, “On The Books: 5 Questions For Stephen Shepard, Author Of ​A Literary Journey To Jewish Identity: Re-Reading Bellow, Roth, Malamud, Ozick, and Other Great Jewish Writers,” in which Shepard discussed his upcoming memoir about self-discovery within Jewish-American literature.

Shepard said the addition of Updike “was the wild card” in the canon, but one he felt a personal connection to: “I was a big Updike fan, so I just started going back to reread them and wrote about the so-called ‘Jewish Updike.’”

Shepard explained his preference for earlier Jewish writers over conemporary ones: “The Jewish writers back then meant something to me,” he said. “I wasn’t grappling now with the same issues that I was then about my Jewish identity and what it meant to be a Jew in post-war America.”

Read the full article here.

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Popsugar thinks Updike’s Eastwick witches sweet

Popsugar​ had a few recommendations for readers who love books with witches in them. Not surprisingly, included in “These 11 Books About Witches Will Put a Spell on You,” by Hannah Abrams, is John Updike’s​ The Witches of Eastwick.​

Updike’s novel follows three Rhode Island divorcees in the 1960s who suddenly find themselves bestowed with magical powers. All is fun and games for the women until “​things take a harrowing turn.”

Updike’s book-lovers can also be spellbound by the big-screen adaptation, which features Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer​, and Susan Sarandon, Abrams reminds us.

Read the full article here.


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Updike is one of 10 important late 20th-century authors

John Updike continues to find recognition and relevance, recently included in ​ThoughtCo’s “10 Important Contemporary and Late-20th-Century Authors,” written by Mark Flanagan.

Decades after his time, Updike’s legacy continues to hold relevance in the 21st century after he was recognized as “​one of only three writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once.”

Updike’s renowned ​Rabbit Angstrom novels, Of the Farm (1965) and Olinger Stories: A Selection (1964) had been “named in 2006 among the best novels of the past 25 years in a ​New York TimesBook Review survey,” Flanagan reminds us.

Read the full article here.

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Updike’s advice to young writers

John Updike’s writing tips appear in a nearly two-minute video published by ​Melville House​: “John Updike’s Writing Advice is Something All Writers Should Try,” by Stephanie Valente.

Updike offers young writers insight and advice for the writing process: “Develop actual work habits. Reserve an hour or more a day to write,” Updike says.

Updike advises writers to simply “read what excites you. Even if you don’t imitate it, you will learn from it.” He also points out the bitter-sweet reality: “Don’t try to be rich,” Updike says. “Writers work to entertain and instruct a reader.”

Watch the full video here.

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Published: “Black Activism: John Updike”

It has come to our attention that the critical essay “Black Activism: John Updike” by Suchitra Vashisth, an assistant professor at DIT University, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India, was published last year in the International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences (Vol. 3, Issue 1; Jan.-Feb. 2018).

“As a a literary artist, he has given us most powerful expression of the American racist society,” Vashisth writes, adding that “Rabbit Redux contains the story of the black revolution in America in the nineteen sixties. Updike reveals, through the speeches of Skeeter, black revolutionary, social injustices with the blacks in American society” and paraphrasing Richard Locke’s assessment that “the wide range of tones and rhythms in black speech has never been so well produced in contemporary white writing.”

Vashisth concludes, “The remarkable thing which is depicted here in this novel is a white failure of nerves or at least a flagging sense of white identity in the face of black assertiveness.”

Here is the link to the entire essay.


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New Updike publication in Portuguese

Member Carla Ferreira, who is an associate professor in the Literature and Language Department at Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil, reports that her dissertation has been published in book form.

The title is North and South Readings: Perception of Oneself and the Other in Updike’s Fiction. “The book is written in Portuguese,” Ferreira says, “and it is about The Coup and Brazil.

“The next book I am writing in English so JUS members can read it,” Ferreira writes. She is finishing up her postdoctoral research on Updike’s New Yorker essays at the University of South Carolina, under the direction of Donald J. Greiner.

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