Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.53.01 AMRabbit, Run gets all the attention, and Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest earned Pulitzer Prizes. But Guardian writer Robert McCrum says Rabbit Redux is his favorite—which is why he included it at #88 on his list of “The 100 Best Novels.”

“Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, the account of whose life and times adds up to more than half a million words, is often placed with honor, and a measure of irony, next to America’s great literary protagonists such as Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby and even Captain Ahab,” McCrum writes. “Rabbit Redux was published in the US by Alfred A Knopf, a great literary house and a natural home for a novel that, from the title down, nodded to the Anglo-American literary tradition. Anthony Trollope (see No 22 in this series) published Phineas Redux in 1873, and Updike, who was steeped in English literature, would have enjoyed the allusion. Other critics have noted its ‘Dickensian’ ambitions.

“The Angstrom series had many inspirations, including Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt. Updike, who also venerated Lewis, always spoke warmly about his admiration for Marcel Proust, though ‘Rabbit’ has little to do, explicitly, with A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Ian McEwan [who, summarising Updike’s achievement on his untimely death in 2009, compared him to Saul Bellow (see No 73 in this series) as ‘a master of effortless motion—between first and third person, from the metaphorical density of literary prose to the demotic, from specific detail to wide generalization, from the actual to the numinous, from the scary to the comic’] described Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ novels as his ‘masterpiece.’ Philip Roth, a sometime writer, declared Updike to be America’s ‘greatest man of letters, a national treasure,’ while, for Lorrie Moore, Updike is ‘our greatest writer,’ though she prefers his short stories.”



Physics Central, which links to American Physical Society Sites, yesterday posted “Physics in Verse: A John Updike Poem about Neutrinos.”

“There is a long history of poets taking Nature as their muse, from the call of the sea to the draw of the wild. But poems about physics phenomena are harder to find,” Tamela Maciel writes. “Updike was not a physicist, but he did a remarkable job describing the current view of the physics community, as this article from Symmetry magazine unravels.”

Cosmic Gall
by John Updike
Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed—you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Pictured is “The first observation of a neutrino-induced reaction in a hydrogen bubble chamber. An invisible neutrino arrives from the right and strikes a proton where the three tracks join. The proton, a muon, and a pion then fly off in different directions.”


Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 1.45.00 PMIn a post for the “Idle Chatter” department of The Smart Set, from Drexel University, Morgan Meis reports on “Updike Country; In the semi-rural suburbs of southeastern PA, finding—and living in—Rabbit Angstrom’s middle America.”

“John Updike always wrote beautifully about this part of the world. The middle class houses. The certain kind of red clay. The specific attitude of a person who grew up around here, in the vicinity of Reading.

“If John Updike were still alive and driving around Limerick he’d write something about the beautiful pseudo-cloud coming from the cooling tower of the Limerick plant. He’d say, the white powder of that cloud drifts over the farmland and the strip malls all the same. It dusts the heads of the locals on their way out of the bar on Township Line Road. It dusts everything. You can’t see or feel the dust. It does not harm. But it’s heavy nonetheless. It keeps you here even when you want to pass on through. . . .”


Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 1.31.27 PMOn May 3, John Updike Society president James Plath was invested as the R. Forrest Colwell Chair of English at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he has taught for the past 27 years. The appointment is for six years, renewable for five-year terms thereafter. The committee cited his work on Hemingway and Updike, his work with student organizations, and his long-term service on both major committees and the Faculty-Staff Recognition Committee.

Here is the article.

As a fellow lampooner, John Updike would no doubt appreciate his inclusion in The Onion‘s tongue-in-cheek story of the “Top Prom Trends For 2015.”

“Here are this year’s most popular prom trends:

Live streaming feed for students who couldn’t get date
Moment of silence to honor our fallen heroes overseas
The Centaur replacing Rabbit Redux as this year’s most popular John Updike–based prom theme
Adult chaperones given two minutes at start of dance to explain why exactly they chose to spend night off doing this
Cash bar for dates 21 and over
Viennese Waltz continues to supplant American-style tango as preeminent dance
King and queen required to break at least five social boundaries in order to be crowned
More DJs ending night with special father-son dance
After-party held right in lobby of hospital ER
Many students are following up their prom experience with unprotected intercourse”

In “‘As usual, words fail him’—6 great literary feuds,” a glorified “list” story meant to entertain, The Telegraph’s Morwenna Ferrier and Rupert Hawksley offer a fluff piece that doesn’t go into much detail and didn’t involve much research. But it’s worth noting that Updike gets a mention:

Salman Rushdie vs John Updike

“Rushdie, as we know, is no stranger to controversy, but his battle with John Updike tops all his feuds.

“In 2006, Updike denounced Rushdie’s novel, Shalimar the Clown, writing ‘Why, oh why did Salman Rushdie, in his new novel call one of his major characters Maximilian Ophuls?.’ Rushdie responded to Updike’s query in The Guardian: ‘Why, oh why… ? Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there’s probably a male prostitute called “John Updike”.’ He went on to describe Updike’s latest, Terrorist, as ‘beyond awful,’ and suggested Updike should ‘stay in his parochial neighbourhood and write about wife-swapping, because it’s what he can do.’ Because what’s a little quibbling between literary giants…”

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 8.33.32 AMBlogger Jeffrey Keeten, whose interest in books goes beyond reviews, has posted a review of Updike’s novel The Centaur. “I’m not really sure why people have quit reading John Updike,” he muses (though there’s really no justification for thinking so). “I could not put down this flawed, but wonderful book.”

Though his review is mostly plot summary, Keeten remarks, “The novel in many ways is brilliant, reflecting an author’s mind that is brimming with intelligence and convoluted thoughts, maybe the inspiration for the labyrinth of George’s own mind.”


Thanks to the 60 members of The John Updike Society who paid their 2015 dues promptly, and to the members who added a donation for our continuing work on The John Updike Childhood Home:  Gerald J. Connors, Steven J. Malcolm, Elizabeth Updike Cobblah, Livia Lloyd-Hawkins, Robert M. Luscher, Joseph Moser, Joseph Truitt, Bryan L. Bodwell, Mary Carol Fee, Kevin R. Fox, Richard Seabrook, Kevin Schehr, Carole and Richard Sherr, Jay Althouse, Kasuko Kashihara, Sylvie Mathé, Deana and Gardiner “Gary”  Rigg, and Rev. Leslie Smith.

That makes 60 down, and 200 to go. And for people wanting to join the society, dues are  a remarkably low $25 per year for regular members and $20 per year for retirees and graduate students. Send your check (made payable to The John Updike Society) along with name, preferred snail mail and email address, and phone (to contact only if your information becomes outdated) to: James Plath, Dept. of English, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL  61702-2900.

Peter C. Herman, Professor of English Literature at San Diego State University, recently published “Terrorism and the Critique of American Culture: John Updike’s Terrorist” in Modern Philology 112: 4 (May 2015), 691-712.

Full article.MP

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 7.55.17 AMIn “Object Lesson,” a consideration of “Why we need physical books published in the New Republic, William Giraldi inevitably turns to Updike:

“There was little that escaped the Updikian caress, and he wrote more than once about the pleasures and peculiarities of book collecting. In an essay called “The Unread Book Route,” about A History of Japan to 1334, Updike wrote: ‘The physical presence of this book, so substantial, so fresh, the edges so trim, the type so tasty, reawakens in me, like a Proustian talisman, the emotions I experienced when, in my youth, I ordered it.’ Leave it to the unerringly sensual and curious Updike to a) refer to book type as ‘tasty,’ and b) think as a youth that he needed to know something about Japan prior to 1334.

“Updike’s point about the Proustian talisman is a crucial one for bibliophiles: Their collections are not only proof of their evolution but monuments to their past, fragrant and visual stimulators of recall.”

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