John Updike’s fictionalized account of his first marriage, Too Far to Go (reissued with new material as The Maples Stories), often has been cited as a good book to read for people coping with the aftermath of divorce. But now someone’s recommending Updike for people considering divorce.

In an article (“10 Books to Read Before Getting Divorced”) written for the Barnes & Noble website, Jeff Somers recommends reading the Rabbit Angstrom novels.

“John Updike was a writer with myriad obsessions, and they all came together in the four-book, decades-in-the-writing saga of flawed but fascinating Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, who attempts to abandon his young family in book one and doesn’t make life any less complicated for himself as the decades rush on. What you end up with is, in large part, one of the most finely-detailed accounts of the ups and downs of a marriage in literary history. Considered as a whole, Rabbit’s race through life offers the sort of minute study of a relationship that will force you to reconsider you own.”

In other words, despite how rocky Rabbit and Janice’s marriage was, they stuck it out. Somehow, their marriage survived, and Somers suggests by including it on this list that a little perspective goes a long way.

The only other fiction on this list of mostly self-help books is Heartburn, by Nora Ephron.

A recent episode of Jeopardy!, an American game show that’s been around since 1964, featured this “answer”:

“John Updike wrote in 1960, ‘Gods do not answer letters,’ which referred to a ballplayer ignoring applause and not tipping his hat after a home run.”

And the question?

“Who is Ted Williams.”

Updike wrote what many consider to be the best piece of sports writing ever after he watched the Boston Red Sox slugger make the most of his last career at-bat on September 28, 1960. “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” was originally published an October 1960 issue of The New Yorker and more recently as a stand-alone book from the Library of America.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu amazon link

The Guardian published another summer reading list—“Best summer books 2018, as picked by writers and cultural figures – part two”—in which everyone shares their reading agenda for the sun-and-fun months. Updike was mentioned again, but this time not for something light, airy, and Updike clever.

Writer-journalist Julie Myerson (“Living with Teenagers,” Sleepwalking, Something Might Happen), listed Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy as her literal “must-read”:

“Rachel Cusk’s Kudos (Faber) is one of the most astoundingly original and necessary books I’ve ever read. It made me laugh, think and cry. She’s my friend, but I recommend it without apology: I envy anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I was startled, but also very moved, by the almost abrasive directness of Rose Tremain’s memoir Rosie (Chatto & Windus). It did exactly what memoirs ought to do: made me want to rush straight back to her fiction. My ideal holiday (a bit of a fantasy at the moment) would therefore be a fortnight in Rome with all of Tremain on a Kindle, along with John Updike’s Rabbit (Penguin) quartet – which people have been ordering me to read for years – as well as Motherhood (Harvill Secker) by Sheila Heti, which I’ve been hoarding, and Never Anyone But You (Corsair) by the unfailingly brilliant Rupert Thomson.”

When in Rome . . . read John Updike?

The artwork is a detail from a Leon Edler illustration.

In her post-conference report to the Faculty of Philology and board of The John Updike Society, director Biljana Dojčinović, Professor, Dept. of Comparative Literature and Theory of Literature, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, noted that the conference was well covered by Serbian media:

On May 26, a teaser on the “Updike & Politics” panel at the National Library appeared in the cultural supplement of the newspaper Politika, along with the first part of an interview John Updike gave them when he visited in 1978.

On May 27, Dojčinović appeared on TV N1 to talk about the conference on the live morning show with journalist Maja Sikimić.

On May 29, Dojčinović appeared on TV Studio B to talk about the conference on the live morning show with journalist Sanja Lubardić.

On May 31, Dojčinović was a guest on RTS, Cultural Daily.

On June 1, Ian McEwan was featured in an RTS, Dnevnik-Daily news story.

On June 2, Politika published the second installment of the John Updike interview.

On June 3, journalist Marina Vulićević interviewed James Schiff for Politika and an interview with Ian McEwan also appeared.

On June 4, Politika posted an interview with McEwan.

On June 5, the National Library of Serbia posted photos on their Facebook page.

On June 6, the Cultural Center ran a 17-minute segment (it begins at 37:43) on the conference featuring brief remarks by Dojčinović and society president James Plath.

On June 14, Politika ran an interview by Marina Vulićević featuring Michael Updike.

For Father’s Day The Wall Street Journal published a roundup by Lee Siegel on “Portrait of the Artist as a Great Father; The cliché about famous creative types is that they’re self-obsessed and withdrawn. Less familiar—but more plentiful—are the stories of paternal affection that flows from artistic bounty.”

In it, Siegel rebuts the cliché of the “bad artist father:  icy, hurtful, self-obsessed. Withdrawn into impenetrable creative isolation—so the stereotype goes—these parental monsters punish any attempted breach of their solitude by inflicting lifelong trauma on those closest to them.”

Siegel writes, “Here is David Updike, son of the novelist John, remembering that when he and his siblings ‘appeared unannounced, in [their father’s] office—on the second floor of a building he shared with a dentist, accountants and the Dolphin Restaurant—he always seemed happy and amused to see us, stopped typing to talk and dole out some money for movies. But as soon as we were out the door, we could hear the typing resume, clattering with us down the stairs.”

Among the other examples of creative fatherly love provided in the story is Henrik Ibsen. “So devoted was he to his only child, Sigurd, that when the boy was told, to his despair, that law school in Norway would not accept credits from the German gymnasium he had attended, his angry father moved the family to Rome, in part so that his son could complete his law degree there. Sigurd later became Norway’s prime minister.”

Tenderness is cited in Bernard Malamud, whose letter to a friend reflects how enchanted he was by his seven-year-old child:  “Yesterday . . . I took Janna to the bank of a river she likes. She waded in the cold water, scooped up minnows with a strainer and learned how to skim flat rocks across the water . . . . As I sat on a log by the river, watching her yesterday, it was as if I were reading a long poem, every line full of beauty.”

There’s a bit of romanticizing going on in the article, as Siegel says, “There seems to be some mystical bond, especially between artist-fathers and their artist children, something particularly profound in sharing the gift of creativity with the parent who helped to create you.” A fuller study with more than single examples per author would no doubt reveal a more complex “portrait.” But what kind of Father’s Day reading would that make?

Read the full article.


Editor James Schiff and managing editor Nicola Mason have much to be proud of after publishing 10 strong issues of The John Updike Review, but Schiff has outdone himself with the Winter 2018 issue. The “Three Writers on” section focuses on Updike’s “Bech Noir,” and four new cartoons by the legendary Arnold Roth accompany that short story. As Schiff writes in an introduction,

“Our special guest is Arnold Roth, whose work has enriched American culture for more than a half century. His drawings have appeared on New Yorker covers and in the pages of the New York Times, Punch, Time, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated, and he was Updike’s choice to design the dust jackets of his three Bech books. I initially invited Arnie, as he is called by his wife Caroline, to draw an image of Bech for our front cover. When he accepted, I grew greedy and asked if he would consider creating additional images. About a month later, the four drawings that you see here arrived via email, along with a personal note from Arnie, indicating how ‘it had been a pleasure spending time with the old gang’. He went on to say that he looked forward to seeing what we would do with the drawings, adding, ‘I’m sure you’ll be more gentle than our hero.’

“Updike, who harbored early ambitions of becoming a cartoonist, once said, ‘All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth especially so’. We agree. These new drawings reflect Arnold’s skill, energy, and improvisational genius. Even more remarkable, Arnold Roth was born in 1929, when Calvin Coolidge was President, and he began drawing album covers for Dave Brubeck in 1950. Nearly seven decades later, at the age of eighty-eight, he continues to draw magnificently. As Updike wrote, ‘A superabundant creative spirit surges through a Roth drawing like electricity; the lines sizzle’. We are delighted to feature his images along with Updike’s ‘Bech Noir’.”

Also included in the issue are essays from Julialicia Case, Gary Weissman, D. Quentin Miller, Peter J. Bailey, Donald J. Greiner, Alex Pitofsky, Sean Madden, Gideon Nachman, and Schiff, with a review by Sue Norton. Pictured above is a 2016 photo of Roth at ComicCon.

In “Recalling Sighting John Updike: The A&P of the Mind,” Martin Mugar writes about a pilgrimage he took to Ipswich hoping to get a glimpse of John Updike. Instead of meeting the author, he became involved in a fender-bender near the Ipswich firehouse and got a lesson on Updike and local history. “The accident had thrust me into the middle of a small community of Ipswich ‘locals’.”

Mugar asked if they had known “their famous Ipswich resident John Updike. Yes! they knew of him and saw him around town. The fireman asked me if I knew that the Rite Aid [now CVS] down the street had once been the A&P, that was the locale of one of his best known short stories.”

He tells how he went home and read the story. “It was a good read. The first time around I found the conformity/non-conformity take a little stale. The corporate versus sexual dichotomy may have been part of the early percolation of the sexual revolution and carried more psychic impact when the work was first published.

“A split that was less pronounced in the story but indelibly there was that the girls were upper class. Sammy, the nineteen-year-old townie, was aware of it in the way they moved and talked and in the choice of hors d’oeuvres that they were picking up for their parents’ cocktail party. . . . Clearly, Updike was impressed by their demeanor that radiated self confidence. In the end the narrator . . . quits his job in protest of the boss’s embarrassing the girls for walking into his store half-naked. Sammy may have hoped they would have noticed but like the rich in The Great Gatsby they move on unaware of the effect they have had on others.”

Updike, he appreciates, “created a world for himself held up by incisive description and cultural insights. In the last lines of the story it forbodes a lifetime that is described as going to be hard. Could it be because he will always be on the outside looking in, never fully owning or identifying with the setting in which his description takes place? For the corporation the world is a site for the display of its brands. The artist is a competitor in this realm but his only power comes from the fertility and staying power of imagination, not his bank account.

“However, we can say Updike has had the last word: his A&P of the mind still exists whereas the original is long gone.” Pictured is the Ipswich Rite Aid that was the setting for John Updike’s frequently anthologized short story, “A&P”.

Read the full essay.

Kelley O’Brien, writing for, posted a list story on the “27 Best TV Shows About Witches” that includes Updike’s three witches from Eastwick.

Not many people watched the series, which starred Joanna Frankel, Katherine Gardener, and Roxanne Torcoletti as the three witches and Paul Gross as Darryl Van Horne, because it was cancelled before it could even finish out the first season. Yet O’Brien ranked Eastwick (2009) ahead of the popular Disney show Once Upon a Time.

“Eastwick is based on the John Updike novel The Witches of Eastwick and follows three witchy friends living in Eastwick who all wish for more excitement in their lives. A mysterious man shows up and that’s where the fun really begins. Don’t forget to check out the movie version too! It’s a classic,” she writes.

But not as classic as the 1983 novel, which explores the dynamics of male-female relationships against the backdrop of the sixties—a novel critic Harold Bloom considers Updike’s best.


Amazon is now accepting pre-orders for A Theology of Sense: John Updike, Embodiment, and Late Twentieth-Century American Literature, by Scott Dill. The hardcover volume runs 198 pages, with a suggested retail price of $64.95 from The Ohio State University Press. The monograph will be published on November 13, 2018.

Amazon link

From the press: 

“Scott Dill’s A Theology of Sense: John Updike, Embodiment, and Late Twentieth-Century American Literature brings together theology, aesthetics, and the body, arguing that Updike, a central figure in post-1945 American literature, deeply embeds in his work questions of the body and the senses with questions of theology. Dill offers new understandings not only of the work of Updike—which is importantly being revisited since the author’s death in 2009—but also new understandings of the relationship between aesthetics, religion, and physical experience.

“Dill explores Updike’s unique literary legacy in order to argue for a genuinely postsecular theory of aesthetic experience. Each chapter takes up one of the five senses and its relation to broader theoretical concerns: affect, subjectivity, ontology, ethics, and theology. While placing Updike’s work in relation to other late twentieth- century American writers, Dill explains their notions of embodiment and uses them to render a new account of postsecular aesthetics. No other novelist has portrayed mere sense experience as carefully, as extensively, or as theologically—repeatedly turning to the doctrine of creation as his stylistic justification. Across this examination of his many stories, novels, poems, and essays, Dill proves that Updike forces us to reconsider the power of literature to revitalize sense experience as a theological question.”

From Updike scholar James Schiff:

“One of the finest, most original monographs I’ve read on Updike. Dill covers new ground in approaching Updike’s work through sensory aesthetics, carving out a path that others may wish to follow. Further, he persuasively counters many of the criticisms that have over the years been leveled against Updike.”

From Mark Eaton, co-editor, The Gift of Story: Narrating Hope in a Postmodern World:

“This book will considerably deepen our understanding of how Updike developed a unique ‘theology of sense’ out of his lifelong reading of Christian theology and religious history, not to mention his longstanding devotion to practice.”

Dill, who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, is an active member of The John Updike Society. He recently took part in the closing panel of The Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the National Library of Serbia: “Updike & Politics: Does Rabbit Angstrom’s Political Evolution Help to Explain Trump Supporters?”

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