Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.24.48 AMBrian Hancock, writing for the Franklin Favorite, called Rabbit, Run a lesson in literary mastery.”

Rabbit, Run is a fine display of Updike’s masterful grip on prose. Incredibly creative similes and metaphors are employed throughout the work, to the point where the novel becomes a literacy lesson in itself.

“It’s not just the prose where Updike succeeds, though, but through narrative disguise as well. Rabbit, who initially appears to be a lovable little character, perhaps isn’t what the reader first thought at all,” he writes.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 7.57.56 AMLists have no season but beach lists only come around once a year. This year, New York Magazine is recommending John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick as one of “The 100 Best Beach Reads.” 

What makes a “beach read”? NY Magazine thinks “the formula is pretty straightforward. Whether mass-market candy or high literature, a beach read needs narrative momentum, a transporting sense of place, and, ideally, a touch of the sordid.”

The best 100 books for sandy serendipity aren’t ranked, but rather listed in chronological order, starting with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and ending with Catherine Banner’s The House at the Edge of Night (2016).

Of The Witches of Eastwick, NY Magazine writes, “Updike was clearly having a ball in his story of suburban witches shacking up with a warlock.” Don’t we know it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 7.26.45 PMGail McCarthy of the Gloucester Times posted an article earlier today on “Remembering a portrait artist; Celebration to recall legacy of Aphia Carman.” 

A celebration slated for 2 p.m. Sunday, July 24, 2016, will be held at “the barn” on 43 Rocky Neck Ave. in Gloucester, Mass. Aphia Hayward Carman was a portrait artist who operated a gallery and studio in Gloucester for 40 years but “her talent was in high demand,” McCarthy writes, “even after she closed her Rocky Neck Art Colony business.

The celebration of her life will be hosted by her children, Patty Carman Blonda and Tim Carman.

“Carman was once known as the ‘Grand Dame’ of Rocky Neck. She painted portraits of locals as well as others throughout the North Shore, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike, who also sought her out for a portrait,” McCarthy writes.

“John Nesta, a fellow Rocky Neck artist who lived a few doors down, said Carman (1921-2015) is remembered for her big personality and enormous talent.” According to Nesta, “her portraits were so delightful that even if you didn’t know the family they were still very desirable.”

Carman died last December at the age of 94 in Montana, where she had been living for the past decade with one of her children.

In an article published on the Front Porch Republic, JUS member Scott Dill asks the question, “Would Rabbit Angstrom Vote for Trump?”

The answer is complicated.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 7.21.01 AMOn the one hand, “Rabbit was ‘ever the loyal citizen. God he can doubt, but not America,'” and his brand of nationalistic patriotism is the same sort that Trump is peddling. As Dill notes, “Rabbit’s patriotism was accompanied by nostalgia, racism, sexism, and a general anti-cosmopolitanism to the extent that, were Updike around to give us another installment, it would probably involve at least one Trump rally.

“Wouldn’t Rabbit, after years of bemoaning the changing racial demographic and economic fortunes of his hometown (a thinly veiled Reading, PA), look to Trump to give meaning to his years of growing resentment? His once magical childhood city would still be crumbling around him, drugs and divorce had worn down his family, the country’s loss of loyalty would likely still irk. Oh to be great again!”

But Rabbit was also a lover of beauty and he appreciated the little things. “Sidewalks and pies and sunshine—they were worth savoring in themselves. For Rabbit, life in its fullest flourishing was what happened in the quotidian moments of middle-class striving.

“Which is part of why Rabbit tended to agree with his father’s politics, and voted Democratic. Earl Angstrom once praised Medicare and the moon landing in the same peon to the Democrats’ beneficent protection: ‘They called LBJ every name in the book but believe me he did a lot of good for the little man. Wherever he went wrong, it was his big heart betrayed him. These pretty boys in the sky right now, Nixon’ll hog the credit but it was the Democrats put ’em there, it’s been the same story ever since I can remember, ever since Wilson—the Republicans don’t do a thing for the little man.'”

Dill avoids answering his own question, but fans of the Rabbit novels will remember that Rabbit may have been a simple blue-collar worker but he also had a powerful curiosity and a sense of history being made as events unfolded. He would have attended a Trump rally not necessarily out of conviction but because it was part of American history happening right before his eyes. Rabbit had a powerful curiosity and an open mind—enough to try to understand the perspective of a black militant in Rabbit Redux—and he would have seriously considered the arguments for electing both Clinton and Trump.

In the end, would he have voted for Trump? Probably not. As Dill writes, “Rabbit once memorably exulted that America was ‘the happiest fucking country the world has ever seen!’ His country is a cherished occasion for loving the unrepeatable particularities of his own life.” For all his flaws, Rabbit was an optimistic, positive individual, a glass half-full kind of guy, especially when it came to America. As Updike told an interviewer, Rabbit is “a hopeful man, who, at his best, was in love with life.” And Updike, who voted for Democrats his entire life but famously supported the Vietnam War, couldn’t abide the “kind of American self-hatred” that emerged from the anti-war people. In the end, though Dill doesn’t say so, odds are that Updike and Rabbit would have been put off by the inherent negativity of Trump’s message.

The Atlantic‘s Robinson Meyer contributed a piece on “How to Write a History of Writing Software,” subtitled “Isaac Asimov, John Updike, and John Hersey changed their writing habits to adapt to word processors, according to the first literary historian of the technology.” Meyer interviewed University of Maryland English professor Matthew Kirschenbaum, who has just published the first book-length history of word processing, Track Changes.

“It is more than a history of high art. Kirschenbaum follows how writers of popular and genre fiction adopted the technology long before vaunted novelists did. He determines how their writing habits and financial powers changed once they moved from typewriter to computing. And he details the unsettled ways that the computer first entered the home. (When he first bought a computer, for example, the science-fiction legend Isaac Asimov wasn’t sure whether it should go in the living room or the study.)

381b75cb92d30e801cc36925695d80ef“His new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Elioit’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.”

Kirschenbaum says that while he can’t say for certain which writer was first to compose using a word processor or computer, notable candidates are science-fiction author Jerry Pournelle and author John Hersey, who edited Hiroshima on a keyboard and used to computer to generate camera-ready copy.

“Another interesting story that’s in the book is about John Updike, who gets a Wang word processor at about the time Stephen King does, in the early 1980s. I was able to inspect the last typewriter ribbon that he used in the last typewriter he owned. A collector who had the original typewriter was kind enough to lend it to me. And you can read the text back off that typewriter ribbon—and you can’t make this stuff up, this is why it’s so wonderful to be able to write history—the last thing that Updike writes with the typewriter is a note to his secretary telling her that he won’t need her typing services because he now has a word processor.”

Pictured: Stock photo of typical Wang word processor from the 1980s.


92541-192x300On the blog Literary Hub, Adam Ehrlich Sachs compiled a thoughtful list of “Six Tales About Fathers and Sons That Do Not Feature Fathers And Sons; Adam Ehrlich Sachs on Vast, Fathomless, and Multifarious Conceptual Fathers.”

His picks?

A Message from the Emperor (Franz Kafka)

The Verificationist (Donald Antrim)

Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (Peter Gay)

“Babel in California” from The Possessed (Elif Batuman)

“On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” from Untimely Meditations (Friedrich Nietzsche)

U and I (Nicholson Baker)

Of the latter he identifies Updike as the father and Baker as the son. “Something similar to Nietzsche’s exaltation of ignorance and forgetting over knowledge and memory seems to animate Nicholson Baker’s decision not to reread any Updike—or to read any of the Updike he had not yet read—before embarking on this reckoning with his literary progenitor: rather than embalm the actual Updike with artificial erudition, he wants to portray the warped but living Bakerian Updike that occupies his, Baker’s, head, inspiring and intimidating him, spurring and silencing him, proscribing certain images (drizzle on a window screen) and words (“consort”) from Baker’s fiction because Updike got them down first.”

Here’s the entire article.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 7.27.23 AMThe New Yorker fiction podcast “Roger Angell Reads John Updike” features Updike’s long-time editor reading his story “Playing with Dynamite” and talking with current New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman about editing Updike.

Here’s the link.

James Howden, Sports, Culture & Other Obsessions posted an entry this past week on “John Updike: On Race and Being American” that quotes large sections from an essay in Self-Consciousness and reacts to Updike’s remarks about race in America.

Updike.GrandpaOne line that particularly stands out in a letter to his half-Ghanian grandchildren: “When Anoff was born . . . my instinctive thought was that he would do better if his parents settled in Ghana; that is, I trusted an African country to treat a half-white person better than my own country would treat a half-black. Now I wonder. Ours is a changing, merging, exogamous world, and while racial prejudice operates in the United States against blacks in many ways overt and oblique . . . at least our laws now formally insist upon equal rights. . . .”

“An ideal colorblind society flickers at the forward edge of a sluggishly evolving one . . . America is slowly becoming yours, I want to think,” Updike wrote many years before the current state of racism in America, fueled by politics.

Adrienne LaFrance contemplates “The Human Fear of Total Knowledge; Why infinite libraries are treated skeptically in the annals of science fiction and fantasy” and quotes John Updike in the process.

“Libraries tend to occupy a sacred space in modern culture,” she writes in her June 3, 2016 Atlantic article. “People adore them. (Perhaps even more than that, people love the idea of them….)”

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 6.48.43 AM“In The Book of Sand, Jorge Luis Borges tells the story of an unexpected visit from a Bible salesman, who has in his collection a most unusual object. ‘It can’t be, but it is,’ the salesman says. ‘The number of pages is no more or less than infinite. None is the first page, none is the last.’ The strange book is so engrossing as to be sinister,” LaFrance writes, adding that in Borges’ The Library of Babel “‘each bookshelf holds thirty-two books identical in format; each book contains four hundred ten pages; each page, forty lines; each line, approximately eighty black letters.’ The appearance of order is an illusion….”

“I feel in Borges a curious implication: the unrealities of physical science and the senseless repetitions of history have made the world outside the library an uninhabitable vacuum,’ John Updike wrote in an essay about Borges in 1965. ‘Just as physical man, in his cities, has manufactured an environment whose scope and challenge and hostility eclipse that of the natural world, so literate man has heaped up a counterfeit universe capable of supporting life.’

“Borges was not just interested in literary artifice, as Updike points out, but fundamentally concerned with the nature of reality, a preoccupation that often led him to interrogate the scope and organization of human knowledge.”

CASCADE_TemplateJohn McTavish, whom John Updike Society members know from past conferences, has published a book on Myth and Gospel in the Fiction of John Updike with Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

McTavish, a minister of the United Church of Canada, had previously published essays on Updike in such journals as Touchstone, Theology Today, The United Church Observer, and The Presbyterian Record.

Although the book is so new that it doesn’t appear yet on the Wipf and Stock website, we can share the back flap copy:

“Big on style, slight on substance: that has been a common charge over the years by critics of John Updike. In fact, however, John Updike is one of the most serious writers of modern times. Myth, as this book shows, unlocks his fictional universe and repeatedly breaks open the powerful themes in his literary parables of the gospel. Myth and Gospel in the Fiction of John Updike also includes a personal tribute to John by his son David, two essays by pioneer Updike scholars Alice and Kenneth Hamilton, and an anecdotal chapter in which readers share Updike discoveries and recommendations. All in all, weight is added to the complaint that the master of myth and gospel was shortchanged by the Nobel committee.”

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