Blogger: Updike’s Thurber Dog Went to Harvard

Pets weren’t allowed in the dorm when John Updike went to Harvard in the fall of 1950, but he took his dog anyway . . . that is, James Thurber’s drawing of a dog made especially for young Updike, whose first ambition was to become a cartoonist. Updike had written a fan letter to the famed cartoonist asking for a drawing to hang on his bare wall, and Thurber obliged.

Last week the Ink Spill: New Yorker Cartoonists News and Events blog featured Updike’s Thurber cartoon, courtesy of Miranda Updike; this week, the blog adds a letter that Updike had written home to his parents and other “Plowvillians,” provided by Michael Updike.

In that letter dated September 29, 1952, young Updike writes, “This room is always cold and in shadow, for it faces the moon, whereas last year’s room faced the sun. I have the window open to admit the warmth. Coming in to our room is like entering a cave, dank, mossy, but without drawings (beyond Thurber’s) on the wall . . . .”

Read the entire letter and blog post.



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Musician Rufus Wainwright fights Covid with Updike

In the recent Rolling Stone feature “Year in Review: So, How Was Your 2020, Rufus Wainwright?” the musician responded to a series of questions, including whom he’d want to quarantine with (“Carrie Fisher—mainly because I miss her so much”), an old album he turned to for comfort (Randy Newman’s Trouble in Paradise), and his favorite TV show to stream while in isolation (Victoria. Good old family Royal fun without the drugs and divorces).

And the best book he read during quarantine?

Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

Photo: Tony Hauser

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New Yorker cartoonist blog features Updike’s Thurber

New Yorker cartoonist Michael Maslin posted an entry today on Ink Spill: New Yorker Cartoonists News and Events titled “Updike’s Thurber.” In it,  readers get a rare glimpse of the cartoon dog that Thurber drew especially for a young ‘tween fan named John Updike (courtesy of Miranda Updike).

“For those of us who treasure Thurber’s art, there is I would suggest, nothing  more wonderful than a Thurber drawn dog. In Updike’s Introduction to Lee Lorenz’s The World of William Steig, he tells us that in 1944, when he was 12 years old, he wrote Thurber a fan letterThurber responded with the drawing you see at the top of this post”.

In musing about the relationship between Updike and Thurber, Maslin shared his “favorite Updike description of Thurber’s art: ‘…oddly tender…a personal art that captured in ingenous scrawls a modern man’s bitter experience and nervous excess.'”

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Updike book a perfect read for the Covid holidays?

As the pandemic rages on, many people are tending toward rage as well. Or at least a profound feeling of being “over it all.” Or disappointment that the usual holiday gatherings had to be abandoned. But the 746 Books blog reminds us that John Updike’s offbeat Christmas book might be just what the epidemiologist ordered.

In “Alternative Christmas Reading!” 746 Books recommends Updike’s The Twelve Terrors of Christmas:

“John Updike’s wry observations paired with Edward Gorey’s off-kilter illustrations make for a decidedly different festive reading experience! From impractical miniature reindeer to alcoholic Santa’s Updike expores the more disappointing side of this most wonderful time of the year!”

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When Updike waded into Nigerian politics

BBC News recently ran a story by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani about Nigerian blogger Teslim Omipidan, whose passion for history and all things Nigerian has connected famed American writer John Updike to his country’s politics. Here is one of Omipidan’s stories:

In October 1961 a young American named Margery Michelmore caused a stir when, in the midst of Peace Corps training at the University of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria, she decided to send a postcard to a friend back home. In it, she described the “squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions” of her new environment. “A Nigerian saw the postcard before it was mailed; distributed photocopies around the campus—sparking riots from the students who found the private message outrageous, and an international incident that eventually drew the involvement of then US President John F. Kennedy.”

Where does Updike come in?

“Back in 1961, acclaimed writer John Updike absolved Margery Michelmore of blame in the postcard incident. ‘Miss Machelmore did not sin in saying in a personal missive that she was startled, coming fresh from Foxboro, Massachusetts, to find the citizens of Ibadan cooking in the streets,’ he wrote in the 28 October issue of that year’s The New Yorker. ‘And the fellow student who picked up the dropped card and, instead of mailing it, handed it to the local mimeographer seems guilty of a failure of gallantry. One may or may not cook in the streets, but one does not read other people’s mail and then demonstrate because it is insufficiently flattering,'” Updike had written in “The Talk of the Town.”

Read the whole article:  “The Nigerian blogger scouring the past to inform the future”

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Scientific American writer contemplates poetry and science

In the Arts & Culture/Opinion section of Scientific American posted 23 December 2020, Dava Sobel talks about being tickled to discover “a little over a year ago that the magazine had carried poetry in its earliest issues. Volume 1, Number 1, for example, dated 28 August 1845, included a poem called ‘Attraction’ that touched on gravity, magnetism and sexual allure. Within a few years, however, the magazine’s original publisher, Rufus Porter, sold Scientific American, and the new owners showed no interest in poetry.

“Between the 1840s and the 2010s, poems appeared in the magazine only rarely, most notably in January 1969, when W.H. Auden offered ‘A New Year Greeting’ to ‘all of you Yeasts, / Bacteria, Viruses, / Aerobics and Anaerobics . . . for whom my ectoderm is as Middle-Earth to me.’ That same issue contained verses from poet and novelist John Updike—verses inspired by his reading of the September 1967 special issue devoted to materials science. ‘The Dance of the Solids,’ with its rhyming references to ceramics, polymers and nonstoichiometric crystals, also appeared in Updike’s collection Midpoint and Other Poems.”

Read the whole article:  “Nature in Verse: What Poetry Reveals about Science”

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John Updike Review spotlights The Coup

Volume 8: Number 1 of The John Updike Review was published earlier this month, with editor James Schiff and managing editor Nicola Mason devoting the running “Three Writers on” feature to The Coup. Updike’s 1978 novel is a black comedy narrated by the former leader of a fictional Islamic country in Africa who both embodies and hates all things American in what amounts to a wicked satire of American consumerism. Weighing in are D. Quentin Miller (“The Coup and the Pursuit of Happiness”), Matthew Shipe (“Guilt, American Style, in The Coup“), and Schiff (“Updike’s The Coup as Allegorical Autobiography”).

The articles in this issue of the peer-reviewed journal cover a wide range of topics:

“The ‘Magnificent Meanwhile’: Updike and Scorsese on Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence“—Peter J. Bailey

“Home to Oneself: John Updike and Alice Munro”—Robert Milder

“Olinger Revisited: John Updike Revisiting His Early Stories”—Haruki Takebe

“John Updike, Wallace Stevens, and the Gaiety of Language”—Donald J. Greiner

Rounding out the issue is Laurence W. Mazzeno’s review of The Moderate Imagination: The Political Thought of John Updike and the Decline of New Deal Liberalism, by Yoav Fromer.

The striking cover photo of Updike in Killarney, Ireland is by Richard Purinton.

The John Updike Review is published twice yearly by the University of Cincinnati and The John Updike Society and is included with membership in the society. It is also available electronically and, for institutional subscriptions, through EBSCO.

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Ereads picks their 10 Best Updike Books

Ereads, a self-identified “bunch of book enthusiasts who enjoy reading books and writing about them,” recently posted their “10 Best John Updike Books,” with series counting as one:

1) The Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom Series (including “Rabbit, Remembered” in Licks of Love and Other Stories)—”5 of the most exciting books you will ever read”

2) The Twelve Terrors of Christmas—“short and funny, for all the Christmas Scrooges”

3) The Centaur—”The way that John manages to capture the essence of the story and describe Chiron’s painful search for relief through these characters is what makes this book one of the best John Updike books ever”

4) The Complete Henry Bech—”entertaining . . . a wonderful series”

5) Gertrude and Claudius—”a strong competitor for being the all-time best John Updike book ever . . . a prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet

6) Brazil—The plot is filled with love, hate, endurance, tragedy, and lots more. The characters are as memorable as ever and John takes the time to describe everything that happens with passion and taste”

7) John Updike: The Early Stories—”Hidden inside this book is a lot of excitement, happiness, thrill, mystery, and much more”

8) Terrorist—”a serious one with many thought-provoking events and the ending is as suspenseful as it sounds”

9) Eastwick book series—”full of the paranormal, fantasy, mystery, and a lot of suspense”

10) In the Beauty of the Lilies—”an amazing historical fiction by John that takes place during the 1900s . . . . There are many weird things to discover about this family and many things to learn as well”

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Latest John Updike Review spotlights The Maples Stories

The John Updike Review Vol. 7 No. 2 (Spring 2020) was recently published, and in it editor James Schiff turned the spotlight on The Maples Stories, Updike’s 18-story sequence chronicling the marriage—and divorce—of Richard and Joan Maple, characters based on the author and his first wife, Mary Pennington Updike.

In the “Three Writers on . . .” section—an innovative feature that distinguishes the journal from all others—Schiff (“Updike’s Maples Stories among Literary Depictions of Marriage”) joined Marshall Boswell (“The Maples Stories and the ‘Twilight of the Old Morality'”), Gail Sinclair (“How Far to Have Come: Updike’s Stories of a Marriage”), and Biljana Dojčinović (“‘A Beautiful Disaster’: Marriage in Updike’s Maples Stories“), who reprised comments made on a Maples Stories panel at the May 2019 American Literature Association conference moderated by society president James Plath.

The essays section features contributions from Donald J. Greiner (“Will John Updike ‘Sink’?: Posthumous Reputation and the Fickleness of Literary Fame”), Peter J. Bailey (“Updike’s David Kern Stories”), Sue Norton (“Writing and Well Being: Story as Salve in the Work of (More than) Two Updikes”) and Adel Nouar (“From Irony to Empathy and Back in John Updike’s Terrorist“).

Also included is “The Political Dimension of Updike’s Writing” by Laurence W. Mazzeno, a review of Updike & Politics: New Considerations, edited by Matthew Shipe and Scott Dill.

Print copies and access to online back issues are included with membership in The John Updike Society. The John Updike Review is published by the University of Cincinnati and The John Updike Society, with James Schiff serving as editor and Nicola Mason managing editor.

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6th Updike conference postponed because of COVID 19

Because of COVID 19 and concerns for elderly and international members planning to attend, the board of The John Updike Society voted to postpone the 6th biennial conference by exactly one year.

Instead of being held September 30 through October 4, 2020, the conference will be held September 29 through October 3, 2021. The host institution remains Alvernia University, and the conference hotel will still be the Courtyard Marriott Reading. Lorrie Moore is still committed to being the keynote speaker, and a planned trip to Philadelphia will still feature a stop at WHYY to hear from Terry Gross, who interviewed Updike on numerous occasions. All of the academics who had papers accepted have been told that those papers are still accepted for the 2021 conference. The only appreciable difference is that a Historic Pennsylvania Marker dedication ceremony scheduled to coincide with the conference must still take place on October 3, 2020 to fall within the acceptable time limit for new marker installations.

How will this affect conferences moving forward? JUS conferences will shift from even years to odd, with 2023 slated for a venue outside the U.S and 2025 back in the U.S.

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