January 2010

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

In his poem, “Late January,” which was published in Tossing and Turning, John Updike ended with the line, “Time’s sharp edge is slitting another envelope.” How eerily prescient that poem feels now, a year after his passing on January 27, 2009.

Family, friends, and readers all over the world are still feeling his loss. Sure, we received our annual gift from him—three books, in fact: Endpoint and Other Poems, My Father’s Tears and Other Stories, and The Maples Stories. But it wasn’t the same, knowing that there will come a year for the first time in more than half a century when we won’t have a new book by John Updike.

We all have our favorites, but for me, one book of his remains special: Marry Me: A Romance. That’s because in April of 1995 I used that book to propose to my wife . . . with John’s help.

I still remember how he laughed when I phoned to tell him my plan and ask, “Would you help me propose to my wife?”

“You mean . . . like Cyrano?” he said, with that unmistakable bit of mischief that you heard in his voice when something amused him.

“Not quite that bad,” I said, explaining that I wanted to propose to Zarina atop the Empire State Building but hesitated to give her the ring there, afraid that it might get dropped in the nervousness of the moment and be lost in the dusk. “If I send it to you, would you be willing to inscribe my copy of Marry Me so I could use it to propose?”

“Oh, why not,” he said. “To my knowledge the book has never been used that way—though it’s a little ironic, isn’t it, since they don’t exactly live happily ever after in the book? I wouldn’t want it to jinx you.”

“It won’t,” I said. And he got the book to me just in time for a trip that Zarina and I were taking to New York City, where we were going to double date with my best friend from college—Gerry Hoey, who’s the Inspector General of New York City. The first stop was the Empire State Building, where we lingered at the top to allow some of the people to leave. Then I pulled out a small cassette player and set it on the railing. While “Arthur’s Theme” played and Gerry took pictures, I began slow-dancing with Zarina, then said, “I have something to give you.” She was expecting a ring, of course, but instead I reached behind my back and pulled out a plastic bag. I took out Marry Me and handed it to her.

Inside, John had written, “Dear Zarina, If you say ‘yes,’ you might get a ring in the Rainbow Room. Hope it all works out. Felicitations, John Updike.” And he dated it the day that I told him I was going to propose, 4/28/95. Four months later, for a wedding gift he sent us a copy of the limited edition of The Afterlife short story, in which he wrote, “For Zarina Mullan and Jim Plath, May you live happily ever after.”

Today, I’m wishing the same for him.

(Photo and text by James Plath)

Society board member James Schiff has been working hard to get The John Updike Review up and running, and he announced today that as editor he is ready to begin accepting submissions. This scholarly journal, published by The John Updike Society and the University of Cincinnati, will specialize in scholarship on the writings, life, and literary and cultural significance of John Updike.

The Review welcomes all critical approaches and publishes full-length articles as well as shorter notes, book reviews, bibliographical updates, professional postings about conferences, calls for papers, scholarships, and other items of interest pertaining to Updike.

Submissions will be reviewed by an editorial board comprised of Updike scholars and others knowledgeable on Updike and his writings. Work considered for publication is subjected to blind peer review by at least two outside readers and the editor.

Subscription information and submission guidelines are available at the quick-click left menu on the Society website.

The John Updike Society will sponsor two panels and hold a business meeting at the 21st American Literature Association Conference, May 27-30, 2010, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco in Embarcadero Center.

Here are the sessions the Society is sponsoring, and the members who are participating:

John Updike and American Pop Culture

Chair: Sally L. LeVan, Gannon University

“‘The Bright Island of Make Believe’: Updike on the Movies,” Peter Bailey, St. Lawrence University

“Returning to the Catacombs: Revisiting John Updike’s ‘Adulterous Society,'” Matthew Shipe, Washington University

“The Music of Your Life: Updike’s Visiono of Travel, Tourism, and Foreign Contact as Manifestations of American Pop Culture’s Ubiquity,” Edward Allen, The University of South Dakota

Updike Abroad

Chair: James Schiff, University of Cincinnati

“Updike’s Many Worlds, Local and Global, in Towards the End of Time,” Judie Newman, University of Nottingham

“The Cynic Tyrannies of Honest Kings: John Updike and the Use of Melville’s Verse in The Coup,” Kevin Frazier, independent scholar, Finland

“Updike’s Ambivalent Reception in France,” Sylvie Mathé, Université de Provence

All sessions will be on Thursday, May 27, with John Updike and American Pop Culture scheduled for 10:30-11:50 a.m., Updike Abroad for 1:30-2:50 p.m., and the business meeting of The John Updike Society from 3-4:20 p.m.

We hope to see many of our members there, especially those on the West Coast. But if you can only afford to travel to one conference this year, the First Biennial Updike Society Conference in Reading, Pa., is the one to go to this coming October! Those of you who can attend ALA should click on the link on the left menu for information about registration and hotels.

Andrew Wylie, whom Martha Updike hired to act as literary agent for the Updike Estate, told The New York Observer that a collection of Updike’s essays would be given to Knopf this fall. Observer reporter Leon Neyfakh also wrote in his January 5 article that Max Rudin, publisher of the Library of America series, has been in discussions with Wylie about Library of America editions of Updike’s work, “something the author was very eager to do while he was alive but couldn’t because such editions would compete directly with Knopf’s Everyman’s Library series.” As for the essays, we asked Andrew Wylie if he could tell us whether the volume would be a compilation of previously published material, ala More Matter and Due Considerations, or if they were previously unpublished essays that came closer to Self-Consciousness. “It’s premature to say more now,” Wylie responded. “Sometime in the fall there may be more news.”

For another story about Wylie’s acquisition of the Updike account, see the January 6 Daily Finance article by Sarah Weinman.