April 2010

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Review of Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu: John Updike on Ted Williams (Library of America, cloth, 64pp., $15)

Updike lovers will want to add this book to their collections for the sentimental value alone. Updike was working on this project in the months before he died, and a new two-and-a-half page preface is dated January 2009. Plus, the jacket was designed by none other than Chip Kidd, who crafted many a book cover for Updike’s Knopf releases. The Library of America has produced a handsome book, one of which Updike would have approved—and probably did approve.

Open the covers and the first thing you appreciate is that the inside boards and endsheets are printed with blown-up typescripts of Updike’s original first and last pages of “Hub Fans.” Though “Hub Fans” was published in Assorted Prose, “Ted Williams” in Odd Jobs, and “The Batter Who Mattered” in Due Considerations, it’s nice to have all of what Updike had to say about one of his heroes in a single volume—especially since the preface is new and he “abridged, conflated, and updated” the Williams’ mid-life sketch and obituary.

In the new preface, Updike calls “Hub Fans” a “five days’ labor of love” and admits that Roger Angell is “a baseball freak where I was just a Williams freak.” In “Hub Fans” Updike had praised Williams’ “rigorous pride of craftsmanship,” and in this new preface he talks about how he had been “drawing sustenance and cheer from Williams’ presence on the horizon.”

The back cover of the dust jacket lists “praise through the decades for ‘Hub Fans,’” and the praise is dizzying. “The most celebrated baseball essay ever,” says Roger Angell, who knows a thing or two about baseball. “The greatest writer, in the greatest ballpark, on the greatest hitter who ever lived,” says Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy. “No sportswriter ever wrote anything better,” Garrison Keillor writes. “The piece that changed the way the sport is written. Updike made baseball the lyricist’s game.” But the biggest compliment came from Williams himself. Updike writes in the preface that Williams, through an agent, invited him to write Williams’ biography. And knowing how Updike felt about biographies makes that revelation all the more fun.

Highly recommended (reviewed by James Plath)

Program director Jack De Bellis will continue to accept paper proposals until the end of April, so it’s not too late to email him your proposal and become a part of the historic First Biennial John Updike Society Conference, which will be hosted by Alvernia University in Reading, Pa., October 1-3 2010.

The program is shaping up to be a truly international event, with scholars from six different countries scheduled to present their work. We have papers by professors, graduate students, and independent scholars as well—all of which will make a nice complement to location-specific events. Two different three-hour tours of Updike sites in Reading, Shillington, and Plowville are planned. Pictured is the barn that inspired Updike to write “Pigeon Feathers” and the Pagoda/Pinnacle described in Rabbit, Run. The conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rabbit, Run.

The full conference schedule to date will be made public on May 3, so check back. Those wishing to propose a paper should email Jack De Bellis directly: bjd1@lehigh.edu.

Darren at Clouds Hill Books recently contacted Jack De Bellis to inform him that they’re acting as an agent for the owner of a batch of Updike material (primarily letters and typescripts). He wanted to give members an advance heads-up, in case one of us (or one of our schools) might be interested. Clouds Hill has broken up the material into four lots:

1. Letters, 1958-1990 (19 items) $7500

2. Letters to Keith Baker, 1973-1985 (8 items) $1000

3. Letters to Philip Krapp, 1964-1976 (5 items) $1000

4. Letters to Robie Macauley, 1969-1992 (33 items) $17,500

At those prices, they’d better contain the secret of life . . . or at least be content letters related to the manuscripts! All inquiries can be directed to Darren at Clouds Hill Books, 27 Bank St., New York, NY 10014, (212) 414-4432, cloudshill@cloudshillbooks.com.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu: John Updike on Ted Williams is now available exclusively from The Library of America Web store, ten days ahead of its release to bookstores—including online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The list price is $15.00, but the book is available directly from the LOA for $13.50 (10 percent off) and shipping is free within the U.S. Here’s the link. You can also purchase the book by phoning LOA at 1-800-964-5778 and requesting product #410027. Jim Yerkes reports that the price is cheaper if you phone and request the product number than if you order online.