June 2013

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Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 10.44.19 PMIf you haven’t heard of Rachel Kushner, then you probably haven’t heard that, according to Salon‘s Laura Miller, she’s written the Great American Novel. So says Miller in her June 5, 2013 review-article, “Rachel Kushner’s ambitious new novel scares male critics.” 

John Updike is mentioned several times as one of the old guard writers expected to have produced such a work . . . but maybe he already has. Published as a collection by Everyman’s Library, Rabbit Angstrom: A Tetralogy tells the sweeping saga of an ordinary, middle-class man in 20th Century America. That in itself would seem a marvelous enough achievement to qualify for the title, but then to have it validated with two out of four books receiving the Pulitzer Prize?

On Monday, June 10, Shillington realtor Conrad Vanino received The John Updike Society’s second Distinguished Service Award—an 8×10” plaque thanking him “for his invaluable help acquiring and converting The John Updike Childhood Home into a museum.”

Vanino (pictured below with society co-founder Dave Silcox and curator Maria Mogford) helped the society go through proper channels and worked pro bono. He continues to serve the society behind the scenes, maintaining a lock box on the property so work crews can enter and checking on the house several times per day. Vanino is also in the process of looking for a suitable tenant for the annex added by Dr. Hunter, who lived in the house after the Updikes. The society has divided the annex so that three rooms of the building used for patient exams can be rented as office space to help cover the expenses of maintaining the house. The doctor’s office will be used as a gift shop, and the waiting room will be the educational room, for watching videos or for class presentations.

Vanino is a lifelong resident of the Shillington area who has served on Borough Council for over 30 years and is also on the board of the Shillington Lions Club and the board of Crime Alert Berks. He is a member of the Shillington Business Association and a graduate of Governor Mifflin High School. Like many Shillington youngsters, he learned to swim in the pond that provided the water supply for the poorhouse Updike wrote about, just blocks away from the house at 117 Philadelphia Avenue.

Vanino

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firehouse

may-june-issuethumbIn a May 31 column/review published in The American Conservative, Bill Kauffman uses Updike’s Buchanan Dying—“Updike’s imaginatively empathetic play about the despised 15th president”—in lengthy comparison to make a point about the movie Copperhead, a Civil War drama that opens in theaters on June 28, 2013.

Citing a disparaging quote from Henry James about the historical novel, Kauffman concludes that both the new movie and Updike’s old, only play refute James’ assertion that “the real thing is almost impossible to do.”