April 2014

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lifetimeoffictionThis month Rowman & Littlefield published a book by William Patrick Martin titled A Lifetime of Fiction: The 500 Most Recommended Reads for Ages 2 to 102, and Updike’s Rabbit series is Number 1 of 100 books listed in the Adults (Ages 18+) section. In recommending Updike to readers, Martin offers more of a description than a reason for reading:

Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest. These novels follow the life of one-time high-school basketball star Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom over several decades, from young adulthood, through paunchy middle age, to his retirement and death. In 2001, Updike wrote a novella sequel, Rabbit Remembered, which continues with some of the main characters.”

Here’s the Amazon.com link to the book.

In case you’re curious, the Number 1 book for Preschoolers (Ages 2-5) is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle; Number 1 for Early Readers (Ages 4-8) is Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans; for Middle Readers (Ages 9-12) it’s the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling; and for Young Adults (Ages 13-17) it’s The Giver, by Lois Lowry.

The dust jacket flap copy tells us that the book represents “a composite of the most noteworthy book award lists, best book publications, and recommended reading lists from leading libraries, schools, and parenting organizations across the country.” Martin, who wrote his dissertation on “the epic University of Chicago ‘great books debate’ of the 1930s and 1940s, has been a professor of education at Temple University and Monmouth University.

Not much information is available, but Updike scholars have kindred spirits in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Asad Al-Ghalith (The University of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia) and Mahmoud Zaidan (The University of Jordan) will present a paper on “John Updike’s Treatment of Islam in The Coup” at The Clute Institute International Academic Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, October 5-8, 2014. Here is the abstract.

In 2009, Ziadan wrote his Master’s thesis on “The Image of Islam in John Updike’s Terrorist and The Coup.”

more information is available.

Georgetown University blogger Paul Elie is at it again, riffing off of a Louis Menand review of the new Begley biography of Updike in a short think piece titled “John Updike, Transubstantiator.” 

In an April 25, 2014 entry on Everything That Rises, Elie begins with Menand’s characterization of Updike as “a priest of literature who performed rites of transubstantiation akin to those of Joyce and Proust” and acknowledges that there’s “plenty of testimony” to be found to support such a view. But he also suggests that one shouldn’t make too much of this “congenial” argument—”not to make it the skeleton key that will unlock his large and various body of work.

“Yes, Updike hung photographs of Joyce and Proust on his office wall. But he also revered Nabokov, whose sense of transcendence is strictly, fiercely artistic; he had American realists like Sinclair Lewis in the front of his mind; and unlike the modernist priests of art he cherished his readers, many of them people who saw no reason that American life should need transubstantiating—people who recognized postwar America as a kind of earthly paradise.”

Today, April 24, 2014, Newsday published an excerpt from Adam Begley’s biography of Updike which deals with Updike’s stint as Talk of the Town reporter for The New Yorker magazine. Here’s the link:

Excerpt from ‘Updike’



Kirkus Reviews on April 9, 2014 published an interview with Adam Begley, who dished, “I spoke to people he’d had affairs with. He had a lot of friends, and there was a great deal of interconnecting there. If you’ve read Couples, you know exactly what I mean,” Begley said.

“The first time he wrote about adultery was a book called Marry Me that was published 10 years after he wrote it, and it’s the only book in his cannon that was published out of sequence,” Begley said. “That was a book about an affair that he had had in the mid-’60s and it wasn’t published until the ’70s. It’s a novel, but it’s very closely based on the facts of an affair.”

The interview was conducted by Scott Porch. Here’s the link.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 7.41.27 PMEverything That Rises, out of Georgetown University, published a think piece by Paul Elie that’s a review of (or at least reaction to) writer Orhan Pamuk’s review of Adam Begley’s biography, Updike.

In “John Updike, Chronicler,” Elie notes that Pamuk “all but came out and said the thinkable-unsayable—that Updike was more vital as an essayist than as a novelist” and wonders,

“So why isn’t Updike appreciated as an essayist? Possibly because just as there is no single essential Updike novel, there is no single essential Updike essay (the one about Ted Williams’ last game comes closest). . . . That Updike was a chronicler is true of his essays, too. He chronicled his own life: his coming of age, and his aging. He chronicled the art world through several decades of museum and gallery show reviews. And he chronicled postwar fiction from Nabokov to Pamuk himself in several hundred book reviews. He even chronicled the waxing and waning (mainly the waning) of religious feeling and current trends in Christian theology. The essays, beautifully turned in themselves, were never meant to stand along (though many do). They are set at a very wide angle to their time and place—the angle formed by the pages of an opened New Yorker.”

Begley’s in the news again, and so are John Updike and Philip Roth. Begley’s remarks about “Updike’s friendship with and estrangement from another great American writer, Philip Roth,” appear in the Wednesday, April 23 edition of EverydayeBook.com, posted by David Burr Gerrard:

“Philip Roth With—and Versus—John Updike, by Adam Begley” 

“The story of Updike’s relationship with Philip Roth is a sad one,” Gerrard writes. “In some ways they were perfect for each other . . . . All the way through the 1970s and 1980s, they corresponded. When they saw each other, they were like the smartest kids in the class, getting together and making barbed comments and gossiping madly and talking about literature.

“Their letters are hysterical: Roth warning Updike that it was fine for him to mine his territory in Pennsylvania, but he better be damned sure not to do anything about New Jersey; Updike sending Roth his long and very ambitious autobiographical poem called ‘Midpoint,’ crossing out the title and writing instead, ‘Poor Goy’s Complaint.’

“Then came some darker stuff,” Gerrard writes, then summarizes what caused the rift between them, concluding, “These are two of the most important writers of the second half of the century, and in cahoots they could have been brilliant. For many years, they weren’t.”

The AWL today (April 21, 2014) published an interview with Updike biographer Adam Begley titled, “How to Write John Updike’s Deathbed.” Asking the questions was Elon Green.

In it, Begley is asked about the deathbed section in Updike, and whether family members saw the book before publication. Begley says that there were numerous corrections to the death scene and also answers questions about the book’s fact-checking, what he regretted leaving out of the book, whether Updike suffered for his art, and what women writers he admired.

Here’s the link to the article, “How to Write John Updike’s Deathbed.”


Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 2.57.20 PMDangerous Minds, a pop culture website, recently published a piece titled “Philip Roth to John Updike: FTFY! Updike to Roth: LOL! STFU.”

In it, Martin Schneider considers literary feuds past and present, finally settling on an exchange of letters following a 1999 New York Review of Books publication of an essay on literary biography in which Updike had referenced negative remarks about Roth in a biography (Leaving a Doll’s House) published in 1996 by Roth’s ex-wife, Claire Bloom.

“Three years later, Roth was still bristling at the apparent presumption of guilt . . . . Roth wrote in to complain, resulting in one of those exquisite disputes that happen often in the pages of The New York Review of Books. Letters going each way, eye squarely on the reader, outraged rhetorical high dudgeon in abundance . . . . But this one would be short and sweet. Roth offered to rewrite a key sentence—on the Internet, you could distill part of his lengthy, indeed overlong missive as the common Internet acronym, the breezy and condescending “FTFY”: “Fixed that for you!” Updike didn’t take the bait, deciding that his original sentence was good enough, thank you very much.”

Both letters are published verbatim in the article.

In a review of Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight, by Reiner Stach (Princeton University Press), writer Cynthia Ozick took exception with Updike’s remarks made in the introduction to Kafka’s Collected Stories:

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 8.16.05 AM“In an otherwise seamless introduction to Kafka’s Collected Stories, John Updike takes up the theme of transcendence with particular bluntness: ‘Kafka, however unmistakable the ethnic source of his ‘liveliness’ and alienation, avoided Jewish parochialism, and his allegories of pained awareness take upon themselves the entire European—that is to say, predominantly Christian—malaise.’ As evidence, he notes that the Samsas in ‘The Metamorphosis’ make the sign of the cross. Nothing could be more wrong-headed than this parched Protestant misapprehension of Mitteleuropa’s tormented Jewish psyche. . . . The idea of the parochial compels its opposite: what is not parochial must be universal. And if the parochial is deemed a low distraction from the preponderant social force—’that is to say, predominantly Christian’—then what is at work is no more than supercilious triumphalism. To belittle as parochial the cultural surround (‘the ethnic source’) that bred Kafka is to diminish and disfigure the man—to do to him what so many of Kafka’s stories do to their hapless protagonists.”

Here’s the full review, which appeared in the April 11, 2014 Books section of the New Republic:  “How Kafka Actually Lived; He did not transcend his Jewishness, no matter what Updike claimed.”

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