May 2014

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Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 8.03.29 AMThe Houghton Library at Harvard University is the main repository for Updike materials, and through May 31 you can catch a glimpse of those materials in a ground floor exhibition (Chaucer Case). Here’s the description:

John Updike was in many ways an ideal Harvard student. He worked diligently at his studies, as evidenced by the marginalia recorded in the books he used in class (he graduated summa cum laude in 1954); he was an active member of the Harvard Lampoon, and served as president (nearly two-thirds of each issue during his senior year are attributed to him); he also remained a loving son, regularly writing amusing letters home to his parents in Shillington, Pennsylvania. Although Updike originally envisioned a career as an artist, there is evidence of the emerging professional writer; as a student, Updike received high marks on work that he would later submit to The New Yorker and other publications.

Updike began depositing his papers at Houghton Library in 1966; the collection was purchased by the library following his death in 2009. Updike meticulously shepherded his work through every stage of its publication, and the collection includes multiple drafts, prints and proofs of his novels, short stories, poems and essays, correspondence with colleagues, family, and friends, and Updike’s own copies of his books as well as books by other authors from his library.

The exhibition will be on display May 27, 28, 30 and 31. Click here for library hours.

This morning The Boston Globe printed an article titled “Updike found ‘the whole mass of middling, hidden, troubled America’ on North Shore,” in which residents who knew Updike react to what biographer Adam Begley had to say about that chapter in Updike’s life, and Begley is quoted as well. “My feeling is that Martha and John drew up the drawbridge,” Begley writes of the Beverly Farms move.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 7.48.41 AMThere’s also a sidebar on “Updike’s North Shore homes” that has no text to speak of—just a briefly annotated list of addresses where John Updike lived from 1957-2007, with Adam Begley’s biography of Updike cited as the source.

Though the purpose of the articles aren’t stated, it’s clear that there’s plenty of interest in Updike and just as much pride that he called the Boston North Shore home for 50 years:

Little Violet, Essex and Heartbreak roads, Ipswich (1957-58)—The wood-frame cottage Updike and first wife Mary rented when they first moved to town.

Polly Dole House, 26 East St., Ipswich (1958-70)—Historic 17th-century home near downtown Ipswich, upgraded considerably while Updike lived there (pictured).

50 Labor-in-Vain Road, Ipswich (1970-74)—Larger home the Updikes and their four children lived in until John and Mary’s separation.

58 West Main St., Georgetown (1976-82)—After a brief stint living as a bachelor in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, Updike moved to Georgetown to be nearer his children.

675 Hale St., Beverly Farms (1982-2007)—The stately home near the water where Updike and his second wife, Martha, spent their later years together.

Let the literary pilgrimages begin. What other outcome could there be for an article like this?


Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.30.05 PMGarrison Keillor, the NPR humorist best known for his tall tales of Lake Wobegon, published a new book earlier this month, and member Larry Randen reports that John Updike is prominently mentioned in the introduction of The Keillor Reader:

“I think often of John Updike, who lovingly re-created the backyards and clotheslines of the 1940s small town and described a snowstorm as ‘an immense whispering’ and wrote beautifully of his father bidding him goodbye on a train platform and astonishing him by planting a kiss on his cheek. I last saw John on the New York subway, riding from 155th Street down to 72nd, a white-haired gent of seventy-five grinning like a school kid. At 110th a gang of seminarians boarded and crowded around him, chattering, not recognizing him, and he sat soaking it up, delighted, surrounded by material” (xxxi).

Randen says that he and his wife, Lollie, went to hear Keillor read from his new book at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., and that Updike also was mentioned during a Q&A session.

According to Randen, “The first question was: ‘Who is/was your favorite writer?’ Keillor said, ‘John Updike’ and offered a few sentences about how good Updike’s writing was and then added an anecdote about ‘The Last Time I Saw Updike a Couple Years Before His Death.’

“In his response to the first question he told the same account [as he included in the introduction] but added that ‘the seminarians were excitedly arguing about Karl Barth, a favorite neo-orthodox theologian who was also a favorite of Updike’s; the students had just come from a lecture about Barth and were caught up with discussing issues about Barth, pro and con, and hearing this pleased Updike to no end as he sat there anonymously soaking the moment up and smiling, perhaps, because another generation had discovered Barth.”

Here’s a link to the sell-page for The Keillor Reader, where you can “look inside” and see the table of contents and a sample chapter.


It’s not on the Internet, but thanks to David Lull we have a transcript of an early review of the UK version of Adam Begley’s Updike:

“Beautiful dreamer.” Jenny Needham. Northern Echo [Darlington (UK)]. May 5, 2014. 42.
Adam Begley provides the ideal companion to the life of writer John Updike
Non-fiction Updike by Adam Begley (Harper [pounds]25, eBook [pounds]25)

“For the second half of the 20th Century, John Updike bestrode the world of US fiction as the definitive man of letters. His best novels—notably the Rabbit tetralogy—invited comparison with the greats of the 19th Century.

“Effortlessly prolific, absurdly versatile and almost invariably wordperfect, his output included more than a dozen novels, around 100 short stories (many lodged with the New Yorker, his spiritual home), several hundred book reviews (ditto), collections of light verse, and writings on golf, art and all sorts of miscellaneous topics.

“He was the sort of writer who could turn even a frivolous magazine commission into a text of lasting beauty. Yet for all the prizes and adulation, he originally hoped to make it as an illustrator, and secretly wished that people took his serious poetry more seriously.

“In Adam Begley, Updike has a biographer worthy of his talents. A fine writer in his own right, Begley is empathetic but not uncritical, and organises his story thematically—golf, infidelities, travels abroad etc—rather than follow a strict chronology.

“Begley is a close reader of the texts, adept at teasing out both pointed literary insights and the biographical parallels between the life and the fiction. These, it turns out, are almost embarrassingly easy to find: adultery in the suburbs, the death of parents, the character of his children, the travails of being a grandparent. . . Updike ruthlessly pillages his and his loved ones’ personal lives for material.

“For me, the first two-thirds of the book could not have been bettered.

“But the final sections, detailing Updike’s late writings and death, have a disappointingly foreshortened feel.

“All in all, though, if you love Updike you’ll absolutely love this book.”

Note: To read the online reviews of Updike collected thus far (which now number 59), click here., an online Florida publication named after the man whose railroad brought tourists to the Florida Keys, has published a series of summaries and analyses of short stories from the recent Library of America editions of Updike’s short fiction.

“This series is a re-reading of John Updike’s short stories in the wake of publication of ‘The Collected Early Stories’ and ‘The Collected Later Stories,’ the twin-volume set by the Library of America (2013).” It includes a “comprehensive table of the complete stories with links to each story summary” and a consideration of the Maple and Bech stories, “most of which are excluded from the Library of America edition.”

Thirteen summaries/analyses have been posted thus far:

John Updike: The Complete Stories (Click on Links for Summaries and Analysis)

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.23.49 AMFeatured in Volume 5, Issue No. 4 [2014] of the International Research Journal of Management Sociology & Humanity, is an article by Anshu Chaudhary titled “Analysis of the Select Novels of John Updike from the Perspective of the Second Wave Feminism,” which appears on pages 84-91.

In it, Chaudhary writes, “It can’t be ignored that Updike was reflecting the point of view of male characters of a particular age and class, and in that context they demonstrated psychological insight. But if we analyze Couples and Marry Me the two most interesting and sympathetic novels in which the women characters are most keenly drawn we see that he has presented the mystery of man’s sexuality from the perspective of the female characters. In both these novels he entered the mystery of woman’s sexuality as well.

“Updike’s views and depiction of female characters may be prejudiced but are not misogynistic. His works don’t show him to be against the growth and liberalization of domestic women. He just reflects the ‘other’ side of things.”

She concludes her essay, “Thus, female characters exist and develop and survive in his fiction. They also help the male characters to find their own identity and ‘Search for the Self.’ Although he fails to give them their own identity but as he himself says,

“‘American fiction is notoriously thin on women, and I have attempted a number of portraits of women, and we may have reached that point of civilization, or decadence, where we can look at women. I’m not sure Mark Twain was able to.'”


Jim Higgins, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has posted “96 books for your summer reading,” and topping the category titled “12 Editor’s Picks” is Updike, Adam Begley’s “sympathetic but honest biography of the writer, which pays close attention to the ways John Updike frequently transmuted real-life incidents into his fiction.”

Other categories:  “14 Books We’ve Already Liked,” “8 Books for Recent Graduates,” “11 Books by Wisconsin Writers,”  “10 Visiting Writers,” “8 Mysteries and Thrillers,” “5 Pop Culture Books,” “7 Visually Appealing Books,” “18 Books for Children and Teens,” and “5 Books for Baseball Fans.”

If you do a WorldCat search for subject: John Updike, thesis/dissertation you’ll get 26 pages of entries that are sortable by relevance, author A-Z, etc., and you might recognize quite a few names in this list. As of May 25, 2014, there have been 256 theses/dissertations written about Updike.

Here’s the WorldCat link to the first page. The link has been added to the bibliography in the left menu.

One of the theses—”The protagonists of John Updike,” by Charles Monroe Cock (Spring 1971) is even available as a PDF in full form: The protagonists of John Updike, which makes you wonder how long it will be before everything is available at a keyboard’s touch.

The San Jose Mercury-News ran a story about a physics professor and composer named Brian Holmes who says he was inspired to write a piece for chorus and tuba by John Updike’s poem, “Recital.”

That composition will have its world premiere on May 31 at Lincoln Glen Church, featuring Symphony Silicon Valley tuba player Tony Clements as soloist.

“Updike was inspired to write the poem after seeing a headline in the New York Times that read ‘Roger Bobo Gives Recital on the Tuba’ on a story about the tuba virtuoso who spent 25 years with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“‘I agree with Updike that the words ‘Bobo’ and ‘tuba’ are immensely silly in one headline,’ Holmes says.

“Updike took this silliness and ran with it; the first stanza of ‘Recital’ reads, ‘Eskimos in Manitoba / Barracuda off Aruba / Cock an ear when Roger Bobo / Starts to solo on the tuba.’

“Holmes’ piece sticks to the poems text but plays with Bobo’s name a bit more.”

According to the article by Anne Gelhaus, it’s not the first time that Holmes has found inspiration in Updike.



Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 4.15.02 PMStarting Memorial Day 2014 and continuing through the summer, 50 silver-and-blue sand dollars designed by sculptor Michael Updike will be strewn across Ipswich’s Crane Beach, where Michael’s novelist father used to enjoy spending time. It’s a promotion for the local chamber of commerce, and the sand dollars are meant to be redeemed for prizes by the lucky finders. But there are more than a few members of The John Updike Society who would think one of those sand dollars treasure enough, and display it among their other Updike collectibles.

Here’s the story by Ethan Forman that appeared in the Salem News: “Dotted with treasure; Sand dollars on Crane Beach make beach-goers, businesses winners.”

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