September 2014

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In a story written by Bruce Posten, the Reading Eagle noted “Alvernia to host 3rd conference on John Updike’s legacy.”

To clarify, the Saturday morning session with Updike classmates interviewed by Jack De Bellis is also open to the public.

“Speaking of Berks County as the major source of Updike’s literary muse,” Posten writes, “Guay said the author mined the area for stories, characters and reflections of changes in late 20th- and early 21st-century America.”

“So much has been torn down or taken away from Reading,” she said. “Highlighting Updike’s contribution is definitely something we shouldn’t overlook or forget.”

Bruce Posten of the Reading Eagle wrote a story in anticipation of Adam Begley’s visit to Reading for the Third Biennial John Updike Society Conference in which he spoke to three classmates and Updike’s Shillington contact and asked what they thought of the biography, Updike.

Dave Silcox, who served as Site Director for the first Updike Society conference at Alvernia University, said he’d give it an A, “but with a few key reservations.”

“I give Begley good grades for his book and I feel his attention to detail was impressive,” Silcox said. “I like the way he structured the book interweaving everything with John’s writings, even though John probably would have been very upset over Begley’s effort to show that so much of his work was autobiographical in nature.

“Had Martha (Updike’s second wife, who survives, as does his first wife, Mary) cooperated with Begley, maybe much more of the real person would have come out, assuming she (Martha) would have been willing to talk about the real person behind the man of letters,” Silcox said. “He (Begley) tried to fill that in by interviewing friends, but Updike had very few close friends after leaving Ipswich.”

“Updike classmates interviewed for biography.” 

Paul Moran is famous for digging around Updike’s trash, but he has also unearthed a cartoon that Updike did for a 1954 issue of the Harvard Lampoon and astutely observed that in it Updike “demonstrates an astonishing awareness of his literary mission and of the critics to come. John Updike was a prodigy and the following cartoon he drew foretells his own future impeccably.”

In the cartoon, a determined (tough?) looking kid in t-shirt and shorts has painted only a minimalist stick man on the huge canvas he had been given, and in the caption he tells his art teacher “I may have little to say, but I’m determined to say it well.”

The cartoon and the cover art that Updike drew for the April 1954 Lampoon, which was among the items recovered by Moran, can be seen here:  “Crystal Balls”

Moran ends his post by taking a playful jab at biographer Adam Begley, who was quoted as saying that the items he rescued from the trash had no value whatsoever.

Random House has uploaded a Frank O’Hara poem read by John Updike: “The Day Lady Died,” which Updike selected as his favorite O’Hara poem.

Click on “April 14: Frank O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died'” for the text of the poem and a link to the audio.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 9.52.27 AMIn “Books provide Guantánamo detainees an ‘escape from darkness,'” The Miami Herald recently reported details of a fairly substantial collection of books that was anonymously donated to Guantánamo prison, which now has a library of some 19,000 books.

Among them is Rabbit at Rest, the fourth installment in Updike’s Rabbit quartet.

“The approved list included poetry, fiction, art, math, history, religion, politics and current events—plus chemistry, physics and electronics books, which may strike some as strange for a place that the United States says imprisons wannabe bomb makers and hijackers,” reporter Carol Rosenberg writes.

“Name a classic you read in school and it’s probably here—from John Steinbeck to William Shakespeare to Mark Twain. Also, four novels by Haruki Murakami, who happens to be the donor’s favorite author. About half are in Arabic or are dual Arabic-English side-by-side translations.

“Some titles might suggest a subliminal message for an indefinite detainee in the war-on-terror—Charles’ Dickens Hard Times, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.

Or John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest?

As with the previous John Updike Society conference hosted by Alvernia, plenary sessions that would appeal to local residents are “open,” and Berks-Mont recently posted a story on David Updike’s upcoming conference talk at 2 p.m. on Thursday, October 2 in Francis Hall Theater.

“There will be family pictures and some artwork, along with my own narrative and excerpts from my father’s writing as well as his mother, Linda Grace Hoyer, who was born and died in Plowville and published two collections of short stories,” Updike said.

Updike also mentioned The John Updike Childhood Home, which the society owns and is in the process of turning it into a museum and literary center.

“I am happy his home is being turned into a museum. I hope it has a useful life beyond the occasional tourists, something like a writing center for local students manned by college students,” Updike said.

The details of management will be decided by the board, which consists of JUS board members plus the curator and a representative of the Updike family—with Elizabeth Cobblah Updike serving the first term. Right now, the house is still a “deconstruction” zone. Then comes the construction, and finally decisions pertaining to the running of the museum and extent to which the house can be used as a literary center.

But the general consensus is that the house should indeed be used by writers and students. Before the society board voted to establish a board to run the house, they approved remodeling of the annex to include an education room, where classes could meet, lectures could be given, and a video on Updike in Pennsylvania could be shown on a TV monitor.

“David Updike will share photos, narrative and excerpts at upcoming conference”



On October 1-4, 71 members of The John Updike Society will convene in Reading, Pa., for the Third Biennial John Updike Society Conference. The Friday Night at the (Reading Public) Museum reception will be held at the museum and sponsored by Albright College. The Wednesday night reception, the membership meeting, and the closing keynote address by Adam Begley will be held at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel, the conference hotel. All other sessions will be at Alvernia University, host to this year’s conference.


For the conference, members are traveling from eight different countries and 20 states.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 7.25.06 AMApart from the poem “Ex-Basketball Player” and short stories like “A&P,” Updike isn’t taught much in American high schools because of the language and sexual content that’s sprinkled liberally throughout his Rabbit series and other classics. But that may change with the republication of Olinger Stories by Everyman’s Pocket Classics, which will be released on October 7, 2014.

Ironically, we received a review copy smack in in the middle of Banned Books Week, and the handsome, bargain-priced ($16 SRP) hardcover with Updike’s hand-picked stories gives high school teachers a classroom-worthy book—one that Updike himself considered “his signature collection, the volume of short stories that communicated his freshest impressions of life as it came to him in hardscrabble Berks County, Pennsylvania, in the 1930s and ‘40s,” as a publisher’s note reminds us. Updike once told an interviewer, “If I had to give anybody one book of me, it would be the Olinger Stories.”

There’s a delightful world of language, of place, and of finding one’s place in the world to discover for readers new to Updike. But this new volume may work for scholars as well, because, as the publisher’s note continues, the “text of the stories reprinted here are those that Updike published in The Early Stories, which he deemed definitive,” along with a foreword to the original 1964 Vintage paperback “altered only to incorporate a few small changes made by the author after its initial publication.”

Included, in order, are the stories “You’ll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You,” “The Alligators” (which is already being taught in some high schools), “Pigeon Feathers” (also being taught), “Friends from Philadelphia,” “A Sense of Shelter,” “Flight,” “The Happiest I’ve Been,” “The Persistence of Desire,” “The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother’s Thimble, and Fanning Island,” “Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, a Dying Cat, a Traded Car,” and “In Football Season.” Right now, is selling the collection for $10.12.   Read the rest of this entry »

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.58.28 PMIn Rancho Cucamonga, which sounds like a made-up place, “Parents were shocked when they discovered a novel with erotic dialogue was being checked out and read by their children in their middle school’s library,” according to a CBS Los Angeles report.

The novel was Rabbit Is Rich, and the reaction is no surprise. Even Updike scholars would probably tell their pre-teens to hold off on that one until high school or college.

The principal removed the book from the school’s library. “After the investigation, if it is determined that the book had been checked out by other students, those students’ parents will be notified”—which sounds a little like people with sexually transmitted diseases having to notify all their partners.

The book apparently was donated, which is why it flew under the radar. Bottom line:  Rabbit Is Rich won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s a great book. But at what age?

“District Investigates After 12-Year-Old Gets Novel With Sexual Passages FRom School Library.” 

Franco Library at Alvernia University, which houses The John Updike Society Archive (renamed, apparently, John Updike Collection), has catalogued the holdings digitally and made them available online so scholars and researchers can see the full range of items in the collection and decide whether there are materials that might be of use/interest.

In fact, archivist Gene Mitchell says that if any Society members email him to set up an appointment while they’re in Reading to attend The Third Biennial John Updike Society Conference, he will make arrangements to have those materials ready and waiting.

Here’s the link to the John Updike Collection.

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