January 2015

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Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 6.52.17 PMLike Updike’s main witch in The Witches of Eastwick, artist Debbie Ritter makes small figurines—not women, like Alex’s “bubbies,” but authors and characters from literature.

Her company is UneekDollDesigns, and you can buy dolls of authors like Lewis Caroll, Virginia Woolf, Gwendolyn Brooks, Flannery O’Connor, Dashiell Hammett, Cormac McCarthy, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and, of course, John Updike.

“This creative author doll is crafted out of wood, wire, clay, and paint. He wears a costume of black pants, plum colored, ribbed turtleneck, and holds a copy of one of his famed works. His hair is real fiber and his face is hand painted. A perfect addition to the fan of Updike’s literary works!”

Updike holds a miniature version of the 2003 Ballantine Books paperback edition of the first two Rabbit novels.

Ritter, who is from Huntsville, Ala., has gotten some notice for her dolls, including The Today Show, At Home in Illinois magazine, Vanity Fair online, Showtime, a PBS documentary on Rachel Carson, and Doll Collector Magazine.

knopf100Updike’s longtime publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, celebrates 100 years of publishing in 2015, and according to their website,

“Each week, we will tell you about the new books we are publishing in this anniversary year, as well as throw in a bit of nostalgia. We’ll remember books that were once upon a time published by Knopf in the particular month. We’ll share with you a bit of our personal history, i.e.: entertaining correspondence with authors, iconic dust jackets, remembrances by our editors and other members of the publishing team. We’ll dig up and share archival materials we think you’d like to see. In general, our Tumblr page (#Knopf100) for 2015 will be a running exhibition of the history and the present of the publishing house that is Alfred A. Knopf. Enjoy the ride.”

Among the “goodies” is a list of all their Pulitzer Prize winners (Updike, of course, won twice—for Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest) and a downloadable literary calendar that you can access month by month. For January, appropriately, they begin with John Updike. Below is a cropped version of that page, sans calendar, with a photo by Irving L. Fisk. All rights are reserved.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 5.54.11 PMDyke Hendrickson, writing for the Newburyport Daily News, listened to the audio-book version of Adam Begley’s biography of John Updike, who lived in Boston’s North Shore area for much of his adult life, and had a list of observations about the “brilliant, productive writer” who lived in Ipswich and Beverly Farms, and Begley, whose “research was exhaustive but his prose is energizing.”

“Begley biography brings alive John Updike, life on North Shore”

You need to be a subscriber to access the full article, but Hendrickson, who says he’s a friend of Michael Updike,  lists two take-aways from the Begley bio that you don’t need to pay to read:

—”Unlike most writers, Updike was a success from the start”

—”His writing was remarkably autobiographical. If Updike ran into a hedge with his auto or walked into the bedroom of a neighborhood volleyball wife, the reader was likely to hear about it.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.11.41 AMWriter-musician Art Edwards has published two online essays on Updike and David Foster Wallace:

“David Foster Wallace was Wrong: Why John Updike Mattered and Always Will” appeared in the March 2013 issue of Word Riot. In it, the admitted Wallace fan says it annoyed him that “Wallace got so much wrong in his review of John Updike’s Toward the End of Time. . . . Wallace dismantles Time, and Updike’s character choices in many of his novels, and the ‘Great American Narcissists’ (Updike, Mailer, Roth) for their ‘radical self-absorption’ and ‘uncritical celebration of this self-absorption both in themselves and in their characters.'”

“I couldn’t agree more with Wallace’s assessment of Time,” Edwards writes. “I also found it to be ‘a novel so clunky and self-indulgent that it’s hard to believe the author let it be published in such shape.'” Edwards identifies himself as “the rare Updike fan of [his] generation, a group Wallace describes as under forty at the time of his review’s original publication (1997)” and says he’s read “twenty or so of Updike’s novels, many more than once,” and “loosely modeled” his first novel after Rabbit, Run.

He writes that Wallace’s “charges of Updike’s radical self-absorption are distracting from what’s wonderful about Updike’s work, and I suspect these charges will scare many of my and younger generations away from the writer. Wallace’s central charge is that Updike writes about one protagonist over and over again—all ‘clearly stand-ins for Updike himself’—and that the protagonist is ‘always incorrigibly narcissistic, philandering, self-contemptuous, self-pitying . . . and deeply alone, alone the way only an emotional solipsist can be alone.’

“To which I say, ‘Yeah, so?’ The literary canon is filled with writers who write about narcissists (Hemingway), and one character type over and over again (Austen), and characters who are self-pitying (Proust), and self-contemptuous (Beckett) and philandering (Miller). . . . What Wallace eels to mean is Updike’s characters are all of these things, and that makes them unsympathetic to him. And that’s where Wallace and I differ. I find all of Updike’s self-involved characters enormously sympathetic, often for the reasons Wallace mentions.”

“The Pot Calling the Kettle Narcissistic: The Lives and Works of John Updike and David Foster Wallace” appears in the Winter 2014 issue (dated January 15, 2015) of Cigale Literary and offers a further consideration of the two writers. Edwards says he continued his “education in Wallace” by working his way through “D.T. Max’s biography of the author Every Love Story is a Ghost Story,” and also rereading Updike’s Self-Consciousness.

“Updike was so under the spell of his country,” Edwards concludes, that “he had a notorious blind spot for a time when its motivations may have been less than savory. I’m referring to his famous marginal support of U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam. . . . America was, for Updike, a safe haven, and to defend her, even in her atrocious moments—especially!—was his only way of paying back in kind,” he posits.

Of Wallace, he writes, “Wallace was as committed as he could be to combatting his nation’s addition to addictions. Around the time of Infinite Jest’s publication, he championed a more moral fiction, one that didn’t rely solely on dramatizing ‘how dark and stupid everything is.’ He continues, ‘In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and grow despite time’s darkness.’

“These differences between Updike’s and Wallace’s points of view could easily be written off as differences in emotional makeup—and they were distinct in this regard—but others could have been more circumstantial. While neither writer went into the military (Updike was 4Fed for psoriasis, to his dismay; it’s hard to imagine Wallace ever seriously entertaining the idea of the military, their respective eras’ prevailing attitudes toward war were quite different. . . .”

Click on the essay titles to read the articles in full.

CN13227317_232018We learned belatedly and are saddened to report that John Updike Society member Robert Weatherall died on December 26 at his home in Ipswich, Mass.

Members will remember Bob from the very first conference at Alvernia University in 2010, when he and Mary Weatherall (Updike’s first wife) mingled with registrants and displayed a graciousness that was topped only by their opening their Ipswich house to us for our second conference—even mounting an impressive display of Updike materials, especially for us. Those who interacted with Bob were touched by how genuine and gentlemanly he was, and how giving.

His obituary in The Ipswich Chronicle recalls a full life that began in wartime Britain and had an impact on countless people: “He was a passionate advocate of education and was the first to work to ensure the the Foeffees of Little Neck honored William Payne’s 17th century gift to Ipswich students. He had an abiding interest in the public good, whether it be the welfare of the schoolchildren of Ipswich or access to and stewardship of open spaces.”

Members in the area can attend a memorial that be held at Ascension Memorial Church in Ipswich on January 31 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in his name may be made to Essex County Greenbelt Association, 82 Eastern Ave., Essex, MA 01929, or to the Ipswich Music, Arts & Drama Association, Inc., Box 449, Ipswich, MA  01938. Visit www.whittier-porter.com to send a message of condolence.

Our sympathies go out to Mary and the children. He will be missed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 4.56.52 PMUpdike fans know that he first aspired to be a cartoonist and was enamored with Disney, especially. And he was a fan of Big Little Books as a little fellow. But in a post today on The Paris Review website, Jeet Heer contemplates why John Updike loved comics and concludes, “While Updike might have ceased cartooning, the visual language of comics was never far from his mind.”

Heer writes, “A full inventory of the impact of cartooning on Updike’s writing would require a much longer essay. It would include a discussion of a poem that features Al Capp (creator of L’il Abner); Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom’s resentful affection for the girlie comic strip Apartment 3-G; the superhero references in the later Rabbit books; the story “Intermission,” about a young writer of comic strips; the novel Marry Me, which features a character who works in advertising animation; and the essays Updike devoted to cartoonists such as Ralph Barton, James Thurber, and Charles Schulz. Such a discussion would also look more deeply at the visual potency of Updike’s prose and also his habit of limning vividly grotesque secondary characters (think for example of the story “The Madman”), a fictional practice that owes as much to the tradition of caricature as to the model of Dickens.

Here’s the complete article: “Updike: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan”

First Person Singular focuses on a January 14 blog post by Jon Busch titled “Getting Over Updike,” which begins,

“John Updike was a living legend around Gordon College. He lived mere miles from our tiny campus, and swapping tales of ‘Updike sightings’ was a common pastime among English majors.”

Updike “encounters” were apparently just as common, and Busch shares several humorous anecdotes, along with his somewhat embarrassed reaction to A Month of Sundays.

He writes, “Regardless of the absurdity and vulgarity of A Month of Sundays, I do wish we Gordonites had not irrevocably offended Updike all those years ago. His ‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’ alone is adequate atonement for a lifetime of bad sex writing.”

Gordon College is a Christian school in Wenham, Massachusetts. “Legend has it (and I have no way to verify this) that an intrepid English professor in the late seventies or early eighties struck up a friendship with Updike and asked him to come speak on campus. Updike accepted the invitation, but had to be ‘disinvited’ when the president of the college famously declared, ‘I don’t want that pornographer anywhere near our campus.

“Decades later, an Updike convocation was still off the table. Apparently, the man knew how to hold a grudge. We English majors held a grudge as well, against that ignorant, foolish president who damned us to an Updike-less, and thus incomplete, education.”

It was only after reading A Month of Sundays many years later that Busch says he developed “sympathy for the old president’s position.”

One session is now full, but The John Updike Society still needs a moderator and papers for a second session sponsored by The John Updike Society at the American Literature Association Conference, May 21-24, 2015, West Copley Place, Boston Mass.

Papers are welcome on any aspect of John Updike’s life and work, including (especially?) comparisons to other authors. Send abstracts to: Peter Quinones, Sessions Coordinator at peterquinones79@hotmail.com.

The deadline for submission is January 20. Peter will acknowledge receiving your abstract within a day or two of receiving it and notify those selected for participation by January 28. Thank you in advance for your willingness to share your insights on Updike with the greater literary community. Presenters must register for the conference, and more information will be provided later. Presenters should also be members of the Society, but dues are minimal: regular dues are $25/year and dues for grad students and retirees are $20/year. We welcome all who enjoy Updike’s work.

wallaceThe late David Foster Wallace, who famously attacked Updike and other literary Johns, is featured in The David Foster Wallace Reader and the subject of a Newsweek cover story by Alexander Nazaryan.

For any fan of Updike who’s more familiar with Wallace’s sniping than with Wallace and his fiction, “The Turbulent Genius of David Foster Wallace” provides a good summary of the career of the author of Infinite Jest, who killed himself in 2008.

In it, Updike is mentioned . . . of course, pejoratively.

Larry Mazzeno’s book, Becoming John Updike, will be published in paperback the first week in February.

John Updike Society members and friends can take advantage of a 25 percent off offer from the publisher:

Becoming John Updike [pb]

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