February 2015

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Because The John Updike Society went very quickly from an author society of 35 members to a 501 c 3 non-profit organization of 250+ members with a six-figure budget and the responsibility of restoring and maintaining The John Updike Childhood Home, the board decided at their October 4, 2014 board meeting to alter the composition and election structure of the board to reflect current sound practices among non-profits of similar size and mission. It was decided that two new board members would be added, with a nominating committee composed of board members bringing forth names of candidates who fit the current needs of the board. Board members then voted and extended an invitation to the two who received the most votes: Biljana Dojčinović, Associate Professor, Dept. of Comparative Literature and Theory of Literature, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, Serbia, and Robert Luscher, Professor of English, University of Nebraska at Kearney. Both accepted and begin serving three-year terms immediately, joining current board members Jim Plath (president), Jim Schiff (vice-president and editor of The John Updike Review), Peter Bailey (secretary), Marshall Boswell (Treasurer), and directors Sylvie Mathé and Don Greiner.

At the October meeting, the board also determined that two positions should be converted into general membership seats, to be decided by an election in which all members vote. The first three-year position to be filled is the seat vacated by Jack De Bellis, who resigned last year in order to make way for “new blood.” The board is grateful for De Bellis’s tireless service and will miss his presence. But he will continue to advise on an informal basis. Members soon will receive calls for nomination from the secretary regarding the election.

Biljana2Biljana Dojčinović is the director of the national project Кnjiženstvo—theory and history of women’s writing in Serbian until 1915 and editor-in-chief of Knjiženstvo, A Journal in Literature, Gender and Culture. She has been a member of The John Updike Society since its founding and a member of the editorial board of The John Updike Review since 2010. Her Ph.D. was focused on the narrative strategies in John Updike’s novels, and in 2007 she published a monograph in Serbian on Cartographer of the Modern World: The Novels of John Updike. She is also the author of numerous essays on Updike’s works and other topics, as well as five more academic books.

Luscherphoto3Rob Luscher is the author of John Updike: A Study of the Short Fiction and “Updike’s Olinger Stories: New Light among the Shadows. He has also published essays on Updike and his short fiction in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the Blackwell Companion to the American Short Story, Eureka Studies in Short Fiction, and The John Updike Review. Beyond Updike, his scholarship focuses on the short story sequence, with published essays on volumes of short fiction by Ernest Gaines, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Clark Blaise, and Robert Olen Butler. He has been a member of The John Updike Society since its founding, and in addition to teaching at the University of Nebraska at Kearney he also serves as Faculty Coordinator of the Thompson Scholars Learning Community.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.12.20 AMThe current owners of a grand Georgian home on the North Shore where Updike lived for years have opened the house for a Boston Common Magazine tour, complete with three photos of the Haven Hill house as it looks now:

“A Tour of John Updike’s Former North Shore Home”

The article, written by Alexandra Hall, begins with a quote from Updike:  “‘Every novelist becomes, to a degree, an architect,’ wrote the revered John Updike in 1985. ‘A novel itself is, of course, a kind of dwelling, whose spaces open and constrict, foster display or concealment, and resonate from room to room.’

“It’s a telling analogy from a man who viewed both his writings and his homes as such personal endeavors. And when design consultant Suzanne Eliastam was approached by the new owners of one of the late author’s most beloved abodes—a grand Georgian home on the North Shore named Haven Hill, where Updike lived for hears—she took that sentiment to heart in redecorating it.”

We’re told that one of its “most impressive pieces is something Updike left behind:  a huge mirror, almost 10 feet tall, framed in wood with gold leaf. It shared space in the living room with the original fireplace, both of which were left untouched while the room was renovated.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 2.28.47 PMAt one time Paul Moran said he wasn’t interested in the money, but just wanted to find a good home for the Updike materials he famously scrounged from the author’s curbside in Beverly Farms.

That time has apparently passed. Now he’s wanting $250,000 for the contents of all the trash bags he hauled away, with the blog he used to showcase the items—The Other John Updike Archive—thrown in. Moran says that bids will be accepted until 5 p.m. on March 31, 2015.

It would have been nice to have those materials for The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Avenue, but $250,000 is an insane amount of money . . . more than the Society paid for the house itself.

Still, if there’s an extremely wealthy person out there who has enough disposable income to spend it on disposed-of Updike items, the Society, a 501 c 3 non-profit, would be happy to be the beneficiary!

Here’s a link to the post announcing the sale, with detailed visuals of what we may never see again.


Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.58.08 AMThe Guardian
Books Blog has been writing their version of “A brief survey of the short story,” and this past week writer Chris Power got around to John Updike. He writes that “there is enough Updike, with enough difference in quality, that you could plausibly read a lot of him without encountering a dud, and read just as much in another, unluckier direction without encountering anything particularly good. Few writers are more in need of a well-chosen collection of selected stories.”

He’s right, actually. A single volume of “greatest hits” would be a sure contender for another Pulitzer Prize and make Updike the all-time leader in fiction Pulitzers. Right now he’s tied with Booth Tarkington and William Faulkner as the only American writers to win the prize twice.

Power, who says the “best place to begin is in Olinger,” concludes with a quote from Updike:  “‘I cannot greatly care what critics say of my work,’ Updike said in 1968. ‘If it is good, it will come to the surface in a generation or two and float, and if not, it will sink.’ Much of his work, despite the nearly unfailing presence of a memorable simile, or pitch-perfect phrase, will disappear in time. Some—a small amount by Updike’s standards perhaps, but more than many can hope for—deserve the permanence we ourselves are denied.”

“A brief survey of the short story: John Updike”

UnknownIn an essay titled “Holy Writ: Learning to love the house style,” Mary Norris writes a “personal history” that covers her first job and how she came to be a copy editor for The New Yorker. She also talks about some of the writers she admired, among them, John Updike:

“And there were writers whose prose came in so highly polished that I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to read them: John Updike, Pauline Kael, Mark Singer, Ian Frazier! In a way, these were the hardest, because the prose lulled me into complacency. They transcended the office of the copy editor. It was hard to stay alert for opportunities to meddle in an immaculate manuscript, yet if you missed something you couldn’t use that as an excuse. The only thing to do was style the spelling, and even that could be fraught. . . .

“I was on the copydesk when John McPhee’s pieces on geology were set up. I tried to keep my head. There was not much to do. McPhee was like John Updike, in that he turned in immaculate copy. Really, all I had to do was read,” she writes.

Norris began working at The New Yorker in 1978 and has been a query proofreader at the magazine since 1993. Her book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, will be published by W. W. Norton & Co. on April 6, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 7.35.27 AMThe entertainment section of The Independent today ran a Q&A interview, “A question of culture: Actor Emmet Kirwan,” in which they asked the young Irish actor what his favorite book was.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike,” he answered. “The first of a quartet of Rabbit books, but still my favorite. It speaks to a restlessness in people edging towards 30. Updike makes a flawed American everyman character likable, even as he wrecks the lives of everyone around him.”

Ironically, when asked to name a book he couldn’t finish, Kirwan cited the Jack Kerouac novel that inspired Updike to write Rabbit, Run as a kind of counter-argument:

On the Road. It’s one I felt I should read as opposed to wanting to. I was encouraged to give it a second chance, but found it tough work and boring.”

For Kirwan, “favourite city” was no contest: “It would have to be Dublin, wouldn’t it? It’s a capital city but it’s also a village. Just the right size.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 9.10.55 AMDavid Crowe, Professor of English at Augustana College, recently saw his book on Cosmic Defiance:  Updike’s Kierkegaard and the Maples Stories published by Mercer Press.

According to an article in the Aledo Times Record, Crowe tells the “story of Updike’s life-altering encounter with Fear and Trembling in his early career” and traces “the subsequent evolution of Updike’s complex and coherent theology.”

Crowe told the Times Record, “I wrote the book so that even people who haven’t read Kierkegaard can get up to speed on his central claims. Unlike most literary critics, I also avoid jargon and believe that if you can’t state a theory plainly and clearly you’re probably hiding something.”

George Hunt devoted a great deal of time and space to a discussion of Kierkegaard in his seminal work on Updike’s “three great secret things,” but this is the first book-length study on Updike and Kierkegaard.

We’ll post a review of the book on this site within the next week.

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 7.51.33 PMThe Daily Mail asked British comedian David Baddiel (The Mary Whitehouse Experience) which book he’d take to a desert island, and he chose John Updike. Or more specifically,

“The Rabbit omnibus by John Updike. This is actually five books all about the same character:  Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest and Rabbit, Remembered. All human life is there.”

The occasion for the interview was the publication of Baddiel’s first children’s book, The Parent Agency (HarperCollins). It’s available from Amazon.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 9.55.52 AMPanels are set now for the two sessions that The John Updike Society will sponsor at the 26th Annual American Literature Association Conference, May 21-24, 2015 at The Westin Copley Place in Boston, Mass. Times and days for the presentations will be announced later.

Perspectives on John Updike (I)
Chair: Peter Quinones, Independent Scholar

  1. “Solipsism and the American Self: Rethinking David Foster Wallace’s Reading of John Updike,” Matthew Shipe, Washington University
  2. “Embracing Death: Aging in Updike’s Late Works,” Yue Wang, Dalian University of Technology
  3. “A Comparison/Contrast of Edward Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress and John Updike’s Rabbit Tetralogy,” Maria Mogford and James Speese, Albright College

Perspectives on John Updike (II)
Chair: Sylvie Mathé, Aix-Marseille University

  1. “’Real Enough . . . for Now’: Nudity as Aperture in John Updike’s ‘Nakedness,’” Avis Hewitt, Grand Valley State University
  2. “Echoes of J.D. Salinger and Ernest Hemingway in John Updike’s The Centaur: An Alternative to Contemporary American Canonical Discourse,” Takashi Nakatani, Yokohama City University
  3. “’Rabbit Remembered’ and Its Various Intertexts,” James Schiff, University of Cincinnati

Thanks to everyone who submitted proposals, and to Peter Quinones for coordinating the sessions.