August 2015

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2332_top1The September 4, 2015 print version of Entertainment Weekly has an interesting feature by Keith Staskiewicz and Isabella Biedenharn on “The United States of Books.”

“Which novel captures the true spirit of Iowa? How about Texas? Or Rhode Island? Here, EW picks the one work of fiction that best defines each state in the union.”

Is it any surprise that John Updike was chosen as the author whose novel best represents the spirit and character of Pennsylvania?

In choosing Rabbit, Run as the book that captures the spirit of Pennsylvania, the authors write, “Updike’s most famous work, the first of his Rabbit Angstrom novels, follows a former high school basketball star after he abandons his pregnant wife and child, taking suburban Pennsylvania ennui to a terrifying precipice.”

Since there’s no online link yet, here are all the state selections:

Alabama—To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Alaska—Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George
Arizona—Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver
Arkansas—True Grit, Charles Portis
California—Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Colorado—Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Connecticut—The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
Delaware—The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez
Florida—The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Georgia—Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Hawaii—The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings
Idaho—Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Illinois—Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks
Indiana—The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington
Iowa—Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella
Kansas—Doc, Mary Doria Russell
Kentucky—In Country, Bobbie Ann Mason
Louisiana—The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Maine—Empire Falls, Richard Russo
Maryland—The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler
Massachusetts—The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever
Michigan—Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell
Minnesota—The Betsy-Tacy Series, Maud Hart Lovelace
Mississippi—The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Missouri—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Montana—A River Runs through It, Norman Maclean
Nebraska—My Antonia, Willa Cather
Nevada—Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
New Hampshire—A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
New Jersey—Independence Day, Richard Ford
New Mexico—House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday
New York—Drown, Junot Diaz
North Carolina—Jim the Boy, Tony Earley
North Dakota—Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
Ohio—Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Oklahoma—The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Oregon—Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
Pennsylvania—Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Rhode Island—Spartina, John Casey
South Carolina—The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy
South Dakota—Black Hills, Dan Simmons
Tennessee—A Death in the Family, James Agee
Texas—Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Utah—The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey
Vermont—Songs in Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris
Virginia—The Known World, Edward P. Jones
Washington—The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
West Virginia—Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon
Wisconsin—A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton
Wyoming—Close Range, Annie Proulx

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.21.49 PMIn an article titled “Exclusive: Emily Ratajkowski on John Updike, Acting and Getting Naked,” writer Aaron Gell profiled the Blurred Lines,” We Are Your Friends and Gone Girl star and had this exchange:

Ratajkowski: “And there’s a John Updike story I always love that my mom gave to me when I was 13 that’s about the daughter of this guy, and her female friend comes over and is wearing a tank top or something sexual, and the father makes her leave. It’s about the guilt and the shame that she feels for something she doesn’t understand. And to me, that’s always been so huge, because so much of our culture is about how women are supposed to behave in men’s eyes, and it’s never just a celebration of who they are. Like, what a wonderful thing to be a beautiful, sexual woman. How terrible that young women in our culture have to look towards pornography or over-sexualized versions of themselves to understand how to embrace their beauty. So, that’s sort of where I come from, and that’s definitely something my mom instilled in me.

Gell: “Updike hasn’t always been considered much of a feminist, so maybe that will change now.”

Ratajkowski:  “It might…”

Read the full article; photo by Getty Images via Maxim.



The Society belatedly learned that Kathryn “Kay” Brobst Hartman died on May 24, 2015 in Towanda, Pa., where she lived most of her married life. She was the last surviving teacher that John Updike had as a youth, teaching the young author-to-be reading and science at the 6th grade level. She was 99 years old. Our sympathies (and gratitude for her life) go out to her family.

Funeral announcement


Writer-editor-reviewer Robert McCrum has spent two years considering the 100 greatest novels written in English, and The Guardian recently published his final choices. Updike’s Rabbit Redux comes in at #88.

“Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, Updike’s lovably mediocre alter ego, is one of America’s great literary protagonists, up there with Huck Finn and Jay Gatsby.”

That’s pretty good company, and probably an interesting conversation to eavesdrop on if the three of them ever had to share a raft. However, Huck and Jay made McCrum’s “All Time Top 10” list—Emma, Wuthering Heights, Moby-Dick, Middlemarch, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Heart of Darkness, The Rainbow, Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway, The Great Gatsby—while Rabbit did not.

“The 100 best novels written in English: the full list”

In writing about his process, McCrum said that he selected, “where possible, the title most central to the author’s voice and vision, which is not necessarily the most famous.”

96iiRXJ1_400x400The Daily Beast today published an interview Scott Porch did with biographer Sam Tanenhaus, “Bill Buckley Gets Bigger Over Time.” In it, Tanenhaus talks about his work-in-progress but also shares a few thoughts about Updike:

“For me, Updike and Bellow and Roth are giants now; they were writing when I was young. My copy of Updike’s Rabbit Is Rich is the copy I got when I was 15 or 16 through the Book of the Month Club. It’s the only book I ever had signed by an author in all of my years at the book review. We did a long video interview with him for the website. Those figures to me are very large and important. I think of them almost like family, and some of them are still working. Bob Caro is still working. Gay Talese is still working. I saw Garry Wills at the Aspen Ideas Festival a couple of weeks ago, brilliant as ever. Those figures are really important to me.”

The new dues structure taking effect on January 1, 2016 includes a lifetime membership ($500) and lifetime benefactor membership ($1000). With The John Updike Childhood Home restoration in progress, the timing couldn’t be better for members to take advantage of these options and help the museum project move forward at the same time.

Professor Takashi Nakatani, of Yokohama City University, Japan, has generously stepped forward to become the first lifetime benefactor. Professor Nakatani has been an active member of the society since the beginning, moderating a panel at the First Biennial Conference at Alvernia and presenting papers at the Second Biennial Conference at Suffolk and the Third Biennial Conference at Alvernia. He has also taken several research trips on his own to Updike collections in Boston and Reading.


At the 3rd Biennial Conference pre-conference social (l to r): Yue Wang, James Plath, Carla Alexandra Ferreira, and Takashi Nakatani.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 7.51.57 AMIn a fascinating essay on “Inspiration and Obsession in Life and Literature” published in the August 13, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, writer (and former JUS conference keynote speaker) Joyce Carol Oates spends a significant amount of time discussing Updike’s debut novel, The Poorhouse Fair, partly in relation to Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and partly in the context of Toward the End of Time:

“John Updike’s first novel, The Poorhouse Fair (1959), published when the author was twenty-six, is a purposefully modest work composed in a minor key; unlike Norman Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948), also published when the author was twenty-six. Where Mailer trod onto the literary scene like an invading army, with an ambitious military plan, Updike seems almost to have wished to enter by a rear door, claiming a very small turf in rural eastern Pennsylvania and concentrating upon the near-at-hand with the meticulous eye of a poet.

“The Poorhouse Fair is in its way a bold avoidance of the quasi-autobiographical novel so common to young writers: the bildungsroman of which the author’s coming-of-age is the primary subject. Perversely, given the age of the author, The Poorhouse Fair is about the elderly, set in a future only twenty years distant and lacking the dramatic features of the typical future, dystopian work; its concerns are intrapersonal and theological. By 1959 Updike had already published many of the short stories that would be gathered into Olinger Stories, which constituted in effect a bildungsroman, freeing him to imagine an entirely other, original debut work.

The Poorhouse Fair, as Updike was to explain in an introduction to the 1977 edition of the novel, was suggested by a visit, in 1957, to his hometown, Shillington, which included a visit to the ruins of a poorhouse near his home. The young author then decided to write a novel in celebration of the fairs held at the poorhouse during his childhood, with the intention of paying tribute to his recently deceased maternal grandfather, John Hoyer, given the name “John Hook” in the novel. In this way The Poorhouse Fair both is not, and is, an autobiographical work, as its theological concerns, described elsewhere in Updike’s work, were those of the young writer at the time.

“Appropriately, Updike wrote another novel set in the future near the end of his life, Toward the End of Time (1997), in which the elderly protagonist and his wife appear to be thinly, even ironically disguised portraits, or caricatures, of Updike and his wife in a vaguely postapocalyptic world bearing a close resemblance to the Updikes’ suburban milieu in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. Is it coincidental that Updike’s first novel and his near-to-last so mirror each other? Both have theological concerns, and both are executed with the beautifully wrought, precise prose for which Updike is acclaimed; but no one could mistake Toward the End of Time, with its bitter self-chiding humor and tragically diminished perspectives, for a work of fiction by a reverent and hopeful young writer. . . .

“The confessional poets—Robert Lowell, John Berryman, W.D. Snodgrass, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, to a degree Elizabeth Bishop—rendered their lives as art, as if self-hypnotized. Of our contemporaries, writers as seemingly diverse as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and John Updike created distinguished careers out of their lives, often returning to familiar subjects, lovingly and tirelessly reimagining their own pasts as if mesmerized by the wonder of ‘self.'”


1-the-state-were-in-ann-beattieWriter Ann Beattie agreed to share the keynote speaker duties at the First Biennial John Updike Society Conference at Alvernia University with her painter-husband Lincoln Perry because she was an Updike supporter and Updike was a supporter of hers.

A Vogue article about her new collection, The State We’re In: Maine Stories, reminds us of that connection. Journalist Megan O’Grady writes, “As John Updike told her when they first met, ‘You figured out how to write an entirely different kind of story.”

He was talking about what O’Grady described as her stories’ “open-ended capaciousness, so unlike the deterministic, epiphany-shaped prose that has defined the short form.”

Just as Updike’s characters aged, so have Beattie’s. They’re “mostly older and less cool these days: They order crackers from Amazon; they’ve been through divorces or estrangements and are on second or third attempts at life. They have a sense not of the ending but of an ending. The result is a newfound ephemerality—a fledgling bird found in a recycling bin, and unexpected pregnancy, an attempted suicide,” O’Grady writes.

Here’s the entire article:  “Wandering Beyond the Page: Ann Beattie on Her New Collection, The State We’re In.”

Amazon link

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 8.51.30 AMWalter Skold is a poetry lover who lives in Maine. But partially inspired by John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, he set out on a tour of poet’s graves across America. And lacking a poodle companion, he brought along a life-sized stuffed black panther he named Raisin.

Six years later that tour has come to an end, and John Updike’s tombstone, designed by his son, was one of Skold’s favorites. So much so that he asked Michael Updike to carve his own tombstone. “The last poet’s grave I find will be my own,” he wrote in an unfinished poem he worked on throughout his journey.

Here’s the full story by York Dispatch writer David Weissman:  “York native finishes six-year grave-visit tour.”

They’re in no particular order, but there are 80 books Esquire magazine thinks every man should read, and Rabbit, Run is among them:

“Because it’s one of the few not about Updike. It’s about that guy you idolized in high school. And kitchen gadgets. And you.”

“The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read”

Yes, Esquire is a man’s magazine, but it’s a little surprising that the authors listed are all male except for Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Updike, who’s been accused of being sexist, would probably be among those to protest, Where’s Toni Morrison? Alice Walker? Eudora Welty? Ann Beattie? Jane Smiley? Louise Erdrich? Lorrie Moore?

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