April 2017

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Altleft.com, which bills itself tongue-in-cheek as “The left wing of the AltRight,” recently posted a piece by Brandon Adamson titled “An Aversion to Quagmires—A Collective Desertion Toward Our Future.” Though it’s not all about Rabbit, Harry does turn up in a discussion of “Beatnik Fascism”:

“The more idiosyncratic identitarians like myself lead extremely detached lives,” Adamson writes. “Most of us seek a kind of escape from what passes for everyday life for most people. . . .”

“John Updike once claimed in an interview with Penguin Classics that he wrote Rabbit, Run in response to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Updike said:

Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” came out in 1957 and, without reading it, I resented its apparent instruction to cut loose; “Rabbit,Run” was meant to be a realistic demonstration of what happens when a young American family man goes on the road – the people left behind get hurt.

“Yet, despite Updike’s intentions, while reading Rabbit, Run as a young man, I identified much more with the character of Rabbit. Sure, the people he leaves behind do get hurt, but it didn’t appear to me to be any huge loss for the world. After all, his wife was an alcoholic that made him miserable, and his girlfriend was a prostitute, not exactly the type of people you’d feel like he owes some huge commitment to. There are his young children of course (one of which dies as a result of a careless accident committed by the drunken wife). Yet, Rabbit would have been unable to prevent this even if he hadn’t ran out. It would have probably happened anyway while he was busy at work one day, in his totally meaningless sales job that Updike implies should ahve been his duty to remain at. Rabbit meanwhile points out the hypocrisy in all the people who attempt to tell him how to live. ‘Everybody who tells you how to act has whiskey on their breath.’ This is the problem with Updike’s world. He frowns upon the runners, reformers and rockers of the boat for what he perceives as the messes left behind and the plight of the abandoned, the weakening of the church . . . etc., yet beneath the forced facade of cohesion which he insists is imperative that we maintain at all costs, those who look closely still see an outline of the same puddle of puke, obscured only by having been swept partially under the rug.”

Read the entire article.

BBC Radio 4 thinks so. They recently posted an audio clip—Episode 1 of 10—of Rabbit, Run with the following description:

The post-war novel that summed up middle-class white America and established John Updike as the major American author of his generation. Rabbit, Run is the first in a virtuoso Pulitzer Prize-wining quintet featuring hapless Harry Angstrom, whom we meet as a 26-year-old former high school basketball star and suburban paragon in the midst of a personal crisis.

Episode 1 (of 10):
When Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom joins an impromptu basketball game, he sets in motion a chain of decisions that will free him from the responsibilities of adult life—or so he hopes.

Rabbit, Run established Updike as one of the major American novelists of his generation. In the New York Times he was praised for his “artful and supple” style in his “tender and discerning study of the desperate and the hungering in our midst’s”.

Radio 4 plans to broadcast all five novels in the series over the next few years.

Read by Toby Jones
Abridged by Eileen Horne
Produced by Clive Brill
A Brill production for BBC Radio 4.

The Guardian posted an April 21, 2017 opinion piece by Sarah Churchwell in the books section titled “John Updike’s Rabbit, Run—another American story of men escaping women,” with the pull-out quote “US culture is riddled with stories of men who yearn to be free—by Updike’s time, all that was left was the mock heroism of suburban tragicomedy.”

In a sense, Churchwell writes, “Rabbit, Run is a clever subversion of an old US motif: the man on the run from the suffocating effects of society, as if a tragicomic western had lost its way and ended up trapped in southeastern Pennsylvania. But this tradition is also endlessly troped as men escaping the domestic snares of women, a tradition which Rabbit, Run cheerily joins. From Huck Finn lighting west for the Territory to escape Aunt Polly’s efforts to ‘sivilize’ him, to Charles Ingalls, with his itch for travel and his wife who insists they build a little house on the prairie for their girls, to Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty taking off on the road: US popular culture is riddled with stories of men who yearn to be free, and the women who yearn only for them not to be. These are doubtless very enjoyable stories for men to read, but for women they can be quite irksome. Always cast as the smothering presence, the old ball-and-chain pinning men down who would otherwise roam wild, women end up symbolising dependence and paralysis while men get to symbolise independence and liberty. I know which one I prefer.”

Churchwell writes, “But by 1960, there was nowhere to run: the frontier was well and truly closed, and all that was left for men was the mock heroism of suburban tragicomedy, running in circles.

“Part of the problem for women reading Rabbit, Run is that Updike made the decision to have Harry choose between two stereotypes: after returning home Harry leaves Janice again, this time moving in with a prostitute. Janice, the asexual mother, is small, childish, bony; the prostitute Ruth is voluptuous, large, welcoming, and fecund. . . . Either way, to judge it against a modern metric, it’s fair to say Rabbit, Run fails the Bechdel test (requiring that two or more female characters discuss a topic other than men.”

Read the full article.

The Maverick Philosopher blog recently responded to Gerald R. McDermott’s “‘A Rather Antinomian Christianity’: John Updike’s Religion,” which was posted March 13, 2015 on The Witherspoon Institute website, Public Discourse. 

Highlighting McDermott’s assertions that “Updike ‘radically divorced’ Christian theology from Christian ethics,” that “Updike’s religion helped build the theological scaffolding for mainline Protestantism’s baptism of gay marriage,” and “Sex is one of the means—maybe the foremost means—whereby the [moral and religious] search is conducted,” Maverick Philosopher writes,

“We are concupiscent from the ground up. So it is no surprise that even Christianity can be so twisted as to serve the sex monkey by one who apparently was it’s slave. But if truth be told, I just now ordered Couples to see how the brilliant Updike makes his case. Updike is a master of social phenomenology as I discovered when I read Rabbit Is Rich in the early ’90s.

“As for the radical divorce of theology and ethics, there cannot be anything salutary about splitting them asunder. But if split them you must, it would be better to jettison the theology and keep the ethics for the sake of our happiness in this world, which we know, as opposed to the next which we merely believe in. It is an empirical question, but on balance the sexual revolution has not improved human eudaimonia. Our predicament post-pill is hardly a paradise.

Updike looks to be a poster boy for the false dichotomy of spirituality versus religion.

Read the entire response: “John Updike’s Christianity.”

An article by David M. Shapiro published by The George Washington Law Review on “Lenient in Theory, Dumb in Fact: Prison, Speech, and Scrutiny” exposes inconsistencies and illogical practices regarding the restriction of reading matter in prisons, and mentions Updike in so doing.

The Supreme Court declared thirty years ago in Turner v. Safley that prisoners are not without constitutional rights: any restriction on those rights must be justified by a reasonable relationship between the restriction at issue and a legitimate penological objective. In practice, however, the decision has given prisoners virtually no protection. Exercising their discretion under Turner, correctional officials have saddled prisoners’ expressive rights with a host of arbitrary restrictions—including prohibiting President Obama’s book as a national security threat; using hobby knives to excise Bible passages from letters; forbidding all non-religious publications; banning Ulysses, John Updike, Maimonides, case law, and cat pictures. At the same time, the courts have had no difficulty administering the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which gives prisons far less deference by extending strict scrutiny to free exercise claims by prisoners. Experience with the Turner standard demonstrates that it licenses capricious invasions of constitutional rights, and RLUIPA demonstrates that a heightened standard of review can protect prisoners’ expressive freedoms without compromising prison security. It is time for the Court to revisit Turner.

Shapiro noted that “A prison allowed magazines such as Playboy and Maxim but prohibited works by John Updike as salacious. . . .”

“No to John Updike, Yes to Porn”

“The following example, and those that follow, are instances in which courts struck down speech restrictions under the Turner standard. Again, not all courts that have applied Turner treat it as a rubber stamp.228 These examples, however, illustrate restrictions that prison and jail authorities thought they could impose under the legal standard, even if incorrectly. While these restrictions ultimately did not survive scrutiny, the fact that officials tried to implement them at all provides further support for the view that Turner’s ability to deter constitutional violations at the outset is limited.

In Cline v. Fox, 229 the district court considered a purge of a prison library, which resulted in the removal of 259 books, which, in the view of the prison, constituted ‘obscene material.’ 230 Prison staff were instructed to read every book in the library and ‘to eliminate any book that contained language that might arouse the reader.’ 231 Books purged from the shelves included ‘William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, and a number of works by John Updike.’ 232 The court noted that ‘[t]he prohibition also applies regardless of the context of the depiction or the content of the work as a whole. Therefore, literary classics like George Orwell’s 1984 and religious texts like the Bible technically violate this regulation.’ 233 Meanwhile, prisoners were allowed to receive commercial pornography, including such magazines as Playboy and Maxim. 234 Based on this inconsistency, the court struck down the regulation under Turner. 235 [. . .]

from The George Washington Law Review Vol. 84:4 (July 2016). 972-1028.

Redux. From the Latin, meaning, “to lead back.” And an article on “The Top 10 Words That Died and Were Reborn,” written by John Rentoul and published in The Independent, credits John Updike for the revival:

“Redux. Excellent nomination from Steve, who pointed out that it was popularised by John Updike. Rabbit Redux, 1971, was the second of his Rabbit series. Mostly used in fairly upmarket US commentary, it means brought back, revived, and dates from the late 19th century, from Latin, reducere “bring back.'”

The article is interactive, with terms suggested by various people, and in that spirit we suggest you try using all 10 words in a sentence. You know Updike could do it.

How can April be the cruelest month when it’s National Poetry Month? And The Atlantic teases readers with a reminder that John Updike wasn’t just a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. He was a pretty good poet as well.

Exhibit A is this excerpt from Updike’s “Half Moon, Small Cloud”:

For what is the moon, that it haunts us,
this impudent companion immigrated.f
from the system’s less fortunate margins,
the realm of dust collected in orbs?

The full poem was published in their October 2006 issue, and you can read it here. Additional poems of Updike’s that The Atlantic published are also linked:

“Madurai” (July/August 2007)

“Rainbow” (November 2000)

“Doo-Wop” (November 2007)


In an April 24, 2017 article published on Signature: Making Well-Read Sense of the World, Tom Blunt speaks, well, bluntly about how common it is “for authors to end up creatively sharpening their claws on each other,” with writerly rivalries spawning “some of history’s most savage put-downs, capitalizing on the fragile egos and insecurities that haunt anyone who pushes together words for a living.”

Keats “throws shade” at Byron, and Byron throws it back . . . after Keats’s death. H.G. Wells criticizes Henry James, Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf rip Jane Austen, Dickens has something unkind to say about houseguest H.C. Andersen, Mary McCarthy minces no words in a put-down of Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker zings Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand responds to C.S. Lewis’s criticism, Vladimir Nabokov gets snarky with Edmund Wilson, Hemingway badmouths Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein badmouths Hemingway, and Salman Rushdie tosses John Updike under a (Las Vegas) bus.

The latter is attributed to a 2006 interview Rushdie gave: “Somewhere in Las Vegas there’s probably a male prostitute called ‘John Updike.'”

Read the full article:  “The Library Is Open: 13 Instances of Writers Throwing Shade at One Another.”


Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies recently published a useful bibliography of “Best American Essays 1986-Present,” and of course it includes John Updike:


In a story posted in the travel section of The Australian on 29 April 2017, author and former manager of Art Gallery of NSW bookshop Brian Turner observes, “Art museums are a favorite mise-en-scene for novelists’ storylines and denouements.” He cites Dan Brown’s popular Da Vinci Code novels as an obvious example, but includes others as well and concludes by offering a reading list for traveling “museum obsessives”:

“In-flight reading while returning home? Museum obsessives should relish the last chapter of The Museum of Innocence for [Orhan] Pamuk’s exotic small museums listing—Proust’s house in Illiers-Combray in central France; Paris’s Musee Edith Piaf; New York’s Glove Museum and Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe House. Also read John Updike’s short story, ‘Museums and Women.’ Updike met his future wife in a museum and assures readers they offer the opposite to what we seek in churches, but you must decide for yourself.”

Read the full article:  “Galleries and museums set the scene in fiction and real life.”


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