May 2018

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In the Sunday, May 27, 2018 Guardian, Mark Brown wrote an update about Andrew Davies, “Britain’s most successful literary adaptor for television,” and his intentions for an upcoming adaptation of John Updike’s Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom novels.

As Brown writes, “The project comes with something of a mission. ‘This lazy way that people talk about him being a misogynist,’ Davies said. ‘This is something we are just going to wipe out really when they see how richly empathetic and imaginative the books are.'”

“The project raises the question of how, in the era of #MeToo, TV and filmmakers should depict behaviour which would not be acceptable now.

“The script editor Laura Lankester said there was no getting around the fact that people in the 1960s behaved the way they did, and there was a balancing act in not denying it and portraying it in an acceptable way for a contemporary audience.

“Davies said: ‘I think they behave exactly the same now, but it is kind of wrong now.’

“The 81 year old said he had the advantage of working with much younger people than himself, including a script editor on Rabbit, Run who is in her mid-20s. ‘She has had problems with some bits of Rabbit, Run and it was been very interesting to deal with all that,’ he said.

“‘We do want people, if not to love Rabbit but at least to understand him. Some of the things have been a bit difficult for young intelligent females to cope with . . . but I think his insight into both men and women is just so extraordinary.'”

No cast or time frame has been announced for the project by Davies, whose adaptation of Les Miserables will be shown on BBC later this year.

The photo of Davies is by Martin Godwin of the Guardian.

Professor Biljana Dojčinović, director of the upcoming June 1-5 Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, reports that the May 26, 2018 Politika Daily announced the conference in a top-right, front-page teaser (pictured above), and also published two conference-related articles in the Cultural Section (pictured below). The first is an article by JUS president James Plath on “Updike and Politics” that promotes the June 5 closing panel at the National Library of the Republic of Serbia: “Updike and Politics: Does Rabbit Angstrom’s Political Evolution Help to Explain Trump Supporters?”; the second is the first installment of a reprint from an interview with Updike conducted in October 1978 on the Politika premises, and features a photo published for the first time. Part 2 will be published the following Saturday, on the second day of the conference. Here is the original English text of the “Updike and Politics” article that was translated into Serbian by Milica Abramović, Marija Bulatović, Jana Živanović, Jelena Nešić, and Teodora Todorić: Updike & Politics


In mid-April, when the publicity blitz for the most recent cinematic installment of Fifty Shades of Grey was in full swing, Scoop Whoop tossed off “10 Erotic Novels Other Than ’50 Shades of Grey’ That You Need To Share Your Bed With,” and of course Updike made the list.

Why wouldn’t he? Couples was one of the novels that bridged the gap between the literary and the tawdry, blazing the trail for future writers to candidly describe sexual encounters in their serious fiction.

Parthavee Singh compiled the list for Scoop Whoop, and included:

Beautiful Secret (2015), by Christina Lauren
Inside Madeleine (2014), by Paula Bomer
Women (2014), by Chloe Caldwell
Men in Love (1980), by Nancy Friday
G. (1972), by John Berger
Forever (1975), by Judy Blume
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), by Milan Kundera
Couples (1968), by John Updike
House of Holes (2011), by Nicholson Baker
Lust (1989), by Susan Minot

Couples by John Updike is a tastefully seductive and graphic representation of love, marriage and adultery. A one of a kind classic, this novel is powerful enough to leave an impact on individuals helping them inspire others to read it too.”

Two seasons ago New York Magazine though John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick a beachy-keen choice for summer reading. This year, the U.K.-based magazine Stylist seconds the notion.

The magazine included Witches on its list of “Top 100 holiday reads,” noting, of the Updike choice,

“Three divorced women in a Rhode island beach town discover they have beyond-ordinary powers. Their coven is shaken up by the arrival of the mysterious and devil-like Darrell Van Horne. Updike’s novel is far better than the film adaptation, so don’t discount the book if you’ve seen the film.

“Why is it a holiday read? See the beach as a place to conjure storms and mischief.”


Five Books, a site that asks writers to share five books that influenced them in some way, recently published the choices by Sam Tanenhaus, Ian McEwan, and William Boyd.

Tanenhaus named Rabbit Redux as one of his five influential books, while McEwan and Boyd cited Rabbit at Rest and Couples, respectively.

Tanenhaus cited Rabbit Redux as a great example of literature describing what he called “the peak period of conservatism as an intellectual force in American life” from 1967-73. “It’s the second of his Rabbit tetralogy, and generally the least admired today. The books themselves constitute a great classic in American literature, maybe the greatest of our period,” Tanenhaus said. “The genius of Updike is that he throws himself and his characters into the middle of the controversies of the day. So Rabbit himself smokes pot and has sex with an 18-year-old runaway who comes from a wealthy family in Connecticut. He lets a black militant live in his house. He’s drawn to all the forces that he is appalled by. And that’s the genius of fiction—instead of lecturing us about all of this, Updike tries to bring it to life from many perspectives, and makes it feel very concrete.”

McEwan selected Rabbit at Rest as one of his five books. “Updike has been a very important writer for me, the one I’ve admired most, read most, and returned to most often,” said McEwan, who will deliver keynote remarks at the Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference hosted by the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, June 1-5 2018. “I think some of the descriptions of sex in Updike are extraordinary. I could never follow him down his route because his gift is one I’ve never hoped to emulate, which is the visual. In a sense he almost debunks or destroys the think he’s describing, because of his clinical eye, but it does take my breath away. In this realm he’s a master of the hyper-real.”

Boyd said that Updike was an inspiration because of his work ethic and productivity. “So when I’m writing a novel, I write seven days a week until it’s finished,” he said. But he doesn’t agree with McEwan that Updike was the greatest novelist writing in English at the time of his death in 2009. “I think Updike was a brilliant novelist and stylist and also a brilliant critic. But I gave up. I couldn’t keep up with Updike. I think that the short stories are his great legacy. I think the novels are all rather uneven and not fully achieved, with the possible exception of Couples. But Couples is another one of those books that I read at a very young age and it blew me away. Again, I must have been 19 or so when I read it, and for me it was like a window being opened onto the adult world, a world I was about to enter. I suddenly thought that this man understands human nature and the human condition in a way that I had never encountered before.

“That said, a lot of people regard Couples as his least successful novel because it seems overly preoccupied with sexual shenanigans in New England. I’ve gone back and re-read Couples and it holds up, for me, in ways that Catch-22 doesn’t. It’s a brilliantly well-written and observed book. But it’s relevance to me—and this is why I put it on the list—is because at the time I read it, veils were stripped from my eyes. I saw the world differently as a result of reading the book. It’s a great experience when that happens to you.”

See the full list and read the full interviews (links provided)

Writing for The Telegraph days after Tom Wolfe died, Jake Kerridge recalls a feud between Wolfe and writers who dared criticize him in public reviews—among them, John Updike.

Kerridge sides with Updike and the others. “There are many reasons to mourn Wolfe, who has died aged 88. I can’t say that the thought that he won’t write any more novels is one of them,” admits Kerridge, who reviewed Wolfe’s last “bloated” novel, Back to Blood.

As for the feud with Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving, which Kerridge says was “possibly more entertaining than anything the four of them actually published in the 1990s,”

“It began when Wolfe, who had made his name as a brilliant journalist, wrote an essay condemning modern American novelists for navel-gazing when they should be out researching and reporting on modern America.

“Norman Mailer then denounced Wolfe as a show-off, reserving his strongest contempt for Wolfe’s flamboyant dress sense,” and Wolfe “declared war, dismissing Updike (a year younger than himself) and Mailer as ‘these two old piles of bones.'”

Below is a link to the entire article, photo by The Telegraph staff:

“When writers knew how to fight: Tom Wolfe and the lost art of the literary feud”

Laguna, the largest publishing house in Serbia, announced the release of a second edition of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run in June 2018—39 years after the first edition of the novel was published in Serbian.

The first edition was published after Updike visited Serbia in 1978; the second is timed to take advantage of new interest in John Updike in Serbia as a result of the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, hosting the Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference, featuring Ian McEwan as the opening keynote speaker.

The translation is by Nevena Stefanović–Čičanović, the same as for the one published in 1979, with an afterword by Prof. Biljana Dojčinović, who is directing the Updike conference.

Dojčinović said that there is a very good chance the new edition of Rabbit, Run will be in bookstore windows when conference attendees are exploring Belgrade.

“John Updike,” for those who don’t read Serbian, is “Džon Apdajk.” Here’s a link to the announcement.


For those who are tired of reading Mother’s Day tribute after tribute, here’s a list of bad moms compiled by Tina Jordan and Susan Ellingwood for The New York Times and published, ironically, on May 12, 2018–Mother’s Day:

“8 of the Worst Moms in Literature; Think your mother was harsh? These books will convince you that she deserves a Mother of the Year Award.”

Updike’s Janice Angstrom (Rabbit, Run) makes the list.

“‘Rabbit’ Angstrom’s wife, Janice—often found ‘highball in hand, glued to the television set’—drunkenly allows their infant daughter to drown in the tub.'” There’s a link, too, if you’re a paid subscriber, to the Times‘ Nov. 6, 1960 review of Rabbit, Run by David Boroff, who calls it a “moving and often brilliant novel.”

Rabbit, of course, has to share the blame . . . so I guess that means he could turn up on a bad dad list come Father’s Day.

Jim Chatfield, a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension, referenced T.S. Eliot and John Updike in his column, “Plant Lovers’ Almanac: Spring and its blooms have finally arrived.”

After alluding to Eliot’s famous reference to spring as “the cruelest month,” he wrote, of Updike,

“Dogwoods were important to one of my favorite writers, John Updike (1932-2009). In his 1965 autobiographical essay ‘The Dogwood Tree: A Boyhood’ he wrote:

“‘When I was born, my parents and my mother’s parents planted a dogwood tree in the side yard of the large white house in which we lived throughout my boyhood. This tree . . . was, in a sense, me.’

“This Shillington, Pa., tree was actually planted on John’s first birthday, according to his mother. John Updike wrote in 1965 that ‘My dogwood tree still stands in the side yard, taller than ever . . .’ and it still lives today.”

It might interest Prof. Chatfield to know that The John Updike Society is cultivating a cutting/graft taken from the still-thriving dogwood, since the tree has already lived longer than the typical pink dogwood. So when it does finally die, as all organic things must, a clone of it will grow in its place. Below is a photo of Updike’s dogwood, taken this past week by Dr. Susan Guay, director of The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington.

Professor Biljana Dojčinović, from the Dept. of Comparative Literature and Theory of Literature, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, has released the final program for the upcoming Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference that will take place June 1-5, 2018.


Sixty-five people from 14 different countries will participate: 22 from the Republic of Serbia; 21 from the U.S.A.; three each from the U.K. and Japan; two each from Romania, Bulgaria, France, India, and the Republic of Ireland; and one each from Canada, Israel, Russian Federation, Georgia, and the Czech Republic.

The first conference the society will have held outside the U.S. is hosted by the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, with the support of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia.

Featured speakers will be writer Ian McEwan, writer-scholar Alexander Shurbanov, and slate sculptor Michael Updike, the youngest son of John Updike.

Though registration is closed, people in the area may want to take note of the McEwan keynote and the closing panel hosted by the National Library of Serbia, both of which are open to the public.

At the membership meeting on the final day, society president James Plath will announce the location of the 2020 conference.


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