December 2018

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These days everybody’s talking bucket lists, but James Mustich has compiled a reference for readers that goes beyond the token click-bait lists. In his 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List (Workman Publishing, 2018—Amazon price $23.79/cloth), Mustich covers a lot of ground but sounds almost apologetic about the volume he chose from John Updike:

“It is hard to name a major twentieth-century American writer more constant than John Updike. His commitment to his art, his puzzling over the knottiness and nobility (and inconstancy) of ordinary love, his apparent wonder at every subject he embraced, and his delight in the vocabulary at his command to describe them—in every aspect, Updike was a paragon of dedication and productivity. His sentences seem to smile with his pleasure in his vocation, and the uniform physical design and typographic consistency of the many volumes he published over a half century demonstrate how he cherished and groomed his appearance as an author in the world. . . .

The Maples Stories, a collection of eighteen tales written between 1956 and 1994 about a married, then divorced, couple named Joan and Richard Maples, may seem too modest to single out from Updike’s generous oeuvre. Yet considered together, these short stories offer a probing, astute, and often poignant anatomy of a marriage that is remarkable both as a literary testament and a cultural portrait of a tumultuous period in American domestic life. Although Updike portrays the same themes on a much grander scale in his justly acclaimed sequence of Rabbit Angstrom novels, The Maples Stories, in their fleeting intimacy and atmosphere of amorous regret, distill the author’s gift for evoking emotional uncertainty into an exquisitely moving testament.”

It wouldn’t surprise us if more and more people gravitated toward the Maples rather than the Angstroms over time, especially given the more explicit sexuality in the latter.

The bulk of a recent interview Colin Drury conducted with famed British producer-director Andrew Davies was devoted to talk about his recent “nobody sings” adaptation of Les Misérables. But for Updike lovers, tantalizing news comes in the very last paragraph of The Guardian article:

“Another is a series based on John Updike’s Rabbit novels. which may be Davies first work made for a streaming service. ‘It’s early days but that might be on the cards,’ he says, mentioning both Netflix and Amazon as potential platforms. ‘It would be a thrill.’ And neither, I suggest, is averse to turning up the phwoar factor. ‘I know,’ he says and gives that mischievous laugh one last time.”

Given all the Updike books available through Amazon, it would seem a natural for them to stream the “Rabbit” series and essentially promote their entire Updike catalog.

“Just as a day may come at sunset into its most glorious hour, or a life toward the gray-bearded end enter a halcyon happiness, December golf, as long as it lasts, can seem the sweetest golf of the year,” John Updike wrote in an essay that first appeared in the December 1989 issue of Golf Digest.

That essay was recently republished and can be read online now, as so many things can.

Updike’s writings on golf were famously collected in Golf Dreams (1997)

“The course itself—its ice-edged water hazards, its newly erected snow fences—seems grateful to be visited” . . . as golfers and Updike fans are to have this essay in its entirety pop up this December.

Here’s the link.

“You seem to be, in December golf, reinventing the game, in some rough realm predating 15th-century Scotland,” Updike wrote, exhilarated by the “boarded-up clubhouse” and “naked trees” and absence of crowds in colorful clothing: “just golf-mad men and women, wearing wool hats and two sweaters each, moving on their feet” with a “running tally carried in the head of the accountant or retired banker in the group,” Updike wrote.