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We’re just learning about it now, but the podcast series Christian Humanist Profiles interviewed Michael Farmer last year about his book, Imagination and Idealism in John Updike’s Fiction. Nathan P. Gilmour asked the questions for the podcast “Christian Humanist Profiles 115,” which he introduced by talking about the philosophy of religion:

Immanuel Kant famously distinguished between things, existing as they are, impervious to our mental probings, and objects, those pieces of our world that only come to us as organized and mediated by senses and understanding and concepts.  Later on, philosophers who would come to be called existentialists–whether they liked it or not–came to regard the imagination, our mental power of organizing and even shaping our world, as one of the core realities of human existence.  Michial Farmer, in his recent book Imagination and Idealism in John Updike’s Fiction, follows the course of imagination as a weapon, an escape, and sometimes even as a mode of redemption in John Updike’s novels and stories and poems, and today he’s joining us on Christian Humanist Profiles not as interviewer but as author” (In “Christian Humanist Profiles 195: The Watchmen” Farmer interviewed Gilmour and David Grubbs about Alan Jacobs’ essay by that title).

Echoing Updike himself, Farmer says that “the work of art is an act of seeing” that “creates a new world.” He says that Updike’s writing depicts a world where “humanity wrestles with the material world and ritual longings.”

Farmer describes the “mechanized universe” as both attractive and repelling. “Updike is fascinated by science, and he’s terrified by it,” Farmer says. “He sees a universe that is meaningless, but he can’t accept that, and something deep within him revolts against it.”

Farmer suggests that Updike’s philosophy aligns, to some degree, with atheist existentialism. “Updike conceives of faith as an act of the imagination where you’re imprinting meaning on an apparently meaningless universe,” Farmer says. “Whatever meaning you’re going to find in the universe, you’re going to put into the universe.”

The theory of “parents forming a mythology for their children” also comes up. Farmer wonders whether Updike’s mother served as a “mythological figure” in both life and fiction as she “dominated his early life and central trauma of his childhood.”

Farmer emphasizes the dependence of the mind in forming the fundamental meaning for life. He concludes, “the only solution to the loss of faith in the modern world is to increase the imagination.”

Listen to the podcast here.

In the Voices section of the April 3, 2018 Reading Eagle, Oley Valley High School freshman Wesley Martin offered a review of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, a book that, published 57 years ago, must have felt like a relic of the Mark Twain sort. But if Martin is any indicator of his generation, Updike’s celebrated second novel is still relevant . . . in a mixed-bag way.

Rabbit, Run is difficult to get through at parts, but overall it is a thought-provoking and moving novel that I will surely read again as an adult,” Martin writes.

“The best aspect of the book by far was the writing style. Updike is an incredible writer. His descriptions of Rabbit’s dull, suburban word are usually clear and elegant, but sometimes he goes overboard. Most of the characters’ natures and motivations are well fleshed out and realistic, though I found many of the women to be one-dimensional.

“Though Rabbit is very unlikable, I found his struggle to find some kind of meaning in his adult life with his best days behind him very tragic and fascinating. Updike is excellent at making the reader feel sorry for a man who makes terrible decisions,” Martin writes.

In the words of this young man, the novel followed Rabbit “through a series of foolish, spur-of-the-moment decisions. It is an occasionally comical, often cringe-inducing story” because of the “treatment of women,” which Martin says was “very difficult for me to stomach.” Maybe that accounts for the B+ he gave the book, rather than an A. Here’s a link to the online version.

Updike scholars who know James Schiff’s John Updike Revisited (1998) will find this familiar ground. But Books Tell You Why recently published an article by Brian Hoey titled, “Hawthorne Heights: How John Updike Rewrote The Scarlet Letter, which focuses on Updike’s reimagination of Hester Prynne in his novel S.

As Hoey writes, “The novel was, in many ways, meant as a rebuttal to the critics who have questioned Updike’s ability to create well-rounded female characters.” Hoey notes that Updike strove “for a sympathetic portrait of middle-aged womanhood, while also having a little fun at the expense of enlightenment-seekers as a group.”

Hoey posits that “any criticism of [Updike’s] work gives him an opportunity to improve his craft.” The Witches of Eastwick was another attempt “to write about women who did have careers of a sort” and who were “much more dynamic than the men”—issues that remain current today.

“If the novel were reevaluated now, in an era where examinations of the ways in which society shames women seems especially urgent,” Hoey suggests, “it would be found worthy of its inspiration.” But he worries that “readers would find that beneath Updike’s trademark lyricism.”

Read the full article here

The New York Times just published a review of Lorrie Moore’s collection of essays and reviews, See What Can Be Done, which included the acclaimed author’s review for John Updike’s early short stories.

As Dwight Garner writes, “Reviewing a collection of John Updike’s early short stories (she deeply admires them), Moore recalls that Updike said he left New York City because it was ‘overrun with agents and wisenheimers.’ She ushers in ‘a literary friend of mine’ to catch the vague aroma of anti-Semitism there. ‘Agents and wisenheimers,’ the friend asks. ‘Is that Shillington, Pennsylvania, for ‘Hymietown?’”

Moore’s “great feelers” for fictional works allow her to notice “the way ordinary friendship is largely missing from Updike’s work.” She also recalled Updike leaving New York because it was “overrun with agents and wisenheimers,” which her “literary friend” noted as emitting “the vague aroma of anti-Semitism.”

Updike’s name comes up more than once. In another reference, Garner writes, “Three panegyrics to Alice Munro are two too many. Upon arriving at the third, I thought of the older editor at The New York Times Book Review who said to me early in my tenure there: ‘If I have to read another thousand words about John Updike, I am going to hurl myself out that goddamn window.’”

He notes as well, “In her reviews of fiction (by Margaret Atwood, Joan Silber, Bobbie Ann Mason, Philip Roth, Stanley Elkin and Richard Ford, among many others), she has great feelers. She notices the way ordinary friendship is largely missing from Updike’s work.”

Read the full article here

Somewhere in a Guardian article about a recent auction of Sylvia Plath miscellany there’s a comparative mention of the value of author typewriters, and Updike’s name comes up:

“. . . a proof of The Bell Jar, complete with her corrections, sold for £60,000; her own first edition of the novel, poignantly signed and dated “Christmas 1962”, a few weeks before her death, went for £70,000; and the typewriter on which she wrote it, a mint green Hermes 3000, for £26,000. This puts Plath’s typewriter comfortably above Jack Kerouac’s, also a green Hermes, which pulled in $22,500 (£16,000), and John Updike’s $4,375 (£3,110) — but below the £56,250 paid for Ian Fleming’s gold-plated Royal and the stunning $254,500 (£181,000) for Cormac McCarthy’s humdrum Olivetti.”

According to the unsigned Books Blog article, Plath is so hot right now that “Even Wordsworth and Napoleon couldn’t compete with Plathinalia going under the hammer this week—including clothes, a typewriter and her thesaurus.”

The positive takeaway for Updike collectors and, more importantly, those inclined to purchase and donate items to The John Updike Childhood Home, John Updike items remain affordable.

Today John Hoyer Updike would have marked his 86th birthday, and in recent days several articles have surfaced that would have pleased him enough to seem like thoughtful presents.

Yesterday, we heard from a former fact-checker for The New Yorker, where Updike enjoyed working as “Talk of the Town” reporter. In “These Days I Miss John Updike, a Remote and Noble Male Mentor,”written for The New York Times, Caitlin Shetterfly writes about her “literary hero”  whose Maples stories she had addressed in her college thesis. She talks about Updike’s kind mentoring and a letter she received from him that she still keeps by her desk. And she talks, by contrast, about another man at The New Yorker, a married man from whom she received  “inappropriate attentions” and who one day “leaned in, suddenly, and kissed” her. The difference was striking.

She writes, “I’ll be the first to admit that the themes of adultery and overt and detailed sexuality in Updike’s stories sometimes made me slightly queasy. But there was nothing in them that ever smacked of the predatory; on the contrary, it was his fastidious honesty, his euphoric interest in sexuality, that rattled and embarrassed me.” Updike seemed a gentleman to her, both in his fiction and his personal life.

A day earlier, in “Why time isn’t up for Updike,” Diana Evans, writing for the Financial Times, noted that while the writer’s stock has slumped in the #MeToo era, she still finds inspiration in Updike’s acute depictions of domestic life. She also drew a distinction between Updike’s treatment of sexuality in his fiction and the kind of one-sided, predatory sexuality that women are saying “Times Up” to.

Two women in two days, writing about Updike’s fictional male-female sexuality, have concluded essentially the same thing:  that there was mutual interest and consent, and that Updike was a master at describing the complicated and curious force that pulls people toward each other’s flesh.

If there was a more thoughtful gift to be given in this age of justifiable women’s outrage, we’re not sure what it would be.

Happy 86th.

 

 

When the John Updike Society holds its first conference outside the United States, hosted by the Faculty of Philology at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, June 1-5, it will be the largest-ever international gathering devoted to Updike studies.

Here are brief bios of the speakers, presenters, and moderators, who come from 14 different countries:

JUS5 program participants

Lehigh University Press will re-release John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews, edited by James Plath, in paperback on March 15, 2018. That’s good news for individuals who didn’t want to put out $105.00 for the hardcover version that was published in 2016. The paperback price at Amazon.com is $49.99.

As James Schiff, editor of The John Updike Review, writes in a descriptive blurb, “Once again, Jim Plath delivers a deeply engaging and important collection of Updike interviews. Stitching together 44 profiles and interviews conducted by a range of figures–-Terry Gross, local journalists from the Reading Eagle, a high school student–-Plath, who adds his own introductory and concluding observations, proves a knowledgeable and emotionally invested guide. John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews will appeal not only to general readers, academics, and students, but to those interested in listening to a writer who could string together sentences as beautifully as any figure from American literature. In taking its author back to the state he left in 1950, John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews is a homecoming story that casts a spell and radiates with Updike’s life-long affection for Pennsylvania. Plath has been a major player in Updike studies, and his latest effort should be required reading for those wishing to know more about the wunderkind from Shillington.”

The cover photo of Updike at the Plowville farmhouse is by David Updike.

Amazon link

With their website under construction, Clouds Hill Books of Village Station, N.Y. has emailed their John Updike – Fall 2017 List to people on their mailing list. We post it here as a courtesy to those who collect Updike.

Since we notice that many of the items come from the collection of one of The John Updike Society members, we wanted to remind everyone that the Society has been actively seeking DONATIONS of archival and Updike-related materials. Selling your collection puts items in the hands of individual collectors and deprives the public; donating your collection (or even just some of the more significant or appropriate items) to The John Updike Society for The John Updike Childhood Home makes those items available to researchers and also rotational display at the house, so that future generations can appreciate and benefit from the items you’ve collected. An additional option is to donate items to the archive at Alvernia University that the society began and subsequently donated to Alvernia before the childhood home was purchased and turned into a museum and literary center.

To make arrangements to donate to The John Updike Society, contact James Plath, jplath@iwu.edu.

To make arrangements to donate to The John Updike Collections of the Alvernia University Archives and Special Collections, contact Sharon Neal, sharon.neal@alvernia.edu.

Both organizations are 501 c 3 tax-exempt non-profits, and your donations to either of them are 100 percent tax deductible.

You spent your life collecting Updike; keep your life entwined with Updike by donating your collection so that your name can be forever linked to Updike and the items you donated.

The John Updike Society will hold its 5th biennial conference in Belgrade, Serbia the first week of June 2018, and all are welcome to attend (registration information). The conference celebrates Updike abroad, Updike in translation, and the 50th anniversary of the publication of Couples. This interview on “Where the Couples Are Today” covers all three of those bases:  it was conducted in Belgrade, it’s newly translated, and it focuses on Couples.

Updike gave the interview to the daily Politika while he was in Belgrade in October 1978, and it was published on the 19th. The interview was translated recently by Jasna Todorovic, a doctoral student of John Updike Society board member Biljana Dojcinovic. Below are the pages as they were published. Here is the translation: WHERE THE COUPLES ARE TODAY

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