Writer’s take on Rabbit, Run: still relevant today

John Updike’s works continue to resonate with today’s writers. A recent case in point is Martin Jones, whose musings on “Rabbit Run by John Updike—Walk Don’t Run” was published as an entry on his blog, Writing And So On.

“We float above events, seeing them from the perspective of different characters, sometimes switching viewpoint over the space of a paragraph,” Jones wrote. “Rabbit, Run expresses a desire to transcend ordinary life, while also suggesting—in the manner of Ecclesiastes—that the only meaningful escape available to us lies in ordinary things. In the end, Rabbit, Run does not promise any kind of silly nirvana, but it does suggest a more liberating and interesting way of looking at the non-nirvana in which we spend our days.”

Novelist Spotlight podcast focuses on Updike, features Schiff

On May 3, 2024, the “Novelist Spotlight: Interviews and insights with published fiction writers” blog looked in the rear-view mirror to discuss a writer who, according to host and novelist Mike Consol, wrote more beautifully in English than anyone else.

“Novelist Spotlight #153: The great John Updike, revisited by James Schiff” covers a lot of ground. Schiff, a professor of English at the University of Cincinnati and the editor of The John Updike Review, responds to such questions as his personal attraction to Updike, the early charge that Updike was big on style and small on content, backstories to Rabbit, Run, Updike’s attraction to art, Updike’s juggling of work and family, the thousands of letters Updike wrote, his time at Harvard, his sexually frank and graphic language, the Couples years, his alleged feud with Tom Wolfe, and, of course, Updike’s choice of subject matter.

In Memoriam: Dorothy Huber

Dorothy Huber, who lived next door to The John Updike Childhood Home and was a wonderful neighbor during the 10 years that the society owned the property, died peacefully at age 92 on April 28, 2024.

Dorothy was a dynamic individual who worked as an office manager and accountant until she was 85. She also devoted much of her time to charity work, including service as a past president of the Reading Soroptimist International professional business women’s organization and as a member of the Berks County Prison Society where, according to her obituary, she “brought the Word of God to incarcerated individuals. Her impact was amazing, lives were changed, and the success stories made her smile; she saw this as a highlight in her life’s work.”

Dorothy also kept an eye on the Updike property and looked forward to visits from society president James Plath when he traveled from Illinois to Shillington to work on the house. The feeling was mutual. “Just about every trip included an hour or two at Dorothy’s, talking about this and that,” Plath said. “She was also very interested in Updike and the progress that we were making on the museum.”

Updike’s Shillington contact, Dave Silcox, was even closer, regularly checking on  Dorothy and bringing dinners on special occasions. It was during one of those visits with Silcox that Dorothy asked if the society would have any interest in buying an elaborate carved sideboard that came out of Clint Shilling’s house. The answer was yes.

Mrs. Updike paid Shilling to give her son art lessons when he was only five years old, so the Updike connection was a great interest. It turned out that Dorothy and Shilling were good friends, and she was told that she could take what she wanted after he passed away. She took the sideboard but also rescued a lot of Shilling’s paint scoops and brushes and some of the artwork as well.

The society bought the sideboard and many of the Shilling items from her, and they now are on display in the museum. The sideboard especially is a unique item that young John Updike would have seen when he crossed the street to take lessons from Shilling. Sometimes Shilling conducted lessons on the Updikes’ side porch, while other times young Johnny went to Shilling’s house. The sideboard meant a lot to Huber, but it meant even more to her that people would continue to enjoy it in the museum next door to her house.

Always smiling and cheerful, Dorothy had what sounds like a cliché: a perpetual twinkle in her eyes. She loved life, loved people, and loved helping people. She was a good neighbor and friend who will be deeply missed. The society offers its heartfelt condolences to Dorothy’s son, daughter, and grandchildren.

Society member to teach Updike stories in travel course

John Updike Society member Christopher Love, who directs American Writers in France study-abroad for The University of Alabama, said that he will teach Updike as one of the mid-20th century writers who resided in or traveled in France—a course he said will include James Baldwin and Jack Kerouac.

Two stories that Love plans on teaching are “Museums and Women” and “Avec La Bebe-Sitter,” but he is asking members who have advice on additional stories or have useful knowledge about connections between Updike and France, French writers, French art, etc., to email him (cslove@ua.edu). Since many society members tend to like Hemingway as well, Love added that his new non-fiction book, Crimson Code: The Price of Success, will launch at an April 27 event at a Tuscaloosa, Ala. bookstore named Ernest and Hadley.

YouTube podcaster offers a costumed Gertrude and Claudius review

Well here’s a different kind of take on John Updike’s 2000 novel that’s unlike any other:  Jordan Falotico’s YouTube Channel review of Gertrude and Claudius—Updike’s creative prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Falotico was almost as creative with their review, dressing up as both Gertrude and Claudius to deliver an acted-out on-camera assessment in character(s).

“In this little novel here, it all makes perfect sense,” Jordan-as-Gertrude said.

“Well, that concludes this episode of The Royal Tea,” Jordan-as-Claudius said. “We all hope you have a better understanding of how Gertie and I fell in love with each other and how we came to be. We hope that we were able to clear the air, put to rest some of the gossip, and answer some of your dying, fire-inside, whatever, questions.”

“Ultimately,” Jordan-as-Gertrude added, “Claudius and I think this is a great book. It clears up a lot for us. We think that Mr. Updike did a great job of really explaining the history of our love and how it came to be.”


The most popular book the year you were born?

Angel Madison and Zarah A. Kavarana scoured the best-seller and awards lists and came up with an article on The Most Popular Book the Year You Were Born, starting with 1945.

If you happen to have been born in 1981, the most popular book that year was John Updike’s Rabbit Is Rich, the third installment in the famed novelist’s Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom quartet of novels about a middle-aged middle-class American male who peaked in high school as a basketball star.

Have a look to see what was at the top of everyone’s “to read” list back when you were born.

Updike’s ‘Little Violet’ Ipswich home is for sale

If you’re a John Updike fan and an old house fan—this one was built in 1832—and if $850,000 is within your budget, you should know that J. Barret & Co. recently listed the property at 68-70 Essex Road for sale.

The house was known as “Little Violet” when Updike and first-wife Mary lived in the house for 10 months before buying the Polly Dole House on East Street in Ipswich. It was their first residence in Ipswich, where the town commemorated Updike’s presence with a plaque on the side of the Choate Bridge building where he maintained a second-floor office years later.

As a Local News story points out, Updike turned a marble-floored room at the back of Little Violet into a study where he wrote. The article notes that Updike’s first chore at any house he bought was to make sure the mailbox or mail slot was fully functional and accessible. He wrote a poem about “Planting a Mailbox” first thing after moving into Little Violet.

Updike panels set for ALA 2024

Chicago’s Palmer House will welcome back the American Literature Association Conference the end of May, once again opening its world-famous Tiffany peacock doors to scholars from all over the world.

The John Updike Society will sponsor two panels:

Friday, May 24, 11:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m. Session 10-M “Revisiting Olinger Stories(1964) at 60 and The Afterlife(1994) at 30: A Roundtable” (Salon 6)

  • Moderator: Sylvie Mathé, Aix-Marseille University, France
  • Peter Bailey, St. Lawrence University, NY
  • Biljana Dojčinović, University of Belgrade, Serbia
  • Nemanja Glintić, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China
  • James Plath, Illinois Wesleyan University
  • Matthew Shipe, Washington University in St. Louis, MO

Saturday, May 25, 8:30-9:50 a.m. Session 16-J “The Witches of Eastwick: novel (John Updike, 1984) v. film (George Miller, 1987): A Roundtable” (Salon 7)

  • Moderator: Adam Sexton, Yale University
  • Edward Allen, University of South Dakota
  • Carla Alexandra Ferreira, Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil
  • Olga Karasik-Updike, Independent Scholar, Newbury, MA
  • Robert Morace, Daemen University, Amherst, NY
  • Takashi Nakatani, Yokohama City University, Japan

Here’s a link to the most recent draft program.

Observer reader writes Updike was ‘no monk’

One of the March 10, 2024 letters to The Observer (U.K.), The Guardian‘s Sunday magazine, writes in a letter given the headline “Updike was no monk”:

“Tomiwa Owolade writes persuasively about the rewards of ritual in a simple life, but he might want to think again about describing John Updike as a “happy monk” (“Make coffee. Shower. Clean the loo. In an age of choice, rituals are the key to happiness”).

The great writer was serially unfaithful, seeking comfort in religious faith and sexual adventure. As Updike explained it: ‘If you have a secret, submerged, second life, you have somehow transcended or outwitted the confines of a single life.’ That’s one way of excusing infidelity.”
Suzy Powling
Leiston, Suffolk