U and F

Anything goes these days when it comes to online journalism, partly because so much of what passes for news is opinion posted by untrained non-professionals, but also partly because times have changed.

Just not The Times. Though a recently posted Medium story concerned The New York Times, it’s doubtful that the beacon of the news-gathering profession would run the headline “A Brief History of ‘Fuck’ in The New York Times.” But there it is, casually screaming at you with the subhead “Also fucked, fucking, fucker, motherfucker, and Airbnfuckingbs.”

As Updike fans might imagine, the author who helped push the boundaries of acceptability in literary fiction and poetry factors into the discussion. But he wasn’t the first to slip a naughty word past Times editors.

“As it turns out, a majority of the Times’ fucks over the years have slipped in by means of book excerpts, mostly novels—including what appears to be the first, in 1984, from John Irving’s A Widow for One Year: ‘Yet not even then would he regret having fucked Ruth’s mother.’ According to my archival search, the second fuck didn’t appear for another 13 years, until 1997—a John Updike character recalling that when he was ‘courting’ his wife he’d been ‘attracted to her way of saying “fuck” instead of a softer expression.’ The third appearance, in 1998, is the first figurative use—funny, given that it’s from the special prosecutor’s report on President Clinton’s sex scandal, Monica Lewinsky recorded saying she wished he would ‘acknowledge . . . that he helped fuck up my life.'”

Writer Kurt Andersen did not say what naughty word(s) he intends to search next.

Author: Dying writers left things messy, unresolved

VioletHourIn a New York Times article to promote her new book The Violent Hour: Great Writers at the End, Katie Roiphe talks about the false notion that “when someone is dying, a new, honest, generous space opens up; that in the harrowing awfulness of dying there is a directness, an expansiveness, a loosening of inhibitions, the potential for things to be said that could not be said before. But if one does actually manage to pull off a last conversation, what can it be but a few words in a lifetime of talk?”

Roiphe featured John Updike in her book and includes remarks about Updike here as well:

“I talked about John Updike’s death with his ex-wife, Mary. She told me that there were questions she wanted to ask him that only he could answer. I heard this over and over. There were questions the bereaved wanted to ask. There were mysteries or confusions that could be cleared up if only they could have engineered that last conversation.

“Updike actually wrote about this. In Rabbit at Rest, as Rabbit Angstrom lies dying, he sees on his son’s face, ‘some unaskable question.’ Rabbit feels sorry for everything he has put the kid through, his various ebullient and destructive flights from the family, for instance, but he can’t quite muster that thought into words. His son looks at him expectantly. The last conversation is perhaps just the feeling that there is something more to say.”

Here’s the full article.

Roiphe was also featured on NPR, and quoted in a story titled “With Fear, Determination And Poetry: How Great Writers Face Death,” which features an audio link as well.

On John Updike, who wrote poems in the hospital after being diagnosed with lung cancer

It was amazing. He had very little time — just weeks before he was dead. I actually went up and looked at the manuscripts and you can see in his handwriting how arduous it was. At that last moment, when most people would just be watching television or railing against the universe, that was what he did and I found it very moving. …

The poems have a sort of quality of reporting — that he’s bringing news. And he talks about writing as turning pain into honey, which I find a really beautiful way to think about what writers do: taking this incredibly awful — maybe the most awful thing that can happen to you — and turning it into honey just with words.”

Ipswich saves a part of its most celebrated tree

ElmMembers who attended the Second Biennial John Updike Conference and took the walking tour of Ipswich led by Michael Updike got to see the town’s most famous tree . . . before it had to be cut down.

Now, a part of that tree lives on at the Ipswich Library as a table.

“The table was crafted from the town’s storied American Elm tree which stood on the corner of County and East streets until it succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and was felled in 2012,” Amanda Ostuni writes in “Ipswich Library turns a beloved tree into a unique piece of furniture.”

“The tree was more than 250 years old and was referenced in the writings of John Updike. When it was felled, the Ipswich Shade Tree and Beautification Committee decided to distribute the wood among local artisans, woodworkers, furniture makers and builders to use to craft special items.”

The Friends of Ipswich Library commissioned craftsman Fred Rossi of Manchester to create a table out of the wood.

“‘It’s a round 36-inch diameter table that sits in front of the fireplace [in the Rogers reading room] and they wanted to preserve the history of the tree,’ said Rossi. ‘So I came up with a design that would be round, invoking a section of the tree, but made it in 16 sections that radiated out.'”

See also:  “True to the tree: Library to unveil Ipswich Elm Table.”

Boston Common offers tour of Updike’s old North Shore home

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 9.12.20 AMThe current owners of a grand Georgian home on the North Shore where Updike lived for years have opened the house for a Boston Common Magazine tour, complete with three photos of the Haven Hill house as it looks now:

“A Tour of John Updike’s Former North Shore Home”

The article, written by Alexandra Hall, begins with a quote from Updike:  “‘Every novelist becomes, to a degree, an architect,’ wrote the revered John Updike in 1985. ‘A novel itself is, of course, a kind of dwelling, whose spaces open and constrict, foster display or concealment, and resonate from room to room.’

“It’s a telling analogy from a man who viewed both his writings and his homes as such personal endeavors. And when design consultant Suzanne Eliastam was approached by the new owners of one of the late author’s most beloved abodes—a grand Georgian home on the North Shore named Haven Hill, where Updike lived for hears—she took that sentiment to heart in redecorating it.”

We’re told that one of its “most impressive pieces is something Updike left behind:  a huge mirror, almost 10 feet tall, framed in wood with gold leaf. It shared space in the living room with the original fireplace, both of which were left untouched while the room was renovated.”

Writer connections don’t sell houses, the Globe says

The Boston Globe printed an article today titled “A famous writer slept here, but do house buyers care?” in which Updike’s Beverly Farms house was mentioned.

“What does a literary reputation do for the value of a house? Not much, according to local brokers. Although news that Salinger’s house is for sale has gone global, the listing broker, Jane Darrach, said that the words written by an unknown wordsmith trump best-seller status: ‘Location, location, location.'”

“And yet . . . if the seller is willing to name drop (not all are, the broker selling John Updike’s Beverly Farms house, following his death, in 2009, had to sign a confidentiality agreement), brokers say it can’t hurt.”