American Literature Facebook group post considers Updike, Roth

On the American Literature public Facebook group, Milan Milan Stankovic posted a consideration/comparison of two “Great American Writers” whose works offer “profound insights into American society, culture, and individual psychological and individual psychological complexities”:  John Updike and Philip Roth.

Stankovic considers similarities, differences, thematic preoccupations, influences and ideas, and representative works of the two authors.

“Their works remain relevant today. . . ,” Stankovic wrote.

Read the full post.

Shakespeare director: Updike’s novel captures the spirit

Edwin Woodruff, who was given a copy of Gertrude and Claudius by a cast member when he directed the play for community theater, wrote in a Patheos column that while he found Updike’s sequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet “a bit offputting” in the beginning, with a style that “seemed stilted and awkward and the analysis of everyone’s motivations and thoughts rather labored and obvious. But it grew on me as it went on.

“Some of the descriptions of nature and the changing seasons are absolutely gorgeous, and the characters—mostly Gertrude, Claudius, and Polonius—are fleshed out beautifully in ways that more or less support my own reading of the play but also enrich my understanding of it.”

His conclusion: “Gertrude and Claudius and their hapless sidekick Polonius come alive as people—deeply flawed but sympathetic people who make bad decisions for understandable human reasons,” something that might be said of most Updike novels. “It would be an interesting piece of historical fiction in its own right, but as a kind of midrash on Shakespeare it becomes much more than that.”

Pictured: Elsinore “Hamlet’s castle” in Denmark.

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.

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

Journalist recalls being Updike’s muse, returns to Shillington

Not everyone who recognizes themselves in a writer’s fiction or poetry is pleased, but William Ecenbarger took delight in recalling his 1983 interview with John Updike that inspired Updike to write “One More Interview.” Then a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ecenbarger managed to score his interview with Updike through the writer’s mother, Linda. It was no ordinary interview.

For this one, Updike got in a car with Ecenbarger and gave him a personally narrated tour of “Updike country”: Shillington, Plowville, and Reading-area boyhood haunts that factored into his fiction and poetry. That interview was partially quoted in the first chapter of Adam Begley’s biography of Updike and included in complete form in John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews.

Ecenbarger recalled that 1983 interview and a more recent trip he made to The John Updike Childhood Home in “John Updike’s Muse,” published on the InTheKnow Traveler.

Here’s the link.


Eat My News: Rabbit Recapped

The global media platform Eat My News published a primer on “Exploring John Updike’s Iconic ‘Rabbit’ Series” on October 26, 2023. For what is apparently the first installment of a series, contributor Anushka Dabhade began,

“In the realm of American literature, few authors have left as indelible a mark as John Updike. His ‘Rabbit’ series, comprising four novels that span several decades, offers readers a profound exploration of the human condition and the evolution of a character named Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. As we embark on this literary journey, we’ll unravel the complexities of these novels, their impact on readers, and the enduring legacy of John Updike.”

Dabhade ended this segment with this summary: “John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series is a literary journey that transcends time and place. Through the eyes of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, readers are invited to ponder the complexities of human existence and the ever-changing landscape of American life. As you embark on this literary voyage, you’ll discover why Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series continues to be a source of fascination and contemplation for generations of readers.”

Read what’s in-between, and apparently stay tuned.


Imaginative Conservative writer contemplates ‘wokeness’ and Updike

In “John Updike’s ‘In the Beauty of the Lilies’: The Children” (The Imaginative Conservative, Aug. 19, 2023), Daniel J. Sundahl began with two quotes from Updike:

“As to critics, it seems to be my fate to disappoint my theological friends by not being Christian enough, while I’m too Christian for Harold Bloom’s blessing. So be it,” and “The mature and well-balanced man, standing firmly with both feet on the earth, who has never been blamed and broken and half-blinded by the scandal of life, is such the existentially godless man.”

Mid-way through his essay, Sundahl remarked, “Of course there’s religion and then there’s religion and there are books and there are dirty books. . . which raises the question: Can one write about life, even life’s carnality and concupiscence, while maintaining Christian aspects?” He also, of course, attempted to answer his own question in a classical, meandering way, prompted by the last words (“the children”) of Updike’s novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies.

“I became fond over the years of the many contradictions regarding parents’ expectations about religion and literature, which included a smallish broo ha ha with a fundamentalist father when he learned his daughter would be reading a John Updike novel in an upper division American Literature course devoted to American Contemporary Fiction—the father arguing that although he had never read Updike he believed him scandalous and a writer of titillating, stylized pornography. Those are my words not his . . . which was singular: ‘dirty.’

“And he has a point and a good one, and I am not without empathy. As with many writers whose personal life and writings own a certain kind of ‘smudginess,’ greasy fingers on the pages, Updike is no exception. His embrace of realism as an artistic criterion (often concerning the breakdown of a marriage) is often passé these days and with gray humor. One question that emerges is whether a narrative Updike presents to his readers is a full and authentic report of human experience, which includes the particulars of the times and places of the narrative’s action, which would argue that Updike is a formal realist. Like his characters, he also put himself through many personal hardships. He had faults, and they were ‘smudgy’ and blurred.”

Read the whole essay.

Keillor on leaving home, mementos, and Updike

Keillor at the 2016 Updike conference with society president James Plath

The New Hampshire Union Leader recently published “Garrison Keillor: The art of leaving home.” Keillor, who was the keynote speaker at the 4th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Columbia, S.C., wrote, “The pleasure of moving is the excavation of the past. I open a box and here’s a photo of my fifth-grade class, the eager neatly-combed-and-dressed boy with glassing sitting behind John Poate is me. I am still that eager boy, heavier but anxious to do well.”

Keillor wrote that he kept “artifacts of a long life. . . . I kept all these and other souvenirs. I never listened to the show [A Prairie Home Companion] myself and I have no memorabilia from it. It would only give me remorse that the show wasn’t better than it was. John Updike told me once that he rather enjoyed reading his early work but then he was a naturally cheerful man, rare for an author. Critics resented him for that and gave him grudging reviews; they preferred writers who had suffered, been imprisoned, exiled, or at least had abusive fathers. John was too American. There wasn’t much Russian or Spanish about him. He wrote because he was good at it and he knew it.

“And now in my old age I’ve found useful work as a stand-up cheerleader for adult cheerfulness, the basic goodness of life, a counter-voice to the diversity cops and agony aunts who’ve taken over publishing, journalism, public radio and TV, and much of academia. DeSantis’s anti-woke campaign is stupidity on toast; the real problem with MacWoke is its penchant for dismal pessimism, its humorlessness. I grew up with fundamentalists who looked forward to the end of the world and now progressives do too.”

In a March 13, 2024 column for the New Hampshire Union Leader, “Mature man available for speaking, easy terms,” Keillor cited Updike again:  “And my hero John Updike, back in the days of White Male Authorship, got me into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, one of only three humorists in the club, which looks darned good on my résumé. People from my hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, look at that and think, ‘Him? He didn’t even make National Honor Society in high school. He got a B minus in English and even that was generous.'”