Nobel laureate cites Updike influence

Turkish novelist and playwright Orhan Pamuk, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, is now his country’s best-selling and most prominent writer. His books have sold more than 13 million copies internationally, with Snow, a novel that captures the sociopolitical milieu of 21st-century Turkey, drawing extra attention for its narrator, whom readers are meant to interpret as Pamuk himself.

Pamuk talked with The Saturday Paper writer Amal Awad about his most recent novel, Nights of Plague, which he began before the pandemic and which Awad described as a “historical murder mystery set on the imaginary Mediterranean island of Mingheria during an epidemic” of bubonic plague, adding “it’s Pamuk’s Moby-Dick, weighing in at nearly 700 pages.”

During their interview, Awad said that they talked “about criticism—both literary and hate speech—how the Turkish media is full of people expressing their hatred of him. ‘They haven’t read anything [I’ve written] and I’m proud to say that,’ Pamuk says, laughing. ‘If a literary criticism hurts, there are two criteria. One, it damages economically, the book won’t sell; that is very bad. And the other is you actually have a high opinion of this person and you want his approval.’

“Pamuk rarely worries about the latter nowadays,” Awad wrote, “but he says he has benefited from literary criticism and acknowledgment from his elders throughout his life. ‘John Updike made me famous in the United States,’ he says. ‘A critic who is 30 years older than me, made me in Turkey. There’s always been good, nice critics.'”

Read the whole article.

McEwan talks about the assault on Rushdie and on literary reputations

Lisa Allardice recently interviewed Ian McEwan for The Guardian (“Ian McEwan on ageing, legacy and the attack on his friend Salman Rushdie: ‘It’s beyond the edge of human cruelty'”). The occasion was the release of Lessons, the new novel by McEwan, who was the keynote speaker at the 5th Biennial John Updike Society conference at the University of Belgrade, Serbia.

McEwan at the University of Belgrade

The nearly 500-page novel, which mentions the fatwa against Rushdie, is “far longer than McEwan’s characteristically ‘short, smart and saturnine’ novels, as John Updike summed up in a 2002 review of Atonement,” Allardice wrote. “McEwan’s ambition with Lessons, his 18th novel, was to show the ways in which ‘global events penetrate individual lives,’ of which the fatwa was a perfect example. ‘It was a world-historical moment that had immediate personal effects, because we had to learn to think again, to learn the language of free speech,’ he says.”

“Billed as ‘the story of a lifetime,’ it is in many ways the story of McEwan’s life. ‘I’ve always felt rather envious of writers like Dickens, Saul Bellow, John Updike and many others, who just plunder their own lives for their novels,’ he explains. ‘I thought, now I’m going to plunder my own life, I’m going to be shameless.'”

“‘I’ve read so many literary biographies of men behaving badly and destroying their marriages in pursuit of their high art. I wanted to write a novel that was in part the story of a woman who is completely focused on what she wants to achieve, and has the same ruthlessness but is judged by different standards,’ he explains. ‘If you read Doris Lessing’s cuttings they will unfailingly tell you that she left a child in Rhodesia.'”

Asked whether, at age 75, he worries about his legacy, McEwan responded, “I’d like to continue to be read, of course. But again, that’s entirely out of one’s control. I used to think that most writers when they die, they sink into a 10-year obscurity and then they bounce back. But I’ve had enough friends die more than 10 years ago, and they haven’t reappeared. I feel like sending them an email back to their past to say, ‘Start worrying about your legacy because it’s not looking good from here.'”

Allardice wrote, “He was greatly saddened by what he describes as ‘the assault on Updike’s reputation’; for him, the Rabbit tetralogy is the great American novel. Saul Bellow, another hero, has suffered a similar fate for the same reasons, he says. ‘Those problematic men who wrote about sex—Roth, Updike, Bellow and many others.'”

“We’ve become so tortured about writing about desire. It’s got all so complex,’ he says. ‘But we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Desire is one of the colossal awkward subjects of literature, whether it’s Flaubert you’re reading or even Jane Austen.'”

Read the whole interview.

What author cracks up Jerry Seinfeld? Would you believe John Updike?

An interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld that originally appeared as a New York Times “By the Book” interview turned up on a number of sites, including a blog by Jack Limpert, editor of The Washingtonian for more than 40 years. Here are some of the exchanges:

Asked if he reads much fiction, Seinfeld said, “When I used to read more, I really loved John Updike and John Irving. Updike, to me, was insane. I love microscopic acuity and I thought he was untouchable in that: the fineness, and the smallness of things that he would describe so well.

What was the last book that made him laugh?

“I don’t really laugh reading books,” Seinfeld said. “It’s pretty hard to laugh when you’re reading—the written word is tough. I mean, the Updike stuff is funny to me. You know, describing the circles of water under someone’s toes when they get out of the pool. That makes me laugh more than anything, that he would zero in on that.”

Which three writers, dead or alive, would he invite to a literary dinner party?

“Well, Updike I mentioned. I think David Halberstam would be a great dinner guest. And I’m into this Marx Brothers thing now, so I would like to sit with this guy [Robert] Bader for dinner. And Lincoln! I consider him to be a great writer.”

What does he plan to read next?

“I’m out of stuff, but along the same lines as John Updike I might give Nicholson Baker a shot.”

Read the whole interview.

Comedian Baddiel cites Updike as a writer of influence

The Guardian [U.K.] books section has an ongoing feature on “The books of my life,” and earlier this year comedian David Baddiel was featured.

David Baddiel (Photo: Pal Hansen/The Guardian)

The book that changed him as a teenager?
Ways of Seeing by John Berger, at 18. It introduced me to the idea that what we assume to be natural is often ideological. In the book, this is primarily about art (particularly how images of women in art are utterly encoded with the male gaze) but I took from it an understanding that nearly everything we create, indeed think, has an underlying unconscious ideological component.”

The writer who changed his mind?
“John Updike. Again when I was 18, I read it without realising it was part of a sequence of books, Rabbit Is Rich. It converted me to the idea that, as Updike puts it, the job of art is to give the mundane its beautiful due—that if you are a good enough writer, your prose can make everything, even the most microscopic and ordinary things in life, rich and strange.”

Read the entire interview.

Eleanor Wachtel interview with Updike remains one of the best

John Updike supersleuth Dave Lull dug up another interview for us to add to our resource page of Updike interviews and readings online, but it’s good enough to call people’s attention to on the blog. Eleanor Wachtel did a very fine interview with Updike in Toronto, 1996, for an episode of her CBC Radio One series Writers & Company. He covers old ground but in new ways.

Here’s the link.


Son of a Dentist! An old interview with John Updike surfaces

John Updike famously hated giving interviews, but when his Ipswich dentist had his drill in his mouth and asked, “My son would like to interview you for his school paper. Would that be okay?” it’s tough to say no. Impossible, even.

Bob Waite, whose interview—“Column: Updike interview proved drill mightier than the sword (or pen)”—appeared in yesterday’s Ipswich News—recalled that 1965 interview and shared Q&A excerpts he found in a box. Among the questions:

What do you consider your major work up to this time?  That is a very difficult question. Of the four novels I have written, each was the best I could do at the time. If I had to pick one it would probably be The Centaur. Of my short stories, my next book, Olinger which will come out next year, is my best.

I have read some of your books and have noticed a lack of endings. Do you have a special reason for using this style?  I do not believe in artificial endings. A conventional ending doesn’t fit real life. (But) all of my books are written towards an ending I have in mind. I don’t just chop the end off when I get tired.

Do you find you often unknowingly use actual persons and occurrences in your writing?  No. If I do it, I do it knowingly. In general, I try not to translate real things into fiction. But I find it almost unavoidable to refrain from mixing fact with fiction.

A few unkind things were said about your last book, Of the Farm. What is your general opinion of critics?  I don’t have a general opinion of critics. It all depends on the critic. Being a critic is a very difficult thing to do well. I think there’s a lot of propaganda going on about books. If a book cannot defend itself, then it cannot be defended.

Do you have any favorite authors or persons who have influenced your writing?  Many, beginning with my parents and my wife. As for authors, I would have to say James Thurber, Henry Green, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, J.D. Salinger, and Ernest Hemingway all influenced me.

Read the whole interview.


Musician Rufus Wainwright fights Covid with Updike

In the recent Rolling Stone feature “Year in Review: So, How Was Your 2020, Rufus Wainwright?” the musician responded to a series of questions, including whom he’d want to quarantine with (“Carrie Fisher—mainly because I miss her so much”), an old album he turned to for comfort (Randy Newman’s Trouble in Paradise), and his favorite TV show to stream while in isolation (Victoria. Good old family Royal fun without the drugs and divorces).

And the best book he read during quarantine?

Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

Photo: Tony Hauser

Updike’s advice to young writers

John Updike’s writing tips appear in a nearly two-minute video published by ​Melville House​: “John Updike’s Writing Advice is Something All Writers Should Try,” by Stephanie Valente.

Updike offers young writers insight and advice for the writing process: “Develop actual work habits. Reserve an hour or more a day to write,” Updike says.

Updike advises writers to simply “read what excites you. Even if you don’t imitate it, you will learn from it.” He also points out the bitter-sweet reality: “Don’t try to be rich,” Updike says. “Writers work to entertain and instruct a reader.”

Watch the full video here.

Christian Humanist Profiles podcast features Updike scholar

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.

Updike 1978 Serbian interview translated

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