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 Couples makes The Atlantic’s redefined Great American Novels list

The Great Gatsby is often cited as a contender for that elusive (and purely speculative) title of “Great American Novel,” and editors of The Atlantic used that novel as a starting point for reconsidering what that term actually means in order to construct their own list of “The Great American Novels.”

The editors decided to define “American” as having been first published in the U.S., they narrowed the field to the past 100 years (“a period that began as literary modernism was cresting”), and they approached “scholars, critics, and novelists, both at The Atlantic and outside it” asking for suggestions. Their aim: “the very best—novels that say something intriguing about the world and do it distinctively, in intentional, artful prose.” That resulted in a list of 136 books, and if you break that list down by decades it looks like this: 7 from the ’20s, 9 from the ’30s, 7 from the ’40s, 13 from the ’50s, 15 from the ’60s, 19 from the ’70s, 12 from the ’80s, 16 from the ’90s, 14 from the ’00s, 21 from the ’10s, and 3 from the current young decade—reflecting, perhaps, a fairly large familiarity factor based on the ages of those who weighed in.

“This list includes 45 debut novels, nine winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction [Updike’s two winners from the Rabbit series didn’t make the cut], and three children’s books. . . . At least 60 have been banned by schools or libraries. Together, they represent the best of what novels can do: challenge us, delight us, pull us in and then release us, a little smarter and a little more alive than we were before.”

Of Couples, one of the editors writes, “Couples caused a scandal when it was first published, but it was easy for Updike to weather. Having written a novel about suburban adultery before such novels were commonplace, he anticipated some outrage. No matter: The fainting-couch wailing only made him more famous. But what did matter to Updike were the friendships that he nuked. The book was a thinly disguised ethnography of his bored and prosperous social set in Ipswich, Massachusetts, which was torn between rigid WASPy mores and the enticements of the sexual revolution. Not all of his friends forgave him. How could they? It’s one thing to have your dinner-party pretensions and proto-polyamory exposed on the page. It’s quite another to have them rendered in precise lyrical prose by an all-time great American stylist. Nearly 60 years on, their loss is still our gain.”

Art Garfunkel includes Updike on hefty favorites list

Most lists are Top Ten or Top 100, but no one ever accused Art Garfunkel—the quieter half of the Simon & Garfunkel folk-rock duo—of being like “most.” The singer decided to log each book he read, beginning in 1968—the year that the duo’s “Mrs. Robinson,” written for The Graduate soundtrack, won Grammy Record of the Year.

Garfunkel shared all 1195 books with fans in 2013. Since then, he’s whittled down the list to 157 favorite books. Updike’s Rabbit, Run made the list. Read about the rest of Art Garfunkel’s favorite books in this Nov. 18, 2023 Far Out article by Jordan Potter.

Witches of Eastwick ranks among Susan Sarandon’s best performances

In a no-byline roundup, The Guardian (UK) compiled a list of the 20 best performances by actress Susan Sarandon, best known for Thelma and Louise (1991), Bull Durham (1988), and Dead Man Walking (1995). Those three make the list, of course, coming in at Nos. 1, 4, and 5, respectively. But Sarandon’s performance as witchy cellist Jane in John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick (1987) landed in the 7 spot.

“Sarandon knows Hollywood is ageist and sexist; she once said female actors over the age of 40 get stuck playing “witches or bitches”. Still, she makes the most of both. In Miller’s uneven, SFX-heavy adaptation of the John Updike novel, insecure cellist and music teacher Jane, is one of three Rhode Island women whose hidden, supernatural powers are unleashed when Jack Nicholson rocks up. With a light touch, Sarandon captures the agony and ecstasy of being a sex-starved, highly strung supernatural singleton. Imagine highlights from Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus, played for laughs.”

Susan Sarandon’s 20 best performances—ranked!

1, 2, 3 books and you’re out at the old ball game

Writing for the Vancouver Is Awesome website, Ryan Beil suggested “3 books about baseball to put on your summer reading list . . . and no, they aren’t Shoeless Joe or Moneyball.”

“Generally speaking, in the summer months when I’m not watching baseball, I enjoy lazing about and cracking a good book. And believe it or not, those books often feature baseball itself or baseball-adjacent ideas and themes. My obsession never takes a break,” Beil wrote.

He named “a couple of baseball books that I’ve enjoyed to add to your summer reading lists”:

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team, by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller (about running a minor league baseball team)

Winning Fixes Everything, by Evan Drellich (a book about the Astros cheating scandal that the journalist bought but has yet to read)

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, by John Updike.

“This one isn’t even a book. It’s an essay. But it does come in book form. I know because I’ve acquired it. And this time, I’ve even read it! On Sept.28, 1960, Ted Williams played his last game of baseball at the legendary Fenway Park. John Updike, then 28, was watching that day and he penned this famous essay about the experience and Ted Williams rocky life in Baseball. It’s capital “R” Romantic about baseball, just a beautiful piece of writing. I think you could even read it online. Go ahead. Google it. I dare you.

Updike on Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead


Ninety-three American writers have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction since the award was first given in 1918 to Ernest Poole for the novel His Family. Only four writers have won the prize more than once: Booth Tarkington (The Magnificent Ambersons, Alice Adams), William Faulkner (A Fable, The Reivers), John Updike (Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest), and Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys).

Erin McCarthy’s reasons for writing about “7 Pulitzer Prize-Winning Novelists” for Mental Floss aren’t divulged—only “here are a few other authors whose books have nabbed the prestigious prize”—but she reminds us of Updike’s response to Whitehead, who was nominated for his first Pulitzer in 2002 and won in 2017 and 2020, after Updike had died.

Updike said that Whitehead’s writing “does what writing should do. It refreshes our sense of the world.” Years later, the Pulitzer jury would echo that in calling The Underground Railroad “a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”

Of Updike, McCarthy wrote, “John Updike, the author of more than 25 novels, won Pulitzers for two books in his series that follows ex-athlete Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom: Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990), the latter of which ends with Rabbit’s death. In 1997, Updike described ending the series as ‘kind of a relief. … It wasn’t as sad for me as perhaps for some of my readers. Writers are cruel. Authors are cruel. We make, and we destroy.’ The character of Rabbit, Updike said, ‘opened me up. As a writer, I could see things through him that I couldn’t see by any other means.'”

Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom makes Goodreads’ 100 Best Books of All Time

“Popular” and “classic” are relative terms in the world of books, because the bottom line is often whether a book or an author is still being read. That appears to be very much the case with John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy. Updike’s story of an American middle-class Everyman landed on “Goodreads’ 100 Best Books of All Time” list. Goodreads’ lists are compiled by readers who visit the site and use it to rate books and chart their own reading progress.

See who else made the Goodreads’ 100 Best Books of All Time list.

Updike’s coven makes another best witch movie list

John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick has become one of the author’s most popular books over the past decade, and maybe that’s because the 1987 film version has become a bit of a coven classic. Yesterday another list of top witch movies included the Eastwick bunch.

“The magic of Witch Movies: A Look at the best films about Witches,” by Deepak Kumar, was posted June 3, 2023 on the Fansided website. The George Miller-directed film was the fourth one listed, after The Witch (2015), The Craft (1996), and Hocus Pocus (1993). Of the film, Kumar wrote, “The Witches of Eastwick is a dark fantasy-comedy film released in 1987. Based on the novel by John Updike, the story is set in the fictional town of Eastwick, Rhode Island and centers around three women who unexpectedly discover they possess supernatural powers.” By getting divorced, one might add.

The film had plenty of star power, with Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne, Cher as Alexandra Medford, Susan Sarandon as Jane Spofford, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Sukie Ridgemont. Future Best Actor Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins played Clyde Alden, editor of the local newspaper. Though it didn’t wow critics or audiences, The Witches of Eastwick received Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Original Score (John Williams). And it won a BAFTA for Best Special Effects.

If you visit The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa., look for The Witches of Eastwick original theater poster. Nearby, in a case that also contains items related to Updike’s appearance on The Simpsons, will be a concert program used as a prop in the film.

Rabbit, Run and 74 other novels lauded for last lines

Jules Buono of The Literary Lifestyle published a list of “75 Famous Last Lines of Books That Make the Best Book Endings,” and John Updike’s title-specific last line of Rabbit, Run made the list . . . though you have to scroll down quite a ways to read Updike’s ending: “He Runs. Ah: runs. Runs.”

If Buono ever compiles a list of the best short story titles, odds are that Updike’s “Your Lover Just Called” will probably make the list.

Adam Gopnik recommends six books

Longtime New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik‘s most recent book, The Real Work, explores how artists and exalted others reach an unsurpassed level of mastery. He considers the process and what it might mean for those mere mortals who seek inspiration or who would follow in the masters’ footsteps.

The Week used the occasion to quote Gopnik’s recommended six books:

Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell (1791)

The Most of Liebling, by A.J. Liebling (1963)

The Early Stories, by John Updike (2003)

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, by J.D. Salinger (1955)

Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust (1913)

Voltaire in Love, by Nancy Mitford (1957)

Of Updike, he writes, “Miracles of observation, evocation, and poignant emotion. Though Updike is not a writer of happy subjects—the pains of marriage, the loss of time—he makes readers happy by the sheer perfection of his craft and his deep delight in the sensual surface of the world. He sings, and we harmonize.”