A Book & A Read recommends The Coup and a Saharan Martini

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 1.21.03 PMYou’ve heard of dinner and a movie? Well, why not a book and a drink? That’s what led Toronto Star‘s Bruce DeMara to come up with a book and a compatible drink every Thursday this summer.

“Reading can be thirsty work. And so, every Thursday this summer, to acknowledge that prose can inspire our minds as well as what’s in our glass, we recommend a weekend read—a book that elicits the heat, the smell, the feel of summer—and a recipe for the perfect drink accompaniment.”

His recommendation for Thursday, August 7, 2014? John Updike’s 1978 satirical novel The Coup, set in the fictional sub-Saharan African nation of Kush, and a Saharan Martini, made from Amarula cream liquor and garnished with dark chocolate shavings. The recipe is included in the article, “A Book & A Read: The Coup’s desert setting will leave you parched.”

“This is a novel that will have you feeling parched from the opening pages,” DeMara writes. “Updike’s description of desiccated trees and animals, sun-blasted rock, blistering desert and withering heat is relentless. Although the protagonist is a devout Muslim and therefore an abstainer, the novel makes passing reference to Russian vodka, palm wine, guinea-corn beer and Kaikai.”

And why is it worth the read?

“As grim as the setting may be, the novel has much to recommend it, including an array of interesting characters—among them Ellellou’s four very different wives—and a comically absurdist tone. There’s an archly satirical streak throughout, skewering colonialism, consumerism, religion and Cold War geopolitics. Updike’s prose is, as always, challenging in its detail but evocative and rewarding.”

Pictured is the Saharan Martini, photo by Chris So.


Golf Digest Updike article resurfaces

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 1.15.17 PMClick on Victor Bond’s Golf Dream blog and you’ll discover that the most recent post is “John Updike, Golfer” by David Owen, which begins, “If golfers were allowed to vote for the Nobel Prize in literature, John Updike would have won it in 1991, when The New Yorker published his short story ‘Farrell’s Caddie.'” The article-remembrance originally appeared in the April 2008 Golf Digest.

Here’s the link.

Updike makes a 10 Worst list

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.36.32 AMJohn Updike has made another list, but this time it’s a worst, rather than a best list.

His piece on “A Desert Encounter” was rated #5 on “The 10 Worst New Yorker #Longreads.” 

5. “A Desert Encounter,” John Updike

The New Yorker is a magazine for writers, writerly writers of wonderful words. These writers write with pens, using their hands to move the pens and their brains to control what their hands and thus the pens do. They are the Great Chroniclers of Life and Letters. Their names will hang weighty on the pages of the New Yorker long after they are buried beneath this dusky earth of ours, as long as there is anything article-shaped of theirs left to publish. Thus this twilight dispatch from John Updike, in which the literary colossus loses his hat.

“My sense of triumph when my wife and I agreed that the job had been completed was marred by a mysterious circumstance: my hat had disappeared.”

Updike fans can take some comfort in the fact that one of the author’s more vocal critics, Jonathan Franzen, placed #2 on the list with “Farther Away: ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ David Foster Wallace, and the island of solitude.” 

WBUR presents The John Updike Radio Files

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.46.43 AMRadio Open Source, “arts, ideas & politics with Christopher Lydon,” yesterday posted “The John Updike Radio Files,” which includes a video clip of Lydon interviewing Updike “on the occasion of his second Pulitzer win in 1991 for Rabbit at Rest, from The Ten O’Clock News.”

Adam Begley is also featured. “We’ve discovered some old gems in our radio archives and sprinkled them through a conversation with John Updike’s biographer, Adam Begley, for our show this week.

“Begley talks about Updike’s Pennsylvania boyhood, his wives and lovers north of Boston, his children, his spiritual life, his voracious reading, his travels—and how he created the most graceful prose of our time by cannibalizing all of it for his art.”

Boston’s North Shore responds to Begley bio

This morning The Boston Globe printed an article titled “Updike found ‘the whole mass of middling, hidden, troubled America’ on North Shore,” in which residents who knew Updike react to what biographer Adam Begley had to say about that chapter in Updike’s life, and Begley is quoted as well. “My feeling is that Martha and John drew up the drawbridge,” Begley writes of the Beverly Farms move.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 7.48.41 AMThere’s also a sidebar on “Updike’s North Shore homes” that has no text to speak of—just a briefly annotated list of addresses where John Updike lived from 1957-2007, with Adam Begley’s biography of Updike cited as the source.

Though the purpose of the articles aren’t stated, it’s clear that there’s plenty of interest in Updike and just as much pride that he called the Boston North Shore home for 50 years:

Little Violet, Essex and Heartbreak roads, Ipswich (1957-58)—The wood-frame cottage Updike and first wife Mary rented when they first moved to town.

Polly Dole House, 26 East St., Ipswich (1958-70)—Historic 17th-century home near downtown Ipswich, upgraded considerably while Updike lived there (pictured).

50 Labor-in-Vain Road, Ipswich (1970-74)—Larger home the Updikes and their four children lived in until John and Mary’s separation.

58 West Main St., Georgetown (1976-82)—After a brief stint living as a bachelor in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, Updike moved to Georgetown to be nearer his children.

675 Hale St., Beverly Farms (1982-2007)—The stately home near the water where Updike and his second wife, Martha, spent their later years together.

Let the literary pilgrimages begin. What other outcome could there be for an article like this?


Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson: Begley on “Mighty Mothers”

The ubiquitous Adam Begley has written a piece for The Wall Street Journal titled “Adam Begley on mighty mothers,” in which he names five books that feature dominant matriarchs. Given his recent biography of John Updike it’s no surprise that he included Updike, and even less of a surprise that the book he chose was Of the Farm, the novel that Updike has said was written about his mother. You need to subscribe to access the full article, which was published in the Bookshelf/Life & Culture section on May 16, 2014, but here’s what he had to say about Updike:

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 6.05.05 AMOf the Farm

By John Updike (1965)

4. There are only four voices in this gem of a novel, a fractious quartet performing under a spotlight in and around an elderly widow’s isolated Pennsylvania farmhouse. Joey Robinson, a 35-year-old mama’s boy, has brought his second wife, Peggy, and her young son to visit Joey’s garrulous, manipulative mother. By the second night, Joey’s mother has bullied him into agreeing that Peggy is vulgar and stupid and that divorcing his first wife was a mistake. After an emotional melee worthy of Edward Albee, mother and son achieve a kind of mutual forgiveness. But when all the skirmishes are done, and all the wounds more or less neatly bandaged, Joey and his mother engage in a bit of pointed banter about selling the farm after she is dead. She refers to it as “my farm,” and before he replies, Joey reflects: “We were striking terms, and circumspection was needed. I must answer in our old language, our only language, allusive and teasing, that with conspiratorial tact declared nothing and left the past apparently unrevised.” He says, “Your farm? . . . I’ve always thought of it as our farm.” The mother-son conspiracy endures.

The Other John Updike Archive is posting again

After a brief hiatus, The Other John Updike Archive is posting again:

“In Every Dream Home A Heartache”

“Will you still love me tomorrow?”

“And In The Beginning…”

Couples: The story you’re about to read is true…

“Celestial Seasonings (on being JUish)”

“Here’s looking up your old address”

Cape Fear Redux

“Ex Pat Updike? Not bloody likely!”

Begley on Updike and Roth

Begley’s in the news again, and so are John Updike and Philip Roth. Begley’s remarks about “Updike’s friendship with and estrangement from another great American writer, Philip Roth,” appear in the Wednesday, April 23 edition of EverydayeBook.com, posted by David Burr Gerrard:

“Philip Roth With—and Versus—John Updike, by Adam Begley” 

“The story of Updike’s relationship with Philip Roth is a sad one,” Gerrard writes. “In some ways they were perfect for each other . . . . All the way through the 1970s and 1980s, they corresponded. When they saw each other, they were like the smartest kids in the class, getting together and making barbed comments and gossiping madly and talking about literature.

“Their letters are hysterical: Roth warning Updike that it was fine for him to mine his territory in Pennsylvania, but he better be damned sure not to do anything about New Jersey; Updike sending Roth his long and very ambitious autobiographical poem called ‘Midpoint,’ crossing out the title and writing instead, ‘Poor Goy’s Complaint.’

“Then came some darker stuff,” Gerrard writes, then summarizes what caused the rift between them, concluding, “These are two of the most important writers of the second half of the century, and in cahoots they could have been brilliant. For many years, they weren’t.”

Dangerous Minds considers a Roth-Updike exchange

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 2.57.20 PMDangerous Minds, a pop culture website, recently published a piece titled “Philip Roth to John Updike: FTFY! Updike to Roth: LOL! STFU.”

In it, Martin Schneider considers literary feuds past and present, finally settling on an exchange of letters following a 1999 New York Review of Books publication of an essay on literary biography in which Updike had referenced negative remarks about Roth in a biography (Leaving a Doll’s House) published in 1996 by Roth’s ex-wife, Claire Bloom.

“Three years later, Roth was still bristling at the apparent presumption of guilt . . . . Roth wrote in to complain, resulting in one of those exquisite disputes that happen often in the pages of The New York Review of Books. Letters going each way, eye squarely on the reader, outraged rhetorical high dudgeon in abundance . . . . But this one would be short and sweet. Roth offered to rewrite a key sentence—on the Internet, you could distill part of his lengthy, indeed overlong missive as the common Internet acronym, the breezy and condescending “FTFY”: “Fixed that for you!” Updike didn’t take the bait, deciding that his original sentence was good enough, thank you very much.”

Both letters are published verbatim in the article.