John Updike had a reputation for finding just the right word or phrase to describe something, and one of his spot-on descriptions was recently cited by Treble “zine” reviewer Jeff Terich.

In “Premiere: Biblical space out on new track ‘Fugue State,'” a review from the album The City That Always Sleeps, Terich notes its “tense build-up that releases with an atmospheric, almost shoegazey texture.”

Terich quotes the Toronto band‘s lead vocalist and bassist, Nick Sewell, who implies that Updike was an inspiration:

“We were determined to explore some new sounds for this record and ‘Fugue State’ definitely falls into that category. More than any other song on the record, it really operates with a sense of open space. That gave us plenty of room to experiment, specifically with the vocals which turned out to have a sort of morbid ‘Pet Sounds’ vibe.

“Lyrically, the song is a classic rumination on existential dread—the type you might have in the middle of the night after waking from a bad dream. There’s a poem by John Updike called ‘Perfection Wasted’ that I kept coming back to. It rides a fine line between dry, sardonic wit and tenderness. Definitely the qualities I was hoping to capture with ‘Fugue State.’”

“Perfection Wasted” was included in The Best American Poetry 2016, edited by Edward Hirsch and David Lehman.

It’s been out for quite a while, but it’s just come to our attention that John Updike is included in the sportswriting anthology Ted Williams: Reflections on a Splendid Life (Northeastern, 2003), edited by Lawrence Baldassaro and with a foreword by Dom DiMaggio.

As the Amazon description notes:

“It features thirty-five articles by celebrated sportswriters and best-selling authors, including Al Hirschberg (“Handsome Bad Boy of the Boston Red Sox”), Red Smith (“Ted Williams Spits”), Bud Collins (” ‘Saint’ Goes Marching In”), Peter Gammons (“Williams an Unquestioned Hit with Him”), Ed Linn (“The Kid’s Last Game”), John Updike (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”), Donald Hall (“The Necessary Shape of the Old-Timers’ Game”), John Underwood (“Going Fishing with the Kid”), Stephen Jay Gould (“Achieving the Impossible Dream: Ted Williams and.406”), and David Halberstam (“The Perfectionist at the Plate”). Taken together, the pieces offer a vivid mosaic of a true American great who is admired and respected as much by today’s ballplayers and fans as those of his own generation.”

From the Publishers Weekly review:

“A well-selected collection of articles about baseball great Ted Williams, this volume works on many levels. A slice of 20th-century American literature, it chronicles the evolution of sports journalism from Red Smith to Pete Gammons while showcasing selections from literary giants like John Updike and Donald Hall. Arranged chronologically, the collection works as a biographical collage and stunning account of the cyclical nature of American hero worship. Not surprisingly, several less flattering pieces on the cantankerous Williams are included, but instead of detracting from Williams’s legend they help present a comprehensive picture of a man so captivating that more than half this volume’s works were written after his 1960 retirement. Collectively, these articles tell readers almost as much about the featured writers as they do about the slugger himself. This is partly attributable to Williams’s image as the reluctant hero, but also to the fact that Williams courted both favor and disdain with his single-minded determination to make himself the world’s greatest hitter, fisherman, combat pilot and philanthropist, all pursuits as solitary as putting pen to paper. So many of the writers insert themselves into their stories as a means of explaining Williams’s complex personality that the underlying similarity between the slugger and the writers becomes a theme of the collection, exemplifying Williams’s irresistible lure for reporters, novelists, poets and even mathematicians. Thanks to this unprecedented connection between athlete and authors, this compilation stands as a fitting literary epitaph for a man who may never get one set in stone. Illus. not seen by PW.”

Dr. Fred Andrea, pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church, wrote a column on “Faith and Values: How far is away?” for the Aiken Standard in which he begins,

“John Updike’s novel, Rabbit, Run, centers on a man who cannot accept responsibility and, therefore, lives each day with the suffocating feeling of being trapped. Confronted with a decision or a demand, he runs away. When the novel concludes, he is still unable to cope. His marriage is in shambles, his family life is conflicted, his friends have all abandoned him. Miserable and frustrated, he still cannot decide what to do, and so avoids doing anything. The final scene is set on a summer evening and reads as follows:

“‘As he goes down the stairs, worries come as quick as the sound of his footsteps. Guilt and responsibility slide together like substantial shadows inside his chest. Outside in the air his fears coalesce. Afraid, really afraid, he remembers what once consoled him—and lifted his eyes to the unlit windows of a nearby church.’

“‘Rabbit comes to the curb, but instead of going to the right and around the block, he steps down with as big a feeling as if this little side street is a wide river – and runs. His hands lift of their own, and he feels the wind on his ears, even before his heels hitting the pavement at first, but with an effortless gathering, out of a kind of sweet panic, growing lighter and quieter and quicker, he runs. Ah, runs. RUNS!'”

Before shifting to talk about the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who also ran away, Andrea asks, “How many persons at this very hour are running away, trying to hide or to escape? Some do it in the name of liberation, believing they are free only when they have no limiting obligation or responsibilities. Others run away to avoid facing themselves, and some are running away from love and from God.”

Read the whole column.

The Silicon Valley period drama Halt and Catch Fire, an AMC original TV series about the computer revolution and the emergence of the Internet, recently aired its two-part Season 3 premiere, and Updike-savvy viewers will have recognized that the story Joe reads to Cameron in the episode “Signal to Noise” is none other than the frequently anthologized “Pigeon Feathers.”

It’s a double stroll down memory lane, as the show reminds viewers that when the World Wide Web first debuted, there were no graphic browsers at all, UPROXX reports.

“‘Halt And Catch Fire’ Takes Another Leap In Its Final Season Premiere”

When you see an article titled “The Best Books Based in Every State” at Travel + Leisure magazine, you expect John Updike to turn up as the choice for Pennsylvania. After all, two of the “Rabbit” novels won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But this new article from Lydia Mansel names Jerry Spinell’s Maniac Magee as the best book from the Keystone State: “Jeffrey Lionel ‘Maniac’ Magee is now an orphan and looking for a home in a town in Pennsylvania, a town based on the author’s childhood home in Norristown. He’s also a local legend, thanks to his athleticism and courage.”

Updike still turns up on the list, though, as author of the best book set in Rhode Island:  The Witches of Eastwick. “In a quaint coastal town in Rhode Island there are three witches—Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie—who developed powers after losing their husbands to death or divorce. Soon, Darryl Van Horne moves in, and all kinds of chaos ensue. Seduction, humor, and revenge reign in John Updike’s magical little town of Eastwick.”

The refereed academic journal Al-Ustath, sponsored by the University of Baghdad, recently published an “Islamist Critique of American Society: An Analysis of John Updike’s Terrorist and Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Assistant Professor Azhar Hameed and Assistant Lecturer Afrah And Al-Jabbar.

In this paper, I will show how the American writer John Updike (1932-2009) and the Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid (1971- ) criticize the American society. They push their readers to think hard about America’s culture and place in the world. They both encourage the readers to a more extensive understanding of terrorism in the post–9/11 era , and they refuse to put all the blame on the shoulders of the terrorists. They narrate the justifications for terror in ways that invite, if not sympathy, then understanding. In this paper, I will demonstrate how both Hamid and Updike allow for a broader, and more troubling understanding of Islamic terrorism in a time when every attempt to know how the terrorist thinks and lives was considered abomination. They argue that understanding the motivations and causes of terrorism helps to frame a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. I have made a selection of two novels by those two culturally different writers and emphasized their similar attack of the American society.

A full-text PDF of the article is available through the link above.

The 2016 (Vol. 13:3) issue of CS Canada’s Studies in Literature and Language features an essay on Updike by Quingzheng Liu, “Paradise Pursuit in John Updike’s Works.” 

“In the “Rabbit” series and The Centaur, the disappearance of human ideal world and unpleasant work and daily life are revealed from different angles by the author Updike, in which their protagonists have been always pursuing an ideal, in order to get rid of the mediocrity and depression in their daily life. In this paper, the author discusses the thoughts and feelings towards the pursuit of human paradise.”

In an opening editorial for DIONYSOS: The literature and intoxication triquarterly Vol. 2:3 (Winter 1991), an issue now available online, Roger Forseth writes,

“Indeed, it was only a matter of time before journalism moved into fiction proper, and it is a pleasure to report that John Updike has found room in Rabbit at Rest (New York: Knopf, 1990) for his own version of the culture of addiction treatment. Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom’s son Nelson, a ‘self-centered jerk’ (to use Ms. Vigilante’s term) if there ever was one, after snorting his mother’s inheritance, escapes gratefully into a Philadelphia treatment clinic. The reader is then treated to the high comedy of Nelson’s attempt to ‘share’ his recovery with his father.

“Updike’s account is pure Rabbit: “‘A day at a time,’ Nelson recites, ‘with help of a higher power. Once you accept that help, Dad, it’s amazing how nothing gets you down. All these years, I think I’ve been seriously depressed; everything seemed too much. Now I just put it all in God’s hands, roll over, and go to sleep. You have to keep up the program, of course. . . . I love counselling.’ He turns to his mother and smiles. ‘I love it, and it loves me.’ Harry asks him, ‘These druggy kids you deal with, they all black?’ . . . [Janice says] ‘I think for now, Harry. Let’s give Nelson the space. He’s trying so hard.’ ‘He’s full of AA bullshit'” (407-08).

“Harry Angstrom did not major in sensitivity, but Updike, through his creation of a redneck Childe Harold, is able to achieve in fiction a reality that the journalists can’t touch. — RF

Trump voters have spawned a number of comparisons and considerations to Rabbit and the real rural Pennsylvanians that helped put Trump in the White House. The latest comes from Andrew J. Bacevich, whose “Slouching Toward Mar-a-Lago: The Post-Cold-War Consensus Collapses” was recently published by The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection.

“Emotion-laden upheavals producing behavior that is not entirely rational are hardly unknown in the American experience,” Bacevich writes. “Indeed, they recur with some frequency. The Great Awakenings of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are examples of the phenomenon. So also are the two Red Scares of the twentieth century, the first in the early 1920s and the second, commonly known as ‘McCarthyism,’ coinciding with the onset of the Cold War.

“Yet the response to Donald Trump’s election, combining as it has fear, anger, bewilderment, disgust, and something akin to despair, qualifies as an upheaval without precedent. History itself had seemingly gone off the rails. The crude Andrew Jackson’s 1828 ousting of an impeccably pedigreed president, John Quincy Adams, was nothing compared to the vulgar Donald Trump’s defeat of an impeccably credentialed graduate of Wellesley and Yale who had served as first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state. . . . A vulgar, bombastic, thrice-married real-estate tycoon and reality TV host as prophet, moral philosopher, style-setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and chief celebrity? The very idea seemed both absurd and intolerable. . . .

“Not all, but many of Trump’s supporters voted for him for the same reason that people buy lottery tickets: Why not? In their estimation, they had little to lose. Their loathing of the status quo is such that they may well stick with Trump even as it becomes increasingly obvious that his promise of salvation—an America made ‘great again’—is not going to materialize.

“Yet those who imagine that Trump’s removal will put things right are likewise deluding themselves. To persist in thinking that he defines the problem is to commit an error of the first order. Trump is not cause, but consequence. . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Under the header “Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science” blogger Andrew Gelman ( posted a think piece on “Irwin Shaw, John Updike, and Donald Trump” that begins with the writer’s admission that he read both the Shaw and Updike biographies (by Michael Shnyayerson and Adam Begley, respectively) and a lamentation that “very few people actually read” the latter.

“John Updike was a master of the slice of life and also created one very memorable character in Rabbit. . . . One thing Shaw did have was a combination of emotional sympathy, real-world grit, and social observation. . . .

“Updike and Shaw had different career trajectories. Updike started at the top and stayed here. Shaw started at the top and worked his way down. . . . From my perspective, Updike redeemed himself by writing a lot of excellent literary journalism. As they got older, both Updike and Shaw reduced their output of short stories, maintaining the high quality in both cases.

“Speaking of John Updike, if he were around today I expect he’d’ve had something to say about those rural Pennsylvanians who voted for Donald Trump. Being a rural Pennsylvanian. And John O’Hara, as a Pennsylvanian, and Roman Catholic, and an all-around resentful person: he wouldn’t had something to say about Trump voters from all those groups. . . .”


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