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 ‘Little Violet’ Ipswich home is for sale

If you’re a John Updike fan and an old house fan—this one was built in 1832—and if $850,000 is within your budget, you should know that J. Barret & Co. recently listed the property at 68-70 Essex Road for sale.

The house was known as “Little Violet” when Updike and first-wife Mary lived in the house for 10 months before buying the Polly Dole House on East Street in Ipswich. It was their first residence in Ipswich, where the town commemorated Updike’s presence with a plaque on the side of the Choate Bridge building where he maintained a second-floor office years later.

As a Local News story points out, Updike turned a marble-floored room at the back of Little Violet into a study where he wrote. The article notes that Updike’s first chore at any house he bought was to make sure the mailbox or mail slot was fully functional and accessible. He wrote a poem about “Planting a Mailbox” first thing after moving into Little Violet.

Updike panels set for ALA 2024

Chicago’s Palmer House will welcome back the American Literature Association Conference the end of May, once again opening its world-famous Tiffany peacock doors to scholars from all over the world.

The John Updike Society will sponsor two panels:

Friday, May 24, 11:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m. Session 10-M “Revisiting Olinger Stories(1964) at 60 and The Afterlife(1994) at 30: A Roundtable” (Salon 6)

  • Moderator: Sylvie Mathé, Aix-Marseille University, France
  • Peter Bailey, St. Lawrence University, NY
  • Biljana Dojčinović, University of Belgrade, Serbia
  • Nemanja Glintić, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China
  • James Plath, Illinois Wesleyan University
  • Matthew Shipe, Washington University in St. Louis, MO

Saturday, May 25, 8:30-9:50 a.m. Session 16-J “The Witches of Eastwick: novel (John Updike, 1984) v. film (George Miller, 1987): A Roundtable” (Salon 7)

  • Moderator: Adam Sexton, Yale University
  • Edward Allen, University of South Dakota
  • Carla Alexandra Ferreira, Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil
  • Olga Karasik-Updike, Independent Scholar, Newbury, MA
  • Robert Morace, Daemen University, Amherst, NY
  • Takashi Nakatani, Yokohama City University, Japan

Here’s a link to the most recent draft program.

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

Updike’s take on Jong’s Fear of Flying

As part of their feminist classics series which looks at influential books, The Conversation featured an article on “Sex, zips and feminism: Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying has a joyful abandon rarely found in today’s sad girl novels” in which John Updike was quoted.

“Interestingly though, another male writer, John Updike, helped Jong’s rise up the bestseller list. Even so, his compliments can read as backhanded as Goodlove’s:

It has class and sass, brightness and bite. Containing all the cracked eggs of the feminist litany, her soufflé rises with a poet’s afflatus. She sprinkles on the four-letter words as if women had invented them; her cheerful sexual frankness brings a new flavor to female prose.

“Updike favourably links Jong with great male writers J.D. Salinger and Philip Roth, while carefully distinguishing her from the more disagreeable women’s liberationists:

Fear of Flying not only stands as a notably luxuriant and glowing bloom in the sometimes thistly garden of ‘raised’ feminine consciousness but belongs to, and hilariously extends, the tradition of Catcher in the Rye and Portnoy’s Complaint.

“Pull quotes from Updike’s review featured on the novel’s second edition (the one I have been reading), along with a new cover: a luscious 70s serif typeface in black and orange on a yellow background that blatantly copies the 1969 cover of Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.”

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.”

Academics wanted for Updike encyclopedia entries

The online Literary Encyclopedia is commissioning entries on the works of John Updike. Entries are usually between 1500 and 2500 words and deadlines can be negotiated according to the needs of the individual contributor. Please contact the editor of the Encyclopedia, Grace Moore ( if you are interested in writing one or more entries. Entries may be by academics at any career stage, including PhD candidates and early career scholars. Authors receive free access to the publication, which contains almost 10,000 peer-reviewed articles.

  1. Rabbit, Run
  2. Rabbit Redux
  3. Rabbit is Rich
  4. Rabbit at Rest
  5. Couples
  6. The Centaur
  7. Of the Farm
  8. The Witches of Eastwick
  9. The Widows of Eastwick
  10. Bech: A Book
  11. Bech is Back
  12. Bech at Bay
  13. Gertrude and Claudius
  14. My Father’s Tears, and Other Stories
  15. Too Far to Go
  16. Problems, and Other Stories
  17. Pigeon Feathers
  18. The Same Door
  19. The Music School
  20. Museums and Women
  21. The Afterlife, and Other Stories
  22. Toward the End of Time
  23. Seek My Face
  24. The Poorhouse Fair
  25. Marry Me
  26. The Coup
  27. Brazil
  28. Trust Me
  29. Villages
  30. Memories of the Ford Administration
  31. Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, ‘Rabbit Remembered’
  32. Self-Consciousness
  33. Endpoint, and Other Poems
  34. Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism
  35. More Matter: Essays and Criticism
  36. Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism
  37. Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism
  38. Hugging the Shore
  39. Picked-Up Pieces
  40. Just Looking: Essays on Art
  41. Still Looking: Essays on American Art
  42. Facing Nature: Poems
  43. Americana and Other Poems
  44. Telephone Poles
  45. Tossing and Turning
  46. The Carpentered Hen, and Other Tamed Creatures
  47. Buchanan Dying
  48. The Early Stories: 1953-1975
  49. Collected Poems, 1953-1993
  50. Seventy Poems
  51. Golf Dreams
  52. Jester’s Dream

In Memoriam: Myrtle Council

We’re saddened to report the passing of Myrtle Council, an avid and knowledgeable local historian who was an honored guest at the grand opening of The John Updike Childhood Home in October 2021. She was 99.

Myrtle was a 1941 graduate of Shillington High School, and after serving in the Navy WAVES during WWII she worked at the Reading Eagle-Times, Jacobs Aircraft Engineering Co., and Edelman’s Law Office in Reading.

But Berks County knew her mostly from her extensive volunteerism and advocacy for the preservation of local history. The list of organizations she served is almost as long as her rich life. She was a member of the National Parliamentarians Association, the American Institute of Parliamentarians, Berks Unit of PAP, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the PA Federation of Women’s Clubs, Southeastern District of PFWC, Berks County Federation of Women’s Clubs, Women’s Club of Shillington, Federation of Past Presidents Club, and the Shillington/Mifflin Alumni Association, frequently serving as president or a board member of those organizations. She was also a lifetime member of the Immanuel UCC, Shillington, where she was a youth group leader, Altar Guild Chairman, founder/leader of the Shawl Ministry for 10 years, and a kitchen helper.

Her intersecting interests of Shillington High School, John Updike, and local history and its preservation led her to take an active role in passing on archival materials that the Shillington/Mifflin Alumni Association had acquired to the John Updike Childhood Home, where some items could be displayed and others catalogued and safely protected for the future. Items currently at the house museum—including Shillington H.S. pennants, pins, hats, athletic letters, and a student handbook—are on display because of Myrtle’s vision and dedication to preserving local history for future generations to understand and appreciate.

Inurnment, with full military honors, will take place in Fairview Cemetery, 375 New Holland Ave., Shillington, at 10 a.m. on Dec. 30, 2023. A celebration of life service will follow at 11 a.m. at Immanuel United Church of Christ, 99 S. Waverly St., Shillington. The family will receive friends immediately following services in the church fellowship hall.

Contributions in memory of Myrtle Council can be made to Immanuel UCC at the above address. Here is a link to the obituary where memories can be shared.

The society sends its deepest sympathies to Myrtle’s daughter, Elizabeth, and to the rest of the family. Myrtle will be missed, but her work lives on.