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.

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Published: “Black Activism: John Updike”

It has come to our attention that the critical essay “Black Activism: John Updike” by Suchitra Vashisth, an assistant professor at DIT University, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India, was published last year in the International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences (Vol. 3, Issue 1; Jan.-Feb. 2018).

“As a a literary artist, he has given us most powerful expression of the American racist society,” Vashisth writes, adding that “Rabbit Redux contains the story of the black revolution in America in the nineteen sixties. Updike reveals, through the speeches of Skeeter, black revolutionary, social injustices with the blacks in American society” and paraphrasing Richard Locke’s assessment that “the wide range of tones and rhythms in black speech has never been so well produced in contemporary white writing.”

Vashisth concludes, “The remarkable thing which is depicted here in this novel is a white failure of nerves or at least a flagging sense of white identity in the face of black assertiveness.”

Here is the link to the entire essay.


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New Updike publication in Portuguese

Member Carla Ferreira, who is an associate professor in the Literature and Language Department at Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil, reports that her dissertation has been published in book form.

The title is North and South Readings: Perception of Oneself and the Other in Updike’s Fiction. “The book is written in Portuguese,” Ferreira says, “and it is about The Coup and Brazil.

“The next book I am writing in English so JUS members can read it,” Ferreira writes. She is finishing up her postdoctoral research on Updike’s New Yorker essays at the University of South Carolina, under the direction of Donald J. Greiner.

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Rabbit, Run is tops among Amazon readers . . . for Updike books

Richard Rabicoff commented on The John Updike Society Facebook page that he went to the Gaithersburg (Md.) Barnes & Noble and was shocked to see that, for the first time in his life, there wasn’t a single John Updike book on the shelf. Yet, he says, there were seven Roth novels and also lots of Steinbeck and Vonnegut.

That begs the question, Are people still reading Updike?

Amazon ranks their books in terms of sales, for all the world to see. Not surprisingly, the paperback Rabbit, Run is ranked the highest in terms of sales:  ranked #69,140, as of Jan. 26, 2019. But numbers two and three might surprise. Have a look, bearing in mind that these are not the number of copies sold, but the sales ranking, with the lowest selling the most. Not all Updike books are listed—just those that came up in the first pages as the most frequently searched.

Here are the best-selling Updike books at Amazon:

Rabbit, Run (paper)–#69,140
Gertrude and Claudius (paper)–#136,143
A Child’s Calendar (hardcover)–#163,055
Of the Farm (paper)–#227,124
Rabbit at Rest (paper)–#236,366
In the Beauty of the Lilies–#266,664
The Maples Stories (Everyman hardcover)–#315,707
Rabbit Angstrom (Everyman hardcover)–#317,683
The Witches of Eastwick (paper)–#332,639
The Complete Henry Bech (Everyman hardcover)–#333,161
Collected Stories (LOA hardcover)–#334,615
Rabbit Redux (paper)–#359,135
A Month of Sundays (paper)–#383,758
Rabbit Is Rich (paper)–#406,829
Conversations with John Updike (paper)–#455,792
Poorhouse Fair/Rabbit, Run/Centaur/Of the Farm (LOA hardcover)–#465,872
Couples (paper)–#508,942
Still Looking (hardcover)–#599,499
Just Looking (hardcover)–#607,069
Toward the End of Time (paper)—#622,255
Pigeon Feathers (paper)–#630,258
The Early Stories (paper)–#632,537
My Father’s Tears (paper)–#715,674
Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu (LOA hardcover)–#807,007
Endpoint (hardcover)–#910,608
Olinger Stories (Everyman hardcover)–#969,496
Terrorist (paper)–#971,637
The Widows of Eastwick (paper)–#1,037,139
Licks of Love (paper)–#1,075,513
Updike (Begley bio, paper)–#1,316,562
Selected Poems (hardcover)–#1,335,412
Collected Poems (paper)–#1,448,111
Brazil (paper)–#1,461,206
Trust Me (paper)–#1,509,122
S. (paper)–#1,612,851
The Poorhouse Fair (paper)–#1,659,739
Marry Me: A Romance (paper)–#1,824,514
More Matter (paper)–#1,943,398
Seek My Face  (paper)–#2,137,216
Higher Gossip (paper)–#2,526,515
Picked-Up Pieces (paper)–#2,631,106
Assorted Prose (paper)–#3,124,858
Too Far to Go/The Maples Stories (paper)–#5,055,286

How does that compare with Steinbeck, Vonnegut, and Roth? The first book to come up in a search is the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, which ranks #28,605 in sales. But the paperback edition of Of Mice and Men is ranked #494 in sales, the East of Eden paperback ranks #3,187, Travels with Charley is #9,329, Cannery Row is #17,029, The Pearl is #6,484, and The Grapes of Wrath is #1,598. As for Vonnegut, the LOA Complete Novels is #65,130, while the Cat’s Cradle paperback is #4,115, the Modern Library paperback of Slaughterhouse-Five is #1,397, his Complete Stories is ranked #36,745, and the paperback of Breakfast of Champions is ranked #13,851. Roth? American Pastoral (paper) is ranked #11,790, The Plot Against America (paper) is ranked #7,858, The Human Stain is #16,209, Sabbath’s Theater (paper) is #53,078, and Portnoy’s Complaint (paper) is ranked #31,682.

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Updike children’s book considered a classic

EatReadSleep blogger Cheryl Teal, a collection development librarian, yesterday posted an entry on A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike and Trina Schart Hyman,” in which she shares her rediscovery of the book and her affirmation that it’s worthy of being considered a classic.

“Our library system runs a report to find titles that are getting low on copies, and we selectors review it to find the gems that need to be re-ordered. Some titles and series are deservedly going out of print, but others are beloved classics that every library should keep forever. I was intrigued to find A Child’s Calendar—which I had never read—on that report, so not only did I order more copies, I also checked out a copy for myself.”

“Perhaps the best part of this discovery was that Updike chose one of my favorite illustrators for the updated edition. Trina Schart Hyman uses rich colors and black outlines to create busy, charming family scenes. Her diverse children and adults live in mostly rural and small-town settings, displaying both the labor and laughter of everyday life. . . . Surprisingly, Updike and Hyman were both born in Pennsylvania and later moved to New England.”

“Originally published in 1965, Updike made many changes and reprinted the volume in 1999. There is a poem for each month of the year, sweet and nostalgic, with traditional families and realistic humor. Here is the last stanza of the March poem:

“‘The mud smells happy
On our shoes.
We still wear mittens,
Which we lose.'”

The result? “This is a book to treasure for generations,” Teal concludes. “A lovely way to feed little souls.”


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Updike isn’t the only celeb with Berks County roots

Famously before him came poet Wallace Stevens, but John Updike and his fellow writer aren’t the only celebrities to come from Berks County. Susan Miers Smith wrote about Updike and four others in a Jan. 2 Reading Eagle story titled “5 celebrities with Berks County connections”—though the lower-case “is” in one book title and “Poorhouse” written as two words would have made Updike cringe. Also included in this batch are singer Taylor Swift, Hall of Fame football player Lenny Moore, actor Michael Constantine, and artist Keith Haring.

Updike’s “claim to fame,” according to Smith: “Internationally known author and poet. Twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: in 1982 for Rabbit Is Rich and in 1990 for Rabbit at Rest. He published more than 30 fiction books from 1959-2008.”

To that we might add that Updike was one of only a handful of Americans to receive both the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal in White House ceremonies from two different presidents. And he was one of only three literary writers to appear more than once on the cover of Time magazine—the others being Nobel laureates Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Updike published more than 60 books in all genres: fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, criticism, drama, and children’s books.

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Updike’s 1 of 1000 book to read? The Maples Stories

These days everybody’s talking bucket lists, but James Mustich has compiled a reference for readers that goes beyond the token click-bait lists. In his 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List (Workman Publishing, 2018—Amazon price $23.79/cloth), Mustich covers a lot of ground but sounds almost apologetic about the volume he chose from John Updike:

“It is hard to name a major twentieth-century American writer more constant than John Updike. His commitment to his art, his puzzling over the knottiness and nobility (and inconstancy) of ordinary love, his apparent wonder at every subject he embraced, and his delight in the vocabulary at his command to describe them—in every aspect, Updike was a paragon of dedication and productivity. His sentences seem to smile with his pleasure in his vocation, and the uniform physical design and typographic consistency of the many volumes he published over a half century demonstrate how he cherished and groomed his appearance as an author in the world. . . .

The Maples Stories, a collection of eighteen tales written between 1956 and 1994 about a married, then divorced, couple named Joan and Richard Maples, may seem too modest to single out from Updike’s generous oeuvre. Yet considered together, these short stories offer a probing, astute, and often poignant anatomy of a marriage that is remarkable both as a literary testament and a cultural portrait of a tumultuous period in American domestic life. Although Updike portrays the same themes on a much grander scale in his justly acclaimed sequence of Rabbit Angstrom novels, The Maples Stories, in their fleeting intimacy and atmosphere of amorous regret, distill the author’s gift for evoking emotional uncertainty into an exquisitely moving testament.”

It wouldn’t surprise us if more and more people gravitated toward the Maples rather than the Angstroms over time, especially given the more explicit sexuality in the latter.


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Andrew Davies’ “Rabbit” adaptation may be streamed

The bulk of a recent interview Colin Drury conducted with famed British producer-director Andrew Davies was devoted to talk about his recent “nobody sings” adaptation of Les Misérables. But for Updike lovers, tantalizing news comes in the very last paragraph of The Guardian article:

“Another is a series based on John Updike’s Rabbit novels. which may be Davies first work made for a streaming service. ‘It’s early days but that might be on the cards,’ he says, mentioning both Netflix and Amazon as potential platforms. ‘It would be a thrill.’ And neither, I suggest, is averse to turning up the phwoar factor. ‘I know,’ he says and gives that mischievous laugh one last time.”

Given all the Updike books available through Amazon, it would seem a natural for them to stream the “Rabbit” series and essentially promote their entire Updike catalog.

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Golf Digest republishes Updike’s paean to December golf

“Just as a day may come at sunset into its most glorious hour, or a life toward the gray-bearded end enter a halcyon happiness, December golf, as long as it lasts, can seem the sweetest golf of the year,” John Updike wrote in an essay that first appeared in the December 1989 issue of Golf Digest.

That essay was recently republished and can be read online now, as so many things can.

Updike’s writings on golf were famously collected in Golf Dreams (1997)

“The course itself—its ice-edged water hazards, its newly erected snow fences—seems grateful to be visited” . . . as golfers and Updike fans are to have this essay in its entirety pop up this December.

Here’s the link.

“You seem to be, in December golf, reinventing the game, in some rough realm predating 15th-century Scotland,” Updike wrote, exhilarated by the “boarded-up clubhouse” and “naked trees” and absence of crowds in colorful clothing: “just golf-mad men and women, wearing wool hats and two sweaters each, moving on their feet” with a “running tally carried in the head of the accountant or retired banker in the group,” Updike wrote.

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Robert M. Luscher Scholarship for Updike Research announced

John Updike Society board member Robert M. Luscher recently retired from 22 years of teaching at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, but instead of a gold watch his daughters had something else in mind. To honor the decades their father devoted to Updike research and to focus on his specialty—Updike’s short fiction—they decided to establish a research scholarship in his name, effective immediately:

The Robert M. Luscher Scholarship for Updike Research—a $1000 travel-to-collections scholarship awarded annually to enable students and researchers to study manuscripts and materials at one of many John Updike archives (see The John Updike Society website for a complete list of Special Collections) or another proposed archive. Preference will be given to students working on theses and dissertations and to those whose research focuses on Updike’s short stories. Scholars from all nations are invited to apply. The scholarship is provided by Julia Thompson and Aurora Sharrard in honor of their father, an Updike scholar and current board member of The John Updike Society. The society will determine the winner and may, depending upon the quality of proposals, choose not to award the scholarship in some years. Deadline for submissions is May 1 of each year. To apply, send a one-paragraph bio and 1-2 page proposal describing the project and how specifically special collections research is expected to help. Send submissions via attachment to:  Peter Bailey, pbailey@stlawu.edu.

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