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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Read Updike before thinking about divorce?

John Updike’s fictionalized account of his first marriage, Too Far to Go (reissued with new material as The Maples Stories), often has been cited as a good book to read for people coping with the aftermath of divorce. But now someone’s recommending Updike for people considering divorce.

In an article (“10 Books to Read Before Getting Divorced”) written for the Barnes & Noble website, Jeff Somers recommends reading the Rabbit Angstrom novels.

“John Updike was a writer with myriad obsessions, and they all came together in the four-book, decades-in-the-writing saga of flawed but fascinating Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, who attempts to abandon his young family in book one and doesn’t make life any less complicated for himself as the decades rush on. What you end up with is, in large part, one of the most finely-detailed accounts of the ups and downs of a marriage in literary history. Considered as a whole, Rabbit’s race through life offers the sort of minute study of a relationship that will force you to reconsider you own.”

In other words, despite how rocky Rabbit and Janice’s marriage was, they stuck it out. Somehow, their marriage survived, and Somers suggests by including it on this list that a little perspective goes a long way.

The only other fiction on this list of mostly self-help books is Heartburn, by Nora Ephron.

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New Miranda Updike show announced

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More Updike on Jeopardy!

A recent episode of Jeopardy!, an American game show that’s been around since 1964, featured this “answer”:

“John Updike wrote in 1960, ‘Gods do not answer letters,’ which referred to a ballplayer ignoring applause and not tipping his hat after a home run.”

And the question?

“Who is Ted Williams.”

Updike wrote what many consider to be the best piece of sports writing ever after he watched the Boston Red Sox slugger make the most of his last career at-bat on September 28, 1960. “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” was originally published an October 1960 issue of The New Yorker and more recently as a stand-alone book from the Library of America.

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu amazon link

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Another summer reading list, and more Updike

The Guardian published another summer reading list—“Best summer books 2018, as picked by writers and cultural figures – part two”—in which everyone shares their reading agenda for the sun-and-fun months. Updike was mentioned again, but this time not for something light, airy, and Updike clever.

Writer-journalist Julie Myerson (“Living with Teenagers,” Sleepwalking, Something Might Happen), listed Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy as her literal “must-read”:

“Rachel Cusk’s Kudos (Faber) is one of the most astoundingly original and necessary books I’ve ever read. It made me laugh, think and cry. She’s my friend, but I recommend it without apology: I envy anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I was startled, but also very moved, by the almost abrasive directness of Rose Tremain’s memoir Rosie (Chatto & Windus). It did exactly what memoirs ought to do: made me want to rush straight back to her fiction. My ideal holiday (a bit of a fantasy at the moment) would therefore be a fortnight in Rome with all of Tremain on a Kindle, along with John Updike’s Rabbit (Penguin) quartet – which people have been ordering me to read for years – as well as Motherhood (Harvill Secker) by Sheila Heti, which I’ve been hoarding, and Never Anyone But You (Corsair) by the unfailingly brilliant Rupert Thomson.”

When in Rome . . . read John Updike?

The artwork is a detail from a Leon Edler illustration.

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John Updike Society conference well covered by Serbian media

In her post-conference report to the Faculty of Philology and board of The John Updike Society, director Biljana Dojčinović, Professor, Dept. of Comparative Literature and Theory of Literature, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, noted that the conference was well covered by Serbian media:

On May 26, a teaser on the “Updike & Politics” panel at the National Library appeared in the cultural supplement of the newspaper Politika, along with the first part of an interview John Updike gave them when he visited in 1978.

On May 27, Dojčinović appeared on TV N1 to talk about the conference on the live morning show with journalist Maja Sikimić.

On May 29, Dojčinović appeared on TV Studio B to talk about the conference on the live morning show with journalist Sanja Lubardić.

On May 31, Dojčinović was a guest on RTS, Cultural Daily.

On June 1, Ian McEwan was featured in an RTS, Dnevnik-Daily news story.

On June 2, Politika published the second installment of the John Updike interview.

On June 3, journalist Marina Vulićević interviewed James Schiff for Politika and an interview with Ian McEwan also appeared.

On June 4, Politika posted an interview with McEwan.

On June 5, the National Library of Serbia posted photos on their Facebook page.

On June 6, the Cultural Center ran a 17-minute segment (it begins at 37:43) on the conference featuring brief remarks by Dojčinović and society president James Plath.

On June 14, Politika ran an interview by Marina Vulićević featuring Michael Updike.

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