Updike turns up at an Edible Book Festival

In case you missed it, this past April Alvernia University held an Edible Book Festival at which John Updike’s Rabbit, Run was represented by (what else?) “a large, chocolate rabbit with a marathon medal around its neck.” Low-hanging fruit?

“Alvernia’s Edible Book Festival offers food for thought,” by Susan Shelly.

Alvernia will host the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Reading, Pa. the first week of October 2020.


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George Nick art show draws Updike mention

You’ll need a subscription to access The Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch, but a story about an exhibition earlier this spring, “‘George Nick: Fresh Air, A Worldy Perspective’ at Hawk Galleries Features a nonagenarian for whom all subjects are fair game,” mentions that “The late writer John Updike was a friend and neighbor of Nick. For a 1993 retrospective of the painter, Updike wrote an appropriate comment: ‘Any subject will do, as long as the subject is not exploited for its anecdotal or picturesque qualities but is taken in good conscience as an occasion for pure painting.'”

From his website: “Nationally recognized as a leading realist painter, George Nick’s work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Hirschhorn Museum; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., as well as many others.”

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Blogger considers Updike on Van Gogh

John MacDougall posted a May 1 2019 entry on his blog, The New Yorker and Me, titled “Updike on Van Gogh,” in which he draws attention to “Updke’s great posthumous essay collection Higher Gossip” and considers what he considers to be the two best pieces: “Uncertain Skills, Determined Spirit” and “The Purest of Styles.” Both deal with van Gogh, MacDougall’s “favorite painter.”

MacDougall quotes from both essays, in particular paying notice to his favorite passage in “Uncertain Skills” that “contrasts van Gogh’s two pen copies of his superb Harvest in Provence.” Of Updike’s assessment that “The drawings brim with latent color” he writes, “That last line is inspired.

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Stage version of Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius opens today

It’s been three years in the making, but today the curtain opens again on the stage version of John Updike’s Hamlet prequel, Gertrude and Claudius.

As Jeffrey Borak of The Berkshire Eagle, dateline Pittsfield, Mass., writes, “Based on a novel by John Updike, Mark St. Germain’s ‘Gertrude and Claudius’ was commissioned by Orlando Shakespeare Theatre in 2016. It took three years and a grant from the Edgerton Foundation for the play to have its world premiere earlier this year in Orlando, Fla., in a production that ran from late February to late March.

“‘The rights were held up. Updike’s son, David, was helpful in getting the rights released,’ St. Germain said, explaining the delay, during a recent pre-rehearsal interview in a conference room at Barrington Stage Company’s Wolfson Center on North Street, where he was joined by BSC artistic director Julianne Boyd and Elijah Alexander and Kate MacCluggage who are playing the title couple in the Boyd-directed production of ‘Gertrude and Claudius’ which . . . officially opens Sunday afternoon at BSC’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, where it is scheduled to run through Aug. 3.”

“‘The relationship between Gertrude and her son is beautifully drawn’ Alexander said. ‘Claudius is a childless man, wanting to be a father.'”

“‘The stakes are high here,’ Boyd said. ‘Gertrude and Claudius are willing to risk all for sex and love.'”

“‘I think one of the questions Mark raises in the play is ‘What is love? Is it just how people feel?'” MacCluggage said.

Read the full article.

In “Barrington Stage Company Presents Mark St. Germain’s ‘Gertrude And Claudius,'” Joe Donahue, or The Roundtable (19 July 2019) writes, “‘Gertrude and Claudius’ is based on John Updike’s 2000 novel of the same title. The story shows Queen Gertrude’s relationship with Hamlet’s father, who appears only as a ghost in the Shakespeare play, and how she conspires with his brother Claudius to commit the murder that sets in motion the events of the classic drama.

“St. Germain has a long history with Barrington Stage, this being his 13th play produced by the company.”

YouTube Behind-the-scenes clips and interviews from the Barrington Stage production


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Updike’s Rabbit named one of The 100 Greatest Literary Characters

The characters aren’t ranked, but John Updike’s most famous fictional creation, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, made the cut to be included in The 100 Greatest Literary Characters, published July 2019 by Rowman & Littlefield.

The authors of the volume—James Plath, Gail Sinclair, and Kirk Curnutt—considered previous lists, plus recommendations from 100 writers, librarians, teachers, and book lovers they polled in order to come up with a list of “characters who have become larger than their lives on the page”—those that are “time-honored reader favorites, prototypes, and cultural influencers . . . who have somehow entered the collective public consciousness, ones who were influential models for others to follow, and ones who have been so popular with readers that they have become significant, memorable, or even cherished.”

Of Rabbit, Plath writes, “Literature is full of heroes and antiheroes, but Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom is uniquely average—a flawed, irrepressible, and often unlikable human being who is still somehow so endearing to audiences worldwide that one novel couldn’t contain him.” He’s “unfaithful, impulse driven, prejudiced, and old-fashioned when it comes to women. But he is a seeker, a quester of truth. With a healthy libido and appetite for life, Rabbit, though in many ways a typical American male, nonetheless manages to see everyday objects and people in a more brilliant and illuminating light than the average person. He has never lost his childlike sense of wonder—a rare quality that draws people toward him.”

The author with the most characters in the book is Charles Dickens, whose Miss Havisham, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Oliver Twist were included. Among Updike’s contemporaries, Toni Morrison had two (Pilate Dead and Sethe), while Philip Roth and Saul Bellow had one each (Alexander Portnoy and Eugene Henderson, respectively).

The book is available from Amazon.


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Reader responds to National Review appraisal of Updike’s first four novels

In the May 20, 2019 National Review, Peter Tonguette wrote a review of the Library of America release of John Updike’s first four novels that wasn’t terribly positive. Dean Bevan, Professor Emeritus of English at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., responded with a letter to the editor (excerpted here):

“Mr. Tonguette capably examines the Library of America’s volume containing Updike’s first four novels and rightly questions some of the quirks in his early writing. But the review leaves the reader with an unbalanced and somewhat unfair impression of Mr. Updike, focusing on the growing pains of his early career (‘written in a windy, pretentious style’) and including such statements as ‘He thought of himself as a man of the Left.’

“I can’t answer for how John Updike thought of himself, but I can say, after reading and teaching his novels for several decades, that he was without question one of our country’s most conservative writers of fiction, and its best. He questions the views and the avatars of the Left and admires conservative ideas, in novel after novel, and it is likely that he was denied the Nobel Prize because of this (as he guessed), while lesser but more progressive talents received it.

“As the reviewer observes, Updike took ‘the measure of the world as it really was.’ Himself a painter, he once observed that the most important painter of the 20th century was Norman Rockwell, because he followed the tradition of the masters in representing life as it was lived in his own time. How unwoke is that? And it would seem that Updike meant to do the same thing in his writing. . . . America has had relatively few conservative writers—T.S. Eliot comes to mind—and we should celebrate the great ones we have had, such as John Updike.”

Included with the letter’s publication is a response from Tonguette, who says “I agree with Mr. Bevan’s characterization of John Updike as one of the great contemporary conservative writers.”

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David Lehman suggests an Updike writing exercise

“I have long felt that verse can serve as the right vehicle for a mini-essay prompted by a provocative thought in the form of an aphorism,” David Lehman begins his “Next Line, Please” brief for The American Scholar.

Using a quote from Updike, he challenges readers to take up the pen.

“In John Updike’s novel Couples, the narrator states, ‘Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant.’ Leaving aside the context—the very real possibility that the sentence is meant to apply primarily to the characters in the book—consider this thought as the trigger for either (1) a short essay in verse or (2) a dialogue in verse.

Lehman notes that permission is required for “reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.”

Here’s the link to Lehman’s  “Updike on Couples.” Lehman’s most recent book is Playlist, published in the Pitt Poetry Series this past April. Here’s the Amazon link.

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Updike cited in new Adam Gopnik book

In reviewing Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism, Howard Schneider writes that Gopnik celebrates liberalism and argues that liberalism “has been the source of all that’s civically decent and humane in the world for at least the last two centuries.” Schneider also takes exception with Gopnik’s characterization of John Updike, who is referenced in the volume:

“Two perhaps nitpicking points, but I think the author is wrong about them. Was John Updike really ‘religiously obsessed’? Yes, some of his novels incisively assay religiosity, but he was too urbane to be besotted with religion. Gopnik also suggests that good science can’t thrive in a tyranny. Nazi Germany and North Korea, unfortunately, prove otherwise.”

“A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism”

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Updike essay on Gene Kelly included in new dance anthology

John Updike is no stranger to subscribers of the Library of America series, but this time he’s just one contributor out of many. For Dance in America: A Reader’s Anthology, dance critic Mindy Aloff has assembled a collection of essays and other forms written by “dancers and dance creators, impresarios and critics, and enthusiastic literary observers” to tell the story of dance in America “from tap and swing to ballet and modern dance, from Five Points to Radio City Music Hall, and from the Lindy Hop to Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk.”

Among the contributors are Edwin Denby, Joan Acocella, Lincoln Kirstein, Jill Johnston, Clive Barnes, George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Allegra Kent, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, Edmund Wilson, Langston Hughes, Susan Sontag, Stuart Hodes, Alastair Macaulay, Zora Neale Hurston, Arlene Croce, Yehuda Hyman, and Updike. Updike’s essay is on “Genial, Kinetic Gene Kelly.”

Here’s the LOA link to purchase

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Updike recommended to readers coping with aging

Novelist Deborah Moggach was asked by a Guardian reader to recommend books that could help her cope with the changes of body and mind that come from aging. And in response posted June 29, 2019, Moggach writes,

“Plenty of novelists have reflected on this as they themselves grow old. Philip Roth and John Updike spring to mind, and in fact I’d recommend Updike’s Rabbit series, taking us, as it does, through a man’s life into his last years (though it’s rather a shock to find the hero banging on about being ancient when he’s only 65).”

Read more of her recommendations

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