Sunday, March 18, 2012

Author Birthday: John Updike


From today's Writer's Almanac:

John Updike (books by this author) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on this day in 1932. He wrote more than 20 novels, and more than 20 short-story collections, but he's best known for his series of four "Rabbit" novels: books about an average middle-class guy, Rabbit Angstrom, who has a boring job and marital troubles. The "Rabbit" books won many awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes. 
Updike had started sending his stories, poems, and cartoons to The New Yorker when he was in high school. When he was a senior at Harvard, they finally accepted some of his work and even offered him a job; he moved to New York City after he graduated, but soon realized he didn't like living there, so he and his wife moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, a little town outside Boston. He took a little one-room office on East Main Street, above a restaurant and between a lawyer and a beautician. He looked out over the parking lot of the Ipswich Cooperative Bank and hammered away on a manual typewriter. After his death of lung cancer in 2009, many of his neighbors remembered him as a down-to-earth fellow, a participant in several civic organizations, a guy in corduroy trousers who played regular poker with the boys. Others were less forgiving, recalling how he mined the town and its people for material for his explicit 1968 novel Couples.
John Updike said in the New York Times Book Review: "I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves."
Updike's novels, stories, and essays have met with varying degrees of my approval over the years. My introduction to his work came in late high school with a short story or two, but it was many years later, in 1997, that I became a fan. With our youngest children off to nursery school, the play group moms decided to become a book club. We chose In the Beauty of the Lilies as an early selection and I was hooked. The sentences, the vocabulary, the insights...it was one of my favorite books that year and remains my favorite Updike novel. I was less enthusiastic about Couples and The Witches of Eastwick. Around that time, I also began to enjoy Updike's contributions to the The New Yorker. I featured his story "When Everyone was Pregnant" here three years ago. His "Rabbit" novels have been on my 'to read' list for years.

Have you read John Updike?


18 comments:

  1. I've enjoyed several of his novels, but the Rabbit books are the ones I remember the most. There was even a movie made (in the '70s, I think) of the first book.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

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    1. Laurel-Rain Snow - I didn't know the Rabbit books were made into a movie... will have to investigate further. Thanks.

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  2. My husband loves Updike, but when I've tried him I thought he wrote too much from a man's point of view instead of a universalist point of view, if that makes sense. Or a man's style. Something. I guess his writing screams out to me "man" instead of "writer." Something.....

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    1. Rhapsodyinbooks - Updike definitely writes like a man! Sometimes I get tired of all that 'male perspective', but appreciate looking at things from another point of view once in a while.

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  3. I've never read any of his books. And I always get hom confused with John Irving.

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    1. Softdrink - I can see why you could confuse him with Irving... they are both very male writers.

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  4. Ive read couples and several of his short stories all of which were about ppl in New England having affairs so I did wonder what the heck the mans obsession is. However after saying that the Rabbit books have been on my TBR list for ages

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    1. Jessica - He does seem to get fixated on a single theme ;-)

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  5. I love that you do this. It is so interesting to read about different author's and their lives. Thanks!

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    1. Brenda - I'm glad you enjoy these posts! It's always very sudden when I decide to do them. Need the combination of a favorite author's birthday and no other post ideas for that day, lol!

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  6. Happy Birthday! I haven't read any of his books..for some reason i'm scared of them! Go figure!

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    1. Staci - Updike can definitely be intimidating, so I understand that feeling.

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  7. No I've not read him but of him I know like many other writers. And I will read him, whatever it takes.

    Happy belated birthday, though he be 'the late'.

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    1. Nana - Hope you get to read Updike soon. His short stories would provide a briefer intro to his work.

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  8. I like a couple of his poems, but not his books at all.

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    1. Nan - His books have been hit or miss for me, but I've never read his poetry.

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  9. His Rabbit books have been on my to-read list for years too. Each year I think this is going to be the year but I just never seem to get around to them. Maybe we need a read-a-long? ;-) I've only read 'Terrorist' and liked it but didn't love it so not sure where I stand. I do really want to like his work though.

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    1. Christina - I'd be game... remind me when we finish Clarissa ;-)

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