Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike Dies.


John Updike reading.
There are just a few writers that meant a lot to me when I was young but John Updike was one of them. When I went to Breadloaf Writer's Conference a few years ago, it was de rigeur to mock his writing. One workshop actually used passages from his books on how not to write. Needless to say, the writer leading that workshop has done little to date.
Few books have meant as much to me as the Rabbit books, COUPLES, WITCHES OF EASTWICK, the Maples short stories and assorted other pieces. Maybe his style of writing went out of fashion at some point, but he could tell a good story and he took chances in his subject when few writers did.
I ran into Updike once. We were heading up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and he was heading down. He saw the flicker of recognition in my eyes and smiled just a little.
I was also amused to read soon after that that wherever he went, he checked out libraries to see if they carried his book and in old-fashioned libraries, how much it had been taken out. I guess people from Shillington, PA never feel secure in the world of letters.

11 comments:

Bill Crider said...

One of my favorites is The Centaur, which I've read any number of times and which I taught to quite a few students. Or tried to teach. I really like that one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Me, too. Hard to believe he started writing about old age with Poorhouse Fair.

Lisa said...

It's kind of ironic that in this time where most of us have been yearning for change (myself included), there was an established part of the literary world that I hoped would always stay the same and Bellow, Roth and Updike formed the heart of that core. When Saul Bellow died, it was a jolt. Despite John Updike's age, for some reason I always expected him to be there. I always thought I'd see a new novel every few years and that whenever The New Yorker arrived, there was a good chance I'd see a review from him. I've never understood the post-post-modern Updike bashing that became a nasty, but almost accepted part of some circles. I thought his 2006 novel, TERRORIST was completely underrated and I suspect much of his work will come to be appreciated more now that he's gone.

Todd Mason said...

Well, he had some short stories out before tackling that first, short novel THE POORHOUSE FAIR, iirc. Sterling prose.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And Malamud, Lisa, who nobody remembers today. THE MAGIC BARREL-some of the best short stories ever written. THE ASSISTANT, superb. THE NATURAL, of course.
I found Bellow remote but intellectually appealing. My husband's favorite. And Roth goes on, maybe writing some of his best novels after 65. Esp,. American Pastoral. Can anyone write about gloves better than Roth.
Yes,the short stories were great from the start with JU.

Todd Mason said...

Well, we remember Bernard Malamud.

Bellow often very funny in my experience, waspishly though consciously not WASPishly. At his most relaxed and discursive, Bellow also reminiscent of Avram Davidson likewise.

Barrie said...

i was very into the Rabbit books.

George said...

John Updike's review collections, HUGGING THE SHORE and DUE CONSIDERATIONS, are well worth owning. Only Gore Vidal could write a better book review.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I clearly remember sitting down and reading Hugging the SHore cover to cover. I don't hink I'd ever do that today with a book of essays. So much more time then.

James said...

Last night Charlie Rose gave his show over to an interview with the editors of The New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review and Updike's long-time editor at Knopf. Interspersed were a few clips of Updike interviewed by Rose over the years.

Monday night there'll be an hour of these clips.

As he lay on his deathbed--literally--Updike wrote a long poem, portions of which will appear in the next New Yorker.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, James. I'll DVR it Monday.