Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Book Review: UPDIKE by Adam Begley

Still not quite finished this, but I have had such a good time reading this massive biography, I saw no need to rush through. It was more fun to remember when I read Updike's books, to remember the stories about the Maples, the stories about Rabbit, the story about the witches and all of the Updike trivia I ingested over the years.

If there's a writer, I identified with early on and for many years it was Updike. I must confess somewhere along the way he stopped speaking to me, as did a number of other writers I liked in my 20s and 30s but I always found him fascinating.

Adam Begley's book is  successful to me because it it shows you where the plots came from without pushing it too hard. It manages to be both sympathetic and critical of him for various decisions and behavior over the years. He doesn't seem particularly likable and yet there was no malevolence in him. I doubt anyone who didn't like Updike's books would find this book interesting. But if you're a fan or even an off and on fan, you will enjoy this. Not quite up to the standard of Scott Berg's biography of Maxwell Perkins, but some lives are more interesting than others. Like his friend and peer, Joyce Carol Oates, his life was exclusively about the writing. I know people like that.

What's your favorite writer biography?

For more book reviews, visit Barrie Summy. After a hiatus, book reviews will begin again in the Fall. 

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had this from the library but returned it because it was too long and I had too many other books ahead of it. I will go back to it. I agree with you - I liked the Rabbit books and the Maple stories in particular.

Favorite author biography? Leon Edel's 5 volumes about Henry James was fascinating to me. I've also liked several of the Hemingway biographies, especially the 5 volumes by Michael Reynolds. To me Hemingway was such an interesting mass of contradictions.

Jeff M.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - You know, I have to admit I know very little about Updike. I'm tempted to try this one...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Phil likes the Edel bios. Five volumes is intimidating. I liked the recent bios of Carver and Cheever, but not enough to finish. Bios are so long.

Deb said...

I really enjoyed Andrew Wilson's Beautiful Shadow--a biography of Patricia Highsmith. I think I wrote about it for an FFB. There's been at least one more Highsmith bio since Wilson published his, but I haven't read it. I also read a very good biography of Grace Metilious, author if Payton Place. Metilious was always a square peg on a round hole and the bio did a great job if showing how that affected her. Sadly, at this moment, I can't remember the biographer's name.

And speaking of Henry Hames, I loved Colm Toibin's The Master--a fictional version of James's life, which did a wonderful job of showing how small events and incidents could flower into vast fictional stories years later.

Rose said...

I haven't read that much by Updike, but I've always enjoyed learning more about some of my favorite authors. When I was young I read almost all of Louisa May Alcott's books and remember reading a biography of her that I found fascinating. Of course, it helped that she had a pretty interesting family and circle of friends:)

Deb said...

The Grace Metalious biography was written by Emily Toth and is called Inside Peyton Place. Barbara Delinski wrote a novel called Looking for Peyton Place about how the people if Metalious's hometown turned against her when her book became so popular.

David Cranmer said...

I would enjoy this bio on Updike. I'm rereading the Bech series at the moment.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read the Metalious one. PEYTON PLACE was one of those books that stuck with me.
How do they hold up, David? I have one on my shelf here. Haven't read them in years. My favorites are the MAPLE stories. He really nailed that era in those.

Charles Gramlich said...

most of the biographies I've read of writers have had to do with Hemingway. I do usually enjoy bios in general though.

Sarah Laurence said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Laurence said...

I read one of the Rabbit books a decade ago and found it fascinating. The attitude toward women, marriage and sex seemed so unenlightened, but it felt like he captured the time period well. I didn't want to read more of his books, but I could understand why my parents were fans. I don't tend to read biographies but I am interested in authors. Fine review!

Anonymous said...

They did a very good TV movie based on the Maple stories with the wonderful Blythe Danner and Michael Moriarty called Too Far to Go.

Jeff M.

Cap'n Bob said...

I rarely read bios but the ones I've read of authors covered Stout, Chandler, Hammett, and Mencken. All were enjoyable.

George said...

I've always liked Richard Ellmann's biography of Oscar Wilde,

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

Thoughtful review. I think it interesting to understand the writer, if you like him/her. I'm not sure I have a favourite, though! I haven't read Updike in years.

Lucy said...

It's always interesting to get some insight on someone you admired or whose work you've enjoyed. Thanks for the review.

Barry Ergang said...

My favorite is one you mentioned, Scott Berg's bio of Maxwell Perkins.

pattinase (abbott) said...

THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER will always be my favorite but all of her books are great.
The reason the Berg book is so great, I think, was watching how he shaped writers like Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway.