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I was shocked to find John Updike's obituary at the top of Google news stories. I had not even known that he was unwell. This is a terrible loss in American literature. It is saddening to think that one of the better writers of the past thirty years plus has died today of lung cancer at age 76.

First, here are a collection of obits to read:

John Updike was the author of numerous highly awarded books. The Rabbit Novels will probably always remain the centerpiece of his legacy:

(1960) Rabbit, Run
(1971) Rabbit Redux
(1981) Rabbit Is Rich
(1990) Rabbit At Rest
(2001) Rabbit Remembered

Rabbit is Rich won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award that year. Rabbit at Rest won him a second Pulitzer Prize, one of the few modern authors to accomplish this feat. The novels are about, in a nutshell, the emotional struggles of Harry Angstrom, a high school basketball star who feels unhappy because life did not offer him all he hoped it would. It is written in first person present tense, and done very well for such a difficult technique. The series later documented his midlife crisis and old age. He was also awarded a first National Book Award for his novel The Centuar, a huge success, and published when he was only 30 years old, making him the second youngest winner of the award behind Phillip Roth who was an insanely young 27 when he won it in 1960 for Goodbye, Colombus. I have yet to read it, but I want to.

I had really enjoyed reading his Rabbit Novels and am saddened on a personal level to see such an admirable and talented writer go.

However he wasn't just known for those novels, he also published nine books of poetry, thirteen books of short stories, and ten books of criticism as well as fifteen other novels. He left an enormous volume of high quality work for his many fans and greatly enriched American literature as well. His prodigious output is a rarity among talented and literary authors.

He was long considered one of the masters of present tense sentence by sentence writers and was also considered one of the premier short story writers and critiques.

He long suffered from psoriasis, a fact that he always said ended being the reason he became a good writer, (due to the embarrassment, shyness, and alienation). He has two grandchildren who are half black, with their father being being from Africa, and in his memoir Self Consciousness he eloquently and touchingly writes to them telling them not to be ashamed of their skin color. His best memoirs is Self Consciousness.

The American Literary Community is lessened today by the departure of a great man, a giant among so many.

P.S. Please vote in my poll. I use it as a counter to know how many people read a given thing. Sounds little, but it's important to me. And, the thread below is an open thread to talk about what you've been reading lately and American Literature in general, any thoughts you've had or have, plenty of people would be interested to discuss everything with you and compare and suggest books, and John updike in particular. Now is the fitting time to remember him and hid works fondly and as our own eulogy I'd like his fans to post and talk about their favorite Updike book.

Originally posted to ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:18 PM PST.


Have you read John Updike?

17%16 votes
48%44 votes
5%5 votes
14%13 votes
13%12 votes

| 90 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar+ (23+ / 0-)

    sorry there's not much to this, but I was trying to be brief and to beat everyone else to the punch here. He's a great novelist, really should check out of a few of his works. and like I said in the diary, the thread below is an open thread on American literature, please post any thoughts you have or have had lately on an author or book and what you're reading, their plenty people who'd be interested to talk about it.

    Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

    by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:21:09 PM PST

  •  He was influenced by two of my favorite authors (5+ / 0-)

    Henry Green (Updike writes the introduction to the Penguin edition of Living/Loving/Party Going) and Nabokov (I believe Updike was a student of his).

    He also had a literary run-in with another favorite of mine, Gore Vidal, but out of respect and politeness I won't go into that.

  •  The Rabbit has Died: ( (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, Started Smoking at 52

    I think the 'Rabbit' series should be required reading for women. It really gave me a perspective on men and the different stages of life that they go thru.

  •  I posted this famous baseball piece earlier: (6+ / 0-)

    "The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories." - John Updike in Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu (1960)

    Full story here

    He was a huge Red Sox fan.

  •  I appreciated this post (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Love, MA Liberal, ArkDem14

    One of my best friends is a huge Updike fan and I've been dabbling in his work since. I started reading his short stories and have checked out one of his books to read this week, all before he died. My motivation to follow through is high.

    What a loss. But what a legacy.

    Like Dorothy and Toto went over the rainbow to blow off Auntie Em...

    by JulieUnplugged on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:39:23 PM PST

  •  His reviews in the New Yorker (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caneel, ArkDem14

    always conveyed the sober-minded self-awareness that his words were likely to become part of America's literary history (which was often the case).  He was our modern Hawthorne.

    In 2006 he gave this paean to the book - the physical, hard-copy-in-hand book. Whether the book lingers or goes away, replaced by the inaptly named Kindle, it really is an encomium to the act of reading:

    The printed, bound and paid-for book was — still is, for the moment — more exacting, more demanding, of its producer and consumer both.  

    It is the site of an encounter, in silence, of two minds, one following in the other’s steps but invited to imagine, to argue, to concur on a level of reflection beyond that of personal encounter, with all its merely social conventions, its merciful padding of blather and mutual forgiveness.

    "Justice is indivisible." - MLK

    by Bob Love on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:47:06 PM PST

    •  In what ways would you compare him to Hawthorne? (0+ / 0-)

      Though I must admit I'm not that familiar with Hawthorne, I don't associate Updike's writings about suburbia and dissatisfaction with Hawthorne's about Puritanism and the legacy of it in New England.

      Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

      by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:51:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, he did a Scarlet Letter trilogy, for one: (3+ / 0-)

        A Month of Sundays, Roger's Version, and S., all taking one of the three protagonists of Hawthorne's novel as starting-points for his updates of the theme. I think there's a similar attention to the individual and the community, and how the individual grows restive and bristles at the constraints placed on him or her by the community. Adultery is a topic for both.

        There's also a huge interest in both writers in the workings of God and fate in human lives: Updike is rather rare among his contemporaries in being so interested in this. There's a theological side to both, an interest in providence and theodicy.

        Politics, please.

        by timmyk on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:58:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  At the moment (3+ / 0-)

    I'm reading Doctor Zhigavo by Boris Pasternak, which is really good. I just through with Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf which was amazing, my new favorite novel. The last forty pages or so of the novel are almost unreal they are so good. Of course Hesse is just an amazing novelist.

    Is it just me or was Updike one of the last American novelists not grossly overhyped? I can't think of another one in recent history. Thomas Pynchon is an overly written, self-referencing, dull post modernist, Don Delillo is a stereotypical crusader against all societal changes since he was a kid and sounds like a crochety old man waving his fist at passing cars and yelling "kids these days, with their fancy automobiles". All his works are overly preachy and drull but good in their own sort of way because they are written well. Still, he is not as good as they. Cormac McCArthy is just terrible, because I hate minalamism, and everything Philip Roth has written is almost about the exact same thing, and I haven't found any of his books particularly good. What does that leave us with? I don't much care for Tony Morrison either, because her works seem to all be about the same subject too, and The Bluest Eye, (the only one I've read), was not particularly well written.

    At least we've still got Edward Albee as far as plays go.

    Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

    by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:48:38 PM PST

    •  ...Wallace Stegner n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      real democracy happens regardless

      by Started Smoking at 52 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:56:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You don't seem to get the point of postmodernism. (0+ / 0-)

      The over-writtenness, the play with language, self-reflexiveness are all conscious, partly a reaction to modernism, partly a reaction to the changing times, such as key discoveries or moments in linguistics, the physical sciences, mass media and communications, etc. As for dullness, the concept of pastiche--parody or quotation of stereotypical, deadened language--is key, part of Pynchon's strategies as a writer.

      How is DeLillo a "stereotypical crusader against all societal changes"? He's certainly critical of contemporary American life, but I don't recall him ranting about how bad airplanes are, etc. Again, he's really interested in the rise of mass media, instant technologies, etc., and how these things affect our everyday lives.

      And to describe Cormac McCarthy as a minimalist suggests that you've never read him. Aside from The Road, maybe, McCarthy is definitely a literary maximist, both in style and subject matter.

      Politics, please.

      by timmyk on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:04:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  oops, "maximalist." nt (0+ / 0-)

        Try Blood Meridian if you've never read it. Better than Melville, for my dollar: a postmodern Western, fraught with dark thoughts on the nation's bloody past and on the human proclivity toward violence and destruction. Along with Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, the only convincing twentieth-century response to Moby Dick. Essential.

        Politics, please.

        by timmyk on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:07:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I hated, and I mean hated (0+ / 0-)

          Blood Meridian more than any other book I've ever attempted to read. Its one the only book I've ever quit reading out of sheer disgust. 150 pages of line by line, "He did this, then did that. He went over here, drank whiskey, punched a man in the face." You've got to be kidding me. Blood Meridian is one of the sparsest, barest books I've ever read. If I want someone to tell me line by line a character did this and that in flat, unimaginative, untalented writing I'll read over a sixth grader's work. There is no deepness in the book, and no depth of character at all.

          We have completely different tastes you and I. I hate both the books you find great. I don't even care for Moby Dick much. All are overrated. You sound like Harold Bloom though.

          I think that Faulkner, Steinbeck, Wolfe, Hesse are the only truly great writers of that century, along with Bulgakov and maybe Doris Lessing among others.

          Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

          by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:14:35 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hey, a modernist and a post-modernist, (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ArkDem14, samantha in oregon

            you'll never see eye to eye.

            real democracy happens regardless

            by Started Smoking at 52 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:18:56 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  yeah, lol (0+ / 0-)

              I don't like Hemingway either, must overrated writer ever. However I love modernism, and romanticism. Joyce is another author I really like, especially his use of stream of conscious, which is, I think, the ultimate form of literature.

              Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

              by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:20:33 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  No, sorry, you're quite wrong. (0+ / 0-)

            Flatly untrue. I can confidently say that Blood Meridian is one of the most lyrical, lush, overwritten books in American letters. Like Faulkner on acid, Melville on meth: you might love it or hate it, but you have to stick within the bounds of fact when discussing it, at least with me. You must be thinking of some other book, or some other author. Respectfully.

            It's a tenet of literary criticism that statements like "I hate X" and "Y is overrated" aren't worth too much as arguments; it's also a tenet (and not just of lit. crit.) that ad hominems like "you sound like Harold Bloom" are just plain silly, bordering on asshattish. So chill.

            Politics, please.

            by timmyk on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:27:00 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  But ArkDem14 is well-read (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              That's saying a lot.  It may lead to some arguments, but nowadays "Who cares?" is the best most people can do.  I tend to read the same authors over and over.

            •  Well, I'm not a literary (0+ / 0-)

              critic, just an intended Literature major and I don't like Bloom, when he speaks you barely understand him underneath all the snobbishness and pomposity.

              And, I am talking about Blood Meridian. I read 153 pages of it, gruelingly, over a two month period, and if I hadn't given the book away I go pick it up now and quote it for you directly. Its not a book by another author, I read it specifically because it was supposed to be good. There's nothing lyrical about it my mind. I can read and comprehend anything, I have a 36 on the ACT reading, 800 on the SAT, and 800 on the SAT II literature test, plus I made a 5+ on the AP Literature exam that my teacher gave us for a fall final this year in AP Composition. I would call it his most minalamistic book of all, and even my teacher, who is a huge fan and loves the book, still calls it minalamistic and existential. It has absolutely nothing on Faulkner, not Light in August, or The Sound and the Fury, they are blemished by the mere comparison.

              Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

              by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:49:51 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  the thing is I like (0+ / 0-)

        modernism. Pynchon just reminds of Heller, whom I can't stand as well. I don't find a mass of self references, dry stale and empty characters literature, I just don't.

        I read White Noise by him, his most famous work, and it criticized a family's "ultra-modern life" and how his kids listened to music all the time and watched tv.

        Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

        by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:10:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  White Noise is by DeLillo. (0+ / 0-)

          And it's about more than TV and music. Primarily it's about middle age, existential crises, aging, the male psyche; on top of that, there's a terrific middle part that details the now-famous "Airborne Toxic Event," which threatens the small town in which the protagonist and his family live. O and there's stuff about media, the environment, Hitler, history, in it as well.

          What of Pynchon have you read? I'm just asking b/c most folks don't describe his work as dry or stale: indeed, there's an exuberance and a experimentalism to all of his writing, and THAT'S what people usually dislike. That and the coprophagia and SM scenes.

          Politics, please.

          by timmyk on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:13:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I also (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        kind of feel like all of today's authors are overly stylistic just for the hell of it, they use cliched forms and stylism because its "in" and cool to do it. I like what John Gardener and Brian Reynolds Meyers had to say about the subject. I really care for almost nothing that passes as "literary" today because I find most of it over-stylistic, cliched, stereotypical, drull. Michael Chabon is a rare exception, but even he has written some stinkers, The Yiddish Policemen's Union for one.

        Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

        by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:23:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  What do you think of Louis Auchincloss? (0+ / 0-)

          I liked his prose style as I read samples of it and wondered if I should buy some of his books.

          I wish I had more time to read Graham Greene too.

          I used to think the first sentence from The Bluest Eye didn't make sense ("Nuns go by as quiet as lust ...") but it doesn't sound that bad now that I've looked it up again.

          I'm reading Creation by Vidal right now.

          •  I have not heard of Auchincloss (0+ / 0-)

            I haven't really given Greene a fair shot yet, I'll read The Power and the Glory sometime later. Right now I have to finish Doctor Zhigavo, and read Anna Karenina because a friend bought it for me. Oh, and I also have to read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denosovitch by Solzenitzen, (who also died recently), for class.

            Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

            by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 04:01:50 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I liked Chabon's Wonder Boys. (0+ / 0-)

          Not too much "over-stylization" there.

          My issue with so much of what you're saying is that I teach this stuff for a living, and the popular idea that these books are "too long," "overstylized," etc. is a huge hindrance, I've found, to teaching them, but more importantly, to helping people understand that these are demanding, challenging, breathtaking, life-changing works. And when pressed, people who say this tend never to have read the works in question, but have stock opinions about postmodernism (which they always misspell as two words, lol) that come right out of Time Magazine. But whatever, we can't all be readerly rockstars, can we?

          Politics, please.

          by timmyk on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:30:39 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  huh (0+ / 0-)

            I said I liked chabon. Wonder Boys and The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay were both very good.

            I never complained about length. I tend to agree with Ebert's statement "A good movie can never be too long, but a bad one can never be short enough." I think the same applies to literature.

            One of the only things I do is read. Over the past few months I've read The Sound and The Fury, Kenzaburo Oe's Nip the Buds Shoot the Kids, Steppenwolf, The Magic Mountain, and The Metamorphosis and found all quite good, though The Maic Mountain was a little tedious and didactic at places.

            My problem is that I am a highly picky reader and I just don't like the works, as much as I've tried, repeatedly, over and over again. Like McCarthy, I picked up Blood Meridian really expecting to like it, I mean I expected to like it a lot so it wasn't as if I picked up to bash it. I wanted to like McCarthy even after so I read The Road, No Country For Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses. I just cannot stand the man's writing style.

            Like I said above, I really concur with Brian Myers, his A Reader's Manifesto was one of the few critical works, if any, I found that agreed with me to some degree on some of these authors.

            I can't explain anymore to you. We've already established we have opposite tastes and viewpoints on it. That doesn't mean one of us is wrong or doesn't know what they are talking about, it just means we have different opinions. I've always known that my opinion, both as a reader and a writer, is severely in the minority. If you want I'll give Blood Meridian yet another try, just for you.

            I also thought of another 20th Century author who I really liked and respected; Kurt Vonnegut. One of his most unknown and underrated books is my favorite, Mother Night.

            Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

            by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:59:38 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Was shocked and saddened to see (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    about his death today. Hadn't been aware he was ill.

    Here's a list of some of his appearances on C-SPAN over the years:


    Electing conservatives is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by bwintx on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:53:18 PM PST

    •  yeah me too, (0+ / 0-)

      I had absolutely no idea that he had lung cancer and had been in a covalescent home the past few months. He was only 76. I think Edward Albee and Gore Vidal will both probably go sometime in the next few years as well, hopefully not, but their both approaching their mid-eighties.

      Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

      by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:58:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rabbit was about 10 years older than I.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caneel, ArkDem14

    so every installment was like a lesson in, not so much maturation - Rabbit never really matured - so much as what to expect in my next decade.  The passages in Rabbit Is Rich where he's haunting old places in small-town Pennsylvania, particularly the passage with his father, rank among my all-time goosbump inducers.  
    "The stars are like bullet-holes in the hangar roof"

    "The dead stare upward"

    thanks, Mr. Updike

    real democracy happens regardless

    by Started Smoking at 52 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:54:25 PM PST

    •  As somewhat a lot younger (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      like 17, I found the book a somewhat hallowing look at how unhappy I might be in the middle ages, lol. Haunting, but powerful as well, touching and helpful. Not as good as Der Steppenwolf though, still that book is amazing. I also kind of saw myself a lot in that book and really was fascinated by the ideas Hesse was putting forth. Really everyone needs to read that book.

      Seize Every day, giving no thought for tommorrow-Horace

      by ArkDem14 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 02:59:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nothing in between having 'read him once' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, FishBiscuit

    and being a 'huge fan'?  I liked most of his work, have read the first three Rabbit books, but do not consider myself a huge fan.  

  •  the best writer of his class and generation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caneel, ArkDem14

    Although I didn't read all his work, I read a lot for me. His time and place weren't mine, still I could relate to the humanity and foibles of his people, and his descriptions of the last six American decades. Brain food!

    The due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government -George Washington

    by bob zimway on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:07:53 PM PST

  •  ..and yet he obsessed with sex like.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArkDem14, FishBiscuit

    some sweaty-palmed 7th grader, never to mature, as far as I know.

    real democracy happens regardless

    by Started Smoking at 52 on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:15:30 PM PST

  •  As I said in another thread (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caneel, ArkDem14, samantha in oregon

    Updike lived in my town. Well, he lived in Beverly Farms, and I'm in Beverly, but it's the same town - the Farms" just refers to that area of the city.
    Anyway, it was fun seeing him about, at his church's fair, or at a party (got to go to a Christmas party my parents were invited to by a friend and Updike was usually there).
    He was very quiet, not outgoing and somewhat standoffish. could have been shyness. Could have been he didn't want anyone talking to him and going on and on about his books. Whatever. It was still fun having him around. Gonna miss him.

    Electing conservatives is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by MA Liberal on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:33:32 PM PST

  •  From an Updike poem... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caneel, ArkDem14

    Born laughing, I’ve believed in the absurd,
    Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can,
    I must impersonate a serious man.

    Nice obit also at the NY Times.
    They also have a video interview he did with the editor of the Book Review from October 2008 (link in the NY times obit).

    Electing conservatives is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by MA Liberal on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 03:38:20 PM PST

  •  You need more choices in your poll. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I like some of Updike's work, though it's plain to me that much of the critical acclaim for his work was a direct result of the cozy relationship he had with critics of the same social station. Like Tom Wolfe, most equally affluent and socially connected critics could see him as "one of us".

    On the other hand, one can argue that Updike hugely facilitated the headlong plunge of American literary fiction off the elitist cliff some time in the 1970s or so. Instead of powerful works accessible to a wide audience of reasonably educated readers, nowadays we see countless overcooked, almost unreadable confections targeted to a tiny audience of highly "literary" fans.

  •  John Updike himself said it all ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Perfection Wasted

    And another regrettable thing about death
    is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
    which took a whole life to develop and market-
    the quips, the witticisms, the slant
    adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
    the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
    in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
    their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
    their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
    their response and your performance twinned.
    The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
    in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
    Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
    imitators and descendants aren't the same.

    - John Updike

    Against silence, which is slavery. -- Czeslaw Milosz

    by Caneel on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 04:29:23 PM PST

  •  Extremely depressing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Caneel, ArkDem14

    Updike over the last 30 years was also probably the best writer around on art exhibits and great painters.

    The Rabbit novels, by the way, though brilliant, are pretty tough stuff (full of awful things happening to people and profanity) and not for the faint of heart.

    We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

    by Minerva on Tue Jan 27, 2009 at 04:31:20 PM PST

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