Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

John Updike

By Levi Asher on Tuesday, January 27, 2009 05:31 pm

John Updike, a beacon of literary sensibility in a hectic age, has died today at age 76.

When I was younger, I saw John Updike as the smirking epitome of the American literary establishment and claimed to dislike him, though somehow I kept reading him and liking him more and more with each novel I read. Eventually I realized he was among my very favorite living writers. Couples, a study of the psychology of adultery masked as a sex-filled popular bestseller, may have been his masterpiece. Other works of his I've loved best include Too Far To Go, Marry Me, Gertrude and Claudius and his great volumes of generous, gorgeously composed literary criticism, such as Picked-Up Pieces, Hugging the Shore, Odd Jobs, More Matter and the recent Due Considerations. His short stories provide unending pleasure, his slim autobiography Self-Consciousness is also wonderful, and nobody who intends to enjoy the Updike oeuvre should miss Nicholson Baker's crazily affectionate tribute to his own favorite writer, U and I.

Unlike other bloggers, I never really feel sad when a great writer dies. A life lived as art deserves a meaningful ending, and my greatest wish for a literary giant like John Updike is that he achieve a final chapter that would satisfy him. I wish John Updike's last novel wasn't The Widows of Eastwick, but Updike's career was always characterized by a wide scope, and perhaps this ending will eventually explain itself. I am happy that I got a chance to ask him a question two and a half years ago, and I was thrilled at the time that he seemed to like my question. I feel honored to have briefly shared his literary space.

Other LitKicks posts concerning John Updike are here (by Jamelah), here, here, here (in which I contrast him with Philip Roth), here (in which I get pissed off at him), here, here and here (in which I compare him to Henry James).
6 Responses to "John Updike"

by News Review on

Our deepest condolences to the family left behind by Mr. Updike.. He's a great man .. But still he is with God and that would give us a peace of mind. We sincerely pray that he may rest in peace..

by chad on

Three days ago I picked up rabbit, run. this is the first experience I have had with Updike. and although, Levi, I have seen you state before that the "rabbit" series might not be the best place to begin reading Updike, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. weird things have been happening to me all month. and now this, i pick up a novel, somewhat content that the author is still alive and there might be a chance I will see him in person sometime down the line, and he dies a few days after. i was on a nicholson baker run. was about to read U and I when i found out it was more or less an ode to Updike, therefore I thought it would be good to read him a bit prior to Baker's tribute.

just not the news i wanted to come home to after a day out there. of course not as tragic as coming home to hear about DFW last year.

by Bill on

I was at the same NYPL event you were, Levi, and thankful now that I got my photo taken with him, the man I consider my favorite writer. I'll admit feeling a bit melancholy since hearing the news, especially since it was lung cancer that took him: his mind and skills were still sharp, so it seems like such an unnecessary way to go. Rest in peace, Mr. Updike.

by dlt on

John Updike's literary criticism is pretty good, like Gore Vidal's pamphlets. But I can't read his novels (this could change), which ain't saying much. I dislike most novels, probably.

I saw him at the College of NJ, more than a few years ago. He read about some character who hadn't lost any of his hair; Updike hadn't lost any of his.

Levi, I share your sadness at Updike's death. I was surprised at how personally bereft it made me feel. My Top Ten would be quite different from yours--I put the Rabbit novels at the summit, especially the latter two, plus the Bech books, plus a generous fraction of the stories, plus those marvelous, slabby nonfiction collections. But that only emphasizes what a capacious writer Updike was. Throw away the tailings and you've still got entire mountains of pure ore.

by Archie on

Just discovered Updike last year (where i live, its a discovery!) and have been enraptured ever since. I still can't believe how you can dislike the Rabbit books Levi, they're what made me fall in love with the man's writing in the first place.

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