John Updike—man of letters (1931-2009)

john-updikeToo young to die.  John Updike was only 76 and, many suspect, still taking copious notes as he drew his last breath in hospice care in Massachusetts on January 27. 

His lifelong output was astonishing, not just in number but genre:  novels, short stories, verse, essays, and criticism.  On subject matter, he was equally wide-ranging, moving from literature and art to favorite subjects like golf and baseball.

Considered America’s preeminent recorder of the middle class, he gave “the mundane its beautiful hue,” as he himself put it.  Some critics believe his sentences—lyrical things of beauty in themselves—lack the heft to carry ideas, but others feel his writing is a polished reflection of the world.

Critics find themselves hardpressed to pinpoint a single masterpiece, but most mention the Rabbit Tetrology (from 1960-90)—Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; Rabbit at Rest—chronicling the life of fictional Harry Angstrong. 

Other favorites include Couples, The Coup, The Witches of Eastwick and, recently, the Widows of Eastwick.  But that short list doesn’t begin to cover the body of his work.  My advice—get hold of an obituary in a major newspaper or national news magazine, where his oeuvre will be covered in depth.

Ideas for Book Clubs

  1. It would be fun to read Witches…then Widows of Eastwick.  You might attempt the Rabbit Tetrology, too, though it’s not my favorite. 
  2. For fun, read Updike's famous short story “A & P” in our free LitCourse 4. The story is a brilliant and funny, even bittersweet, coming of age story set in the 1950s. Also, take a look at the LitCourse Study Guide for for the story.

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