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John Updike

There was a time when a novelist could bestride the American cultural landscape. You could get on the cover of Time magazine. Reporters sought your opinion on politics, culture, sports, anything. Your short stories appeared in Esquire and Playboy. Needless to say, it was the men who ruled the game, by and large, and they became brand names: Updike, Roth, Bellow, Mailer, Malamud, Salinger, Pynchon, all of them descendants of those ultra-brand-name uber-lions, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. They all seemed to be trying to write the Great American Novel, and Roth even titled one of his books exactly that.

There are probably just as many great writers emerging today, but they play a less conspicuous, less swaggering role in our culture. Many more of them are women. Women buy most of the fiction. They are less interested in Updikean tales of men trying to bed the neighbor's wife. Updike was kind of reactionary when it came to cultural matters, and he was arguably a bit piggy (though never in the same class of piggy as Mailer).

Updike knew better than anyone that things had changed. Or at least, it had changed for him, as he told The Post's David Streitfeld back in 1998:

"I go to a college to speak and am treated like a little king, get applauded at the end -- you'd be applauded no matter what you did up there. You get a lot of love that way, people line up with the used paperbacks to be signed. But you go into an airport bookstore on the way back and there's no Updike there. There's no Updike at all. I'm a vanished man, a nonentity as far as mass readership goes. I didn't used to always be."

Updike was one of my favorites. I read three of the four Rabbit books; "The Witches of Eastwick," "Roger's Version," and "S.," a kind of loose trilogy with echoes of "The Scarlet Letter;" "The Centaur," "Of the Farm," and his last book of short stories built around his Bellowesque character Henry Bech. Plus all those essays, poems, his wonderful memoir "Self-Consciousness." And the book reviews! A play! Children's books! He was unstoppable. He ultimately became oppressed by his own output. Again, from the Streitfeld interview:

"My books are taking over room after room. I'm being eaten by my own works. My wife is complaining. It's kind of a nightmare. I don't know what to do with them. No one wants them, and I need them now and then. It's nice to have translations, even if you can't read them. But my childhood desire to be a maker of books has been fulfilled, and it's become a kind of nightmare."

Guilty admission: I hadn't read much that he'd written in the past two decades. A book of short stories about Henry Bech, yes, and they were good. And then recently, hoping against hope that he'd recapture the magic of his heyday, I labored through The Widows of Eastwick. It didn't come close to the charm of "Witches," but it had its rewards, not least of which was seeing Updike channel the diminished dreams and chronic pains of his aging characters. The reader thinks: So that's what it's like, getting old.

Updike was always of the realist school even when his characters had supernatural powers. He didn't have merely an eye for detail: He let the detail drive the narrative. Plot? Conflict and resolution? That kind of thing was often lost amid the sounds, smells, textures of Updike's literary world. The payoff in an Updike book was never a plot twist or a dramatic resolution. Rather it was a telling insight about the world, usually a pithy sentence, no commas, just six or seven words. A small truth, perfectly crafted.

How good was he? Well, no one as prolific wrote better, and no one better was as prolific. Probably he deserved the Nobel Prize, but then that could be said of lots of writers who haven't won it and probably never will. He was probably too provincial for the Nobel judges, what with all his middle class characters in the grip of ordinary, crass passions -- all that adultery, all that greed, all those weight problems. Updike's characters got stuck in traffic, got sick, got horny, got lonely, then got dead from natural causes. His prose, though brilliantly polished, and often beautiful, was essentially conventional. He never wrote a really big book, a doorstopper, unless you count the packaged Rabbit books.

Will John Updike be read in 100 years? Maybe not. That doesn't change how much we liked him, how much we admired him, how much fun we had with his books. Did I mention he could be very, very funny? (See the great sermon on God's nasty world by devilish Darryl Van Horne in "Witches.")

And so, with his passing, we acknowledge John Updike's hard work, for so long, on behalf of those who love words.


The New Yorker has links to some Updike pieces over the years, including the famous piece on Ted Williams's last day at Fenway.

From the AP obit:

'He captured, and sometimes embodied, a generation's confusion over the civil rights and women's movements, and opposition to the Vietnam War. Updike was called a misogynist, a racist and an apologist for the establishment. On purely literary grounds, he was attacked by Norman Mailer as the kind of author appreciated by readers who knew nothing about writing.

'But more often he was praised for his flowing, poetic writing style. Describing a man's interrupted quest to make love, Updike likened it "to a small angel to which all afternoon tiny lead weights are attached." Nothing was too great or too small for Updike to poeticize. He might rhapsodize over the film projector's "chuckling whir" or look to the stars and observe that "the universe is perfectly transparent: we exist as flaws in ancient glass." '


Here's Updike fan Curmudgeon in the boodle:

'...try "Pigeon Feathers" (short stories), "Of the Farm," "The Poorhouse Fair," "The Olinger Stories" (Olinger was his name for Shillington), "The Same Door," and "A & P" (the title short story, "A & P," is one of my three all-timers). The Maples stories are in "Too Far to Go." For football fans, the finest football story ever written is "In Football Season." And it's only about three pages long (and about high school football in that southeastern section of Pennsylvania north of and just beyond the Philly 'burbs, where I grew up).

'One of the best (of so many) Updike quotes: "Of plants tomatoes seemed the most human, eager and fragile and prone to rot." (The Witches of Eastwick)'

'... I am a writer today because of Updike's short stories, more than any other writer or source or motivation. After I read "A Sense of Shelter," I knew what my life's work would be. That story was about me. I will never forgive the Nobel committee from not getting to him in time. B@st@rds.'


The New York Review of Books also has some Updike links.


From Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in The Times:

"The only wealth he bestowed on his subjects lay in the richness of his descriptive language, the detailed fineness of which won him comparisons with painters like Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth. This detail was often so rich that it inspired two schools of thought on Mr. Updike's fiction -- those who responded to his descriptive prose as to a kind of poetry, a sensuous engagement with the world, and those who argued that he wasted beautiful language on nothing."


More here from James Fallows. And here's a comment posted to the New Yorker's comment page devoted to Updike:

'Our great American Lion of Letters is Dead! Long live the wisdom of his writings and his poetic human insights for future generations yet to be enriched! The observation of another great novelist seems appropriate today: ''The novelist destroys the house of his life and uses its stones to build the house of his novel." -- Milan Kundera Mr. Updike himself said: "When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him." - John Updike Many Thanks for all your wonderful words, poems, reviews, and even a play that contributed to enhancing the quality and understanding of our lives through your experiences and imagination! Larry C. Randen, Rosemount, MN and senior literary associate on the "Centaurian" Updike website: '


Via the St. Louis Post Dispatch, here's a snippet of a lecture in which Updike trashed online literary snippets:

"In imagining a huge, virtually infinite wordstream accessed by search engines and populated by teeming, promiscuous word snippets stripped of credited authorship, are we not depriving the written word of its old-fashioned function of, through such inventions as the written alphabet and the printing press, communication from one person to another -- of, in short, accountability and intimacy?"


Another Updike tribute, from Troy Patterson at Slate:

'Updike's most enduring legacy exists at the level of the sentence. If you count swinging Saul Bellow as a Canadian, Montreal-born, and also class Vladimir Nabokov as a transnational, all-transcending anomaly, then Updike is, line for line, without peer, the finest American prose stylist of the postwar era: meticulous, crystalline, and luminously hyperrealist, his opulent language hanging on austere forms. Even his bad writing--and the consequence of his three-pages-per-day prolificity is that there's no shortage of it--sparks with phrases that send the heart skittering.'

And here's Henry Allen: "He believed in that most questioned entity of arts and philsophy in our time, reality, as given by a God who occupied much of his writing."

Here's George Saunders in The New Yorker online: 'The story Updike had in that issue was the wonderful "Playing with Dynamite," a multilayered, complex, beautiful example of the modernist tradition: a story whose meaning infused every phrase in ways that didn't quite seem possible. It was surprising and powerful, and I wondered then, as I wonder now, how someone could write so powerfully as consistently as he did. What must the world look like through his eyes and his mind? To be that productive, at that high a level, for such a long a time, one's perceptions must be supple, adaptable, capable of finding stories everywhere--like Chekhov, who once, on a dare, offered to write a story about whatever object was proposed, and came back the next morning with the little masterpiece "The Ashtray" in hand.

'A John Updike is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, if that generation is lucky: so comfortable in so many genres, the same lively, generous intelligence suffusing all he did. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but, as I expect is the case with many readers, I internalized him, and am a better person for the urbane, hopeful, articulate voice he put in my head.'


More from Mark Athitakis, and there are many Updike links on a blog called Blowin' In the Wind.

Here's Paul Theroux, again in The New Yorker:

"Trained as a painter, Updike kept that unblinking eye his whole life. He was American literature's great noticer, and his work was always a reminder of the texture, the detail of life: of flesh, of the drape of clothes, of a way of speaking, a quality of light....

"The completeness of this vision is astonishing. So I'm surprised, even a little shocked, by the belittling tone of the obituaries: the talk of how one book was weaker than another, the sorting out, the awarding of marks. This misses the point: his work is all of a piece, capturing the life forces of America, a half century of the social, the political, the marital; of solitude and intimacy; and passion--the human libido is often warmly throbbing in Updike's fiction."

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 27, 2009; 2:03 PM ET
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Next: Who Speaks for Failure?


Updike and I parted company over Sargent, Updike feeling he fell short of masterpiece, me long hoping to one day acquire enough wealth to buy even a scribble that could maybe halfway reliably be attributed to Sargent. Yet, much of what I know about art, or think I know, can be blamed on Updike and he loved Hopper so all was forgiven. A shock to hear about his death today.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 27, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse


I remember, years ago, reading an article (or short story) in the New Yorker about a man golfing in Scotland with a very picturesque and brilliant caddy. The writing was amazing! Imagine my surprise when, at the end of the article, it was signed by John Updike. Who knew that golf mattered?
so much. to him.

(collected in *Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf)

Posted by: rickoshea0 | January 27, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Good gosh, Joel. You wrote this today? this afternoon? upon hearing the bad news? without, by your own admission, having read much of Updike's later work? and without, presumably, having given the man's life or career much concentrated thought in the recent past? That's amazing in itself. This is a lovely memoriam. It captures what many of us remember as the essence of Updike's writing, its virtues and flaws, as well as evoking a sense of the man himself. That's also a nice explanation for the absence of the Nobel.

Thank you.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 27, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Frosti, I've wanted a dribbled "mistake" of Sargent's or Homer's, too. My grandmother had a dribble from Harvey Dunn, the prairie son.

"The Prairie is my Garden" is the most famous.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

An awful confession: until what I have seen today, here in the A-blog, I think that I may never have read a word of Updike.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 27, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

How come nobody wants my dribbled mistakes?

(Wait a minute. Are we talking painting or cooking?)

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 27, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, thanks for the list. I have read A&P in college, and it is a memorable work.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

"They are less interested in Updikean tales of men trying to bed the neighbor's wife."

You got that in one, Joel.

Actually that kind of thing sells well if you do it for soap operas and other TV shows, or involve more of the POV of the neighbor's wife. Witches of Westwick was a successful movie.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

As a bookstore owner, I sold many an Updike book, but could never really get into them.
At the time, I read non-fiction.
Now, as I'm much older, fiction has reared its head in my direction and I'm enjoying a leisurely read, not of some oversexed teen, but of more mature contemporary characters struggling with life, moving on, but often not moving up.
Joel's comment about the pithy sentence, much remembered, savored and quoted, is right on the mark.
That was a hint of Updike at the height of his craft -- that of telling a good story.
We will miss him; he enabled us to travel, especially to the Eastern seaboard and enjoy "visiting" in depth with interesting people (even when his characters didn't seem to think their lives were interesting.)
God bless him and his family.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | January 27, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

The local school district has closed school for tomorrow. Cowards, I say, craven supplicants to the weather fiends. No word yet on Ivansdad and my respective universities.

My hope that the sleet will stop remains unfulfilled. I'm thinking of filling a bathtub full of water, just in case. This amuses my family but makes me feel better.

Pardon the interruption. Carry on.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 27, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Hi Judy-in-Tx!

Ivansmom, I completely understand the bathtub of water. Boys don't have to worry about flushing a toilet like girls do. And not having water to wash one's hands, yuck, just yuck.

Posted by: slyness | January 27, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Although I was an English major, it was my then-fiance, now [still] husband, who introduced me to Updike with "A Month of Sundays". We loved the nerve of admitting that the clergy had to go into sex-rehab, and the fact that the characters shared our first names. From there I went on to "Of the Farm" and Rabbit, some of which was pretty hard to take. I also remember the golf article in The New Yorker. Joel's Nobel explanation makes sense, and there was also a feeling with some of us that Updike just campaigned a little too hard for it. Still, Pulitzers and National Book Awards are nothing to sneeze at. RIP.

Posted by: meezermom | January 27, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Lovely tribute Joel.

You write good stuff.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: tslats | January 27, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I used to have a New Yorker subsription in the mid-80s so I'm certain I've read some of his short fiction.I have also read 3-1/2 of the Rabbit books. I couldn't make it through Rabbit at Rest because a tale of elderly idiots in Florida struck a little close to home.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 27, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Yeah if I'm going to read about that (rabbit at rest was one book I quit on pretty fast), it should at least be funny.

Now, if John Irving wrote about that...

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

From my limited reading if his work, Updike did write beautifully - at least in my opinion - and certainly was one of those Big Brand Name American Writers, as Joel suggests.

I only read a few of his novels and some of his pieces in the New Yorker, and enjoyed them, but never felt that consuming spark of urgency to read more of his works.

A failing on my part, I expect.


Posted by: -bc- | January 27, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

"A Month of Sundays" is laugh-out-loud funny. The guy gave me an education in behavior, adulthood, vocabulary and literature. He was great and his works will live on, they will be read a hundred years from now because human behavior doesn't actually change, we all just think we are the first generation to discover sex and real fun and child-rearing and middle-age and just about everything else.

Posted by: voldenuit123 | January 27, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I always get John Updike and John Cheever mixed up in my head. I liked Updike and hated Cheever, so that makes it a little troublesome sometimes.

Well... I'm home. Son of G and I drove a leisurely Route 29 up from Charlotte yesterday, arriving last night to the cheers of Dr G and Daughter. Went to work today and was glad to be back. My boss asked me... "So... what did you see? The world's largest ball of string or anything?"

I couldn't quite explain the visit to the site of the Great Helotes Mulch Fire, so I just smiled and said that we saw some excellent scenery and met some wonderful folks in our almost-exactly-4000-mile, two-week drive.

Pictures will follow when I can find the stupid cord that attaches camera to computer.

I must say again what wonderful hosts the Slyness family was to this weary traveler. The mountain cabin was wonderful and cozy with marvelous views and a great location. The city home was just as inviting and enjoyable. But boy.. it's nice to be home!

Thanks again, Slyness!

Posted by: -TBG- | January 27, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Welcome home, TBG.

We're glad you and SoG are back safe and sound.

And don't smell like burned mulch.

I'll have to try "A Month of Sundays," voldenuit123. Your comment reminds me of Socrates (as quoted by Plato, perhaps?) bemoaning the youth of the day as being disrespectful of elders and of all sorts of ill manners and asking how they would amount to anything.

Somehow, they did.


Posted by: -bc- | January 27, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

psst, Mudge. E. Lilly is on Letterman tonite.

Ivansmom, I see a small 3KWH generator (recommend a Honda) in your near future.


Posted by: DLDx | January 27, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Glad to hear that you made it home okay, TBG. As my mom used to quote, the sweetest mile you'll ever roam is the last mile home. We enjoyed having you and seeing SonofG and GFofSonofG. Wonderful young folks, both of them.

A nice little generator to run the well pump and provide a little light would be an excellent investment, Ivansmom. Just make sure you keep fresh gasoline and neither the generator nor the gas can near any flame sources.

Posted by: slyness | January 27, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

I read A Month of Sundays on a plane and was a bit taken aback by its that I hoped no one was reading over my shoulder! Ha! It is pretty good. I love Of the Farm, read Rabbit Redux long ago and don't remember much about it, never have gotten through the Witches of Eastwick (book or movie). I have read some of his later works - one was about art criticism, not sure if it was fiction or non-fiction. The Terrorist (or it just Terrorist?) is good. I've seen him interviewed by Charlie Rose - he always seemed like a nice guy, and so intelligent and interesting.

Posted by: seasea | January 27, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Slyness & DLD, we've actually looked into a generator/electrical setup to run the well pump. For various reasons having to do with our extremely eccentric electrical system we put it off. It looks like we're safe for this week. The precipitation has passed, there is little wind, and it will warm up well past freezing tomorrow. However, we may take a closer look.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 27, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, DLD!! *little heart going pitter-patter, pitter-patter*

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Ron Charles has a nice piece on Updike and the Nobel in the "Short Stack" column, and includes a link to the Achenblog.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

What none of us has done, up 'til now (I am remedying this) is remark on what a wonderful critic and reviewer of modern literature Updike was.

I think his long reviews in the New Yorker in recent years are at least equal and perhaps superior to the late fiction. He was so integrated a member of the Am.Lit. scene for so long, that he saw fashions in fiction come and go, and was discriminating.

His pieces in the TLS, the NYLS and the New Yorker, some longer and some shorter, showed his real power. I think that even those of us who didn't share his sensibility (piggy, in Joel's estimation, old-school in mine) might do well to search out the reviews to appreciate his power.

Posted by: Yoki | January 27, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse

The quote above that some critics have leveled, that Updike "wasted beautiful language on nothing" always irritated me, because it's kind of like saying Turner wasted his paints on "light."

One needs to put the early and middle Updike into context, which is missing among a lot of today's readers. In some of the early stuff, he broke new ground, and went where no one had gone before: into serious, realistic and "honest" descriptions of sex. And someday, somewhere, somebody ought to write a serious article about this, although heaven knows, there is no place that could/would properly publish it. Academia would ruin it, and anyway that isn't a friendly, appreciative home. Nobody reads Playboy anymore, if indeed they ever did (although PB was the first publisher of Updike's "I Am Dying, Egypt, Dying"). So it is an essay without a home.

Updike was the literary parallel to Kinsey and Master & Johnson, the social scientists who brought the topic into the 20th century for the first time, so they were pioneers together. Prior to Updike, there were basically only three schools of sex scene (SS) writing: (1) the "Lyrical" school (Hemingway, who could do a wonderful and somewhat honest SS in a single sentence); (2) the Harold Robbins school, viz., the legendary but legendarily bad "The Carpetbaggers," granddaddy of today's bodice-rippers and all that soft-core Cosmopolitan magazine stuff; and (3) almost everybody else, who omitted the scene altogether with a fade-to-black and waking up the next morning. (There was a fourth category, p0rn, which doesn't count.)

Without going into details, Updike brought truth and realism to a subject that had never seen it before, and he was perfectly matched to the times, or the times to him.

And then he went one step further: he attached it to humor, without ever writing "the dirty joke." You have any idea how difficult that is? How ground-breaking? Somewhere near the middle of his "Collected Poems" there is a poem of about 10 or 12 lines, and the name of the poem is just one word, a Latin word you all know describing a certain act not commonly talked about in polite society. For the first half of the poem Updike sets it up so you think that he's going to describe it. And then he does something else entirely. Genius. But the point is, nobody but Updike could have done that. Nobody. It just plain wasn't doable by anyone else, not and have it published in the New Yorker, or wherever it appeared. Just not possible.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, your well argued and passionate analysis of one gift Updike gave us is very much why I do not really care for him. This is my peccadillo surely and we do get to choose our favorites. How can i say this without sounding limited? (Am searching madly for a David Lodge quote about this challenge in fiction).

I am very exacting about how embodied matters of the heart are situated in prose. Seldom does writing get it right. Poetry is the vehicle for alluding to and eliding by these ancient human dances. Poetry as the vessel contains the possibility of preserving mystery, modesty, and privacy.

I suppose, now, I must reread Updike to check the soundness of my thesis over time. I recall reading Updike when babysitting at the homes of very cool, very courant parents. My tenderhooks self may be speaking still.

However, I SHALL find the David Lodge quote about this. In the meantime, forgive me dear. The next beer is on me.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Which latin word, Mudge?

First, last letter, letter count, if you please.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, here is a long but good article on David Lodge, a tender and comic British novelist:

The Picturegoers MacGibbon & Kee, 1960
Ginger, You're Barmy MacGibbon & Kee, 1962
The British Museum is Falling Down MacGibbon & Kee, 1965
Graham Greene Columbia University Press, 1966
Language of Fiction: Essays in Criticism and Verbal Analysis of the English Novel Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966
Out of the Shelter (revised edition 1985) Macmillan, 1970
Evelyn Waugh Columbia University Press, 1971
The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971
20th-Century Literary Criticism: A Reader (editor) Longman, 1972
Changing Places Secker & Warburg, 1975
The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Modern Literature Edward Arnold, 1977
How Far Can You Go? (published in the US as 'Souls and Bodies') Secker & Warburg, 1980
Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews in 19th and 20th Century Literature Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981
Small World Secker & Warburg, 1984
Write On: Occasional Essays 1965-1985 Secker & Warburg, 1986
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader (editor - 2nd edition 1999) Longman, 1988
Nice Work Secker & Warburg, 1988
After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism Routledge, 1990
Paradise News Secker & Warburg, 1991
The Writing Game Secker & Warburg, 1991
The Art of Fiction Secker & Warburg, 1992
Therapy Secker & Warburg, 1995
The Practice of Writing Secker & Warburg, 1996
Home Truths Secker & Warburg, 1999
Home Truths: A Novella Secker & Warburg, 1999
Thinks ... Secker & Warburg, 2001
Consciousness and the Novel Secker & Warburg, 2002
Author, Author: A Novel Secker & Warburg, 2004
The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel Secker & Warburg, 2006
Deaf Sentence Viking, 2008

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Connected Essays

Mudge, David Lodge's sensitive and useful essays about the modern novel would be required reading for me, were I a maker of books. Check out these many blurbs here

I returned a copy to the library, regretfully, want to own it, really.

And, I do think that Updike quoted Soren Kierkegaard in one of his books...not the "leap of faith" quote but more likely that we need the "majesty of God" endure. Anyone who flings Soren K into the moveable feast of books, well, doff my hat.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I'll pass.

Misogyny was a recurrent charge [aginst Updike]: "There is only one reason for women to exist in Updike's world," protested one feminist writer – "to be effed, or at least effable. His inability to create depth in a female character means his women must collude even in abuse."

There was much in Updike's writing to justify the charge: "She is liking it, being raped," he wrote in a voyeuristic passage in Rabbit Redux. "As a raped woman might struggle, to intensify the deed," runs a passage in Couples. But such criticisms ignored the fact that Updike was reflecting the point of view of male characters of a particular age and class,..."

Other criticisms against Updike:

"Just a peanut [trying to get around the filter on four different occasions tonight] with a thesaurus."

"Has the S.O.B. ever had one unpublished thought?"

"Makes misogyny seem literary the same way Limbaugh makes fascism seem funny."

Posted by: laloomis | January 27, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Of course, Loomis, it is quite possible (I'd say probable) that the feminist writer you quote is full of s---.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Mudge -- I know you will eventually find this long string of boodle-hogging. I will close with a sentence from philosopher Peter Fosl:

"Academic life these days looks less and less like David Lodge’s Small World and more and more like John Updike’s Rabbit is Rich."

And, now, a science comment before I blow this popsicle stand:

Angstrom! What a last name to sport! Almost tinfoil material.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Still there, Mudge?

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

The Williams piece was written by a writer who was being paid by the word.

Sorry about that.

Posted by: donnolo | January 27, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Er, women as objects of desire are NOT characters, Mudge. I remember the A & P. What is that, but a prolonged wet dream?

I gotta agree with those writers who criticize Updike's portrayal of female characters. I have a suspicion that you yourself could do a lot better than Updike in that regard.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you Mudge.

Look, as I have said, I only read one bit of Updike and didn't much care for it, but, largely based upon the trusted recommendations here, I am going to venture into other portions of his writings.

Perhaps I will like him, perhaps not.

But to regurgitate a decidedly minority opinion as a justification for ignorance seems to me, well, shallow.

Heck, why read at all?

Just keep a list of approved and unapproved books by one's bedside and then just glance at it smugly as confirmation of one's moral superiority.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Hi WB,

David Lodge's last book, Deaf Sentence, relies on Lodge's experience of deafness. As you know, i think often on hearing loss.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:43 PM | Report abuse

RD, HEY, the bunny could be named, taDAH!

Angstrom (where is the Swedish umlautish thingie when you need it?)

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

CP, it's perfectly fine if you don't like Updike's work because of that subject matter. No one is required to like him or dislike him because of it. But either way it doesn't take from the fact (and I insist it is a fact, not merely an opinion), that the man was a pioneer, a writer who first went (seriously) and where no one else had to date, David Lodge included. Loomis and her cohort will never understand this in a million years. (Everyone knows her femionist cohort has a huge ax to grind; we may all pretty much safely ignore it. They may be right; they may be wrong; but they are unable to provide a balanced analysis. And let's just say he was a misogynist. So what? Would he be the first great writer who was? The answer to that is laughable. Shall we make a list, Loomis? Have you got enough fingers and toes and a calculator?)

You mention Updike's quote of Kierkegaard. The theme of religion runs very strong through Updike, as well as some of his other themes. I think he ought to get some points for this, too.

We don't have to "agree" with a writer to appreciate his or her contributions and talent. Hey, I effing HATE Chaucer and Milton, and try not to read them. But I don't disparage them or dimish them or hold some faux snobbery against them because of some imagined slight to feminism, or feudalism, or whateverism is fashionable this week. They are great writers. So was Updike, and inability to recognize this is a failure within Loomis, not within Updike.

Hamlet's pal Horatio, Wilbrod. Close enough?

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

My point is simply that to throw around other people's views of a writer like they were Holy Writ adds nothing, really, to the conversation.

People should actually read the stuff, at least some of it, and then contribute an opinion.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 27, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I also think that writing about the misogyny for JU was partly a reporting role. And, places the broken culture before us as the best books do. The, we think about dismantling what we we are and do not like.

I detest Milton and adore Chaucer. But Dante is bestest with spaghetti on top of religious narrative.

Updike's spare and unhappy Protestant characters seems so foreign to me.....but glad to hear you define and explain him.

Sigh. More prep work to due. You know I do this work to help bring about the snow day. Were I not to prep, then school would happen......

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 27, 2009 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, you may think Updike is a great writer.

Ok, I thought A&P was good, definitely very different. Yet, I have a long list of other great short stories that I think are fanastic as hell.

A&P isn't at the top of the list.

I found Faulkner tough to read until I read "As I Lay Dying" which sidesteps the most objectionable aspects of his style to me, and has the added benefit of being his best book, too.

So what would you consider Updike's best work that should be read 100 years from now?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Well, pwerhaps you'll give me this, CP: one small part of the world consists of spare and unhappy Protestants. And I can understand they may be foreign to you (in some ways, but in others ways you know them all to well). But be that as it may, there is the old saw in literature that one should write about what one knows about. And JU knew that world, so he wrote about it. Can't fault him for that. Had he grown up Catholic and in a big, gregarious Italian or Irish family, surely he'd have written about gregarious, happy, tormented alcoholic Italian or Irish Catholics. But he didn't.

I still think my crack abaout academia stands. Such an essay as I propose would be meant for a general reader, and not an academic one. And as such there would be no place today to publish it. Academia may be morphing, as you suggest, but publishing within it is still publishing within a sequestered, cloistered environment, a place where the general public never goes (and probably isn't welcome).

More in line with Shakespeare than with Updike, I've been thinking for several years about the commonly leveled charge that So-and-So doesn't write "good" women characters. One sees this claim fairly often, and it may well be true. But let's look at it and deconstruct it a bit. Doesn't it assume that Writer X "should" be able to write well about characters of the opposite sex? Sure. But why do we assume this? Perhaps we ought to assume the inability to write "well" about the opposite sex isn't easy, it's damn-all hard, and thus rare. So perhaps instead of criticizing X because he doesn't do well what hardly anyone else does either, perhaps we ought merely to praise the few who *can* write well about the opposite sex.

And since turnabout is fair play, which female writers do we know who write well about men? Do we ever say of Z, "she doesn't know how to write about men"?

In other words, whence cometh this expection that any of us "should" be able to write well about the opposite gender? It now seems to me, prima facie, that it would be a pretty difficult thing to do.

Also, do we not have the (very strong) expectation that a woman would write about sex and sexuality, and even love and other emotions, from within her own female perspective? Not only do we do that, but I think we more or less just assume it. But why do we not assume the same for men? Whey are men expected to understand both genders? Seems to me it's damn-all hard enough understanding the one you're in, let alone somebody else's.

And so whenever someone seems to have stumbled upon some flash of insight, either into one's own geneder or (more rarely) the other one, we ought to be a bit more generous about it, and welcome it for what it is, not what it isn't.

Thus endeth the sermon.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Charlie Rose is featuring John Updike tonight:
(sorry, I don't think there are transcripts)

I just don't believe he was a woman hater. He wrote complex characters, which seem realistic to me - which isn't always pretty. But it seemed honest - but he may not have agreed with everything his fictional characters said or did. I can't find the Rabbit book I have here somewhere, which I have not read. I'm thumbing through Of the Farm, and it's a gem - just over 100 pages, but the depth of the relationships he portrays is remarkable, I think.

Posted by: seasea | January 27, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

John Updike was an exciting reporter of the yuk of soap-opera life. An entire generation became obsessed with his images, heralding them as some kind of useful truth. Nobels are not given to one who is merely working out in public the stickiness of his own life.

Posted by: Briteyarka | January 27, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

No, Wilbrod, *I* don't think JU a great writer. A LOT of people think he's a great writer. Take a look at the front page. You state it the way you do (that *I* think he's a great writer) to diminsh JU. What's all that talk about all those awards and the stuff about the Nobel? You think that's just *mu* own one person's opinion? I'm not playing your game.

I can't hack Faulkner. Never could. Call it blasphemy, I suppose. And even more blasphenous (in the eyes of many) I love Hemingway, even as I acknowledge all his faults and excesses. But he was a pioneer, too (in ways Faulkner was not, because hardly anybody imitated Faulkner, nor probably could).

I think too many people play a game today: they like to tear down pioneers, because it seems to put them up on the same plateau with the person they are disparaging, makes them equals, or better yet, superior to the person they are tearing down. But the fact is, Hemingway was a pioneer, and a lot of people can't deal with it. I don't care if they don't like his work (or him). But the inability to acknowledge what he did sticks in their craw, and it says more about them than it say about Hemingway (or whoever the idol is being torn down).

To answer your other (excellent) question, Wilbrod, I'm not sure what work of Updike's people will be reading in 100 years. I'm tempted to say some of the poetry might -- except that I'm such a pessimist that I don't think ANYBODY will be ready ANY poetry a hundred years from now. So yes, you, Wilbrodog, and I are all doomed, traveling down a pointless path to nowhere.

Not that I intend to stop, mind you. That isn't why one writes. As I know you know.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

I dunno about that, Mudge.

Many men write romance novels aimed at women quite well, and there are straight women who write gay fiction.

Is there a double-standard?

Here's a flip-around. A lot of superficial male stereotypes tend to go into genre fiction-- like romance, which are not very well regarded by critics.

Why should erotica be considered better than romance? Because you like it better?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Amen Brother Curmudgeon.
I laughed out loud at laloomis expectation of Updike being the upright feminist-approved, women-understanding writer. He was born in 1932 in Protestant small town America for crying out loud.
Sometimes some people should remember that as we speak, most Afghani women have to ask their husband, who have to ask their own father, for permission to get out of the house. If you show me someone looking for a pink man in Afghan literature I'll show you a fool, to paraphrase Churchill. Authors like all people are reflects of their time and place in the world.

4 to 8 inches of snow is expected tomorrow. On average we got twice the announced quantity this year. I hope this trend will be broken.
Of Birds and Dogs.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 27, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I do like the Sermon of 10:24. I've been pondering who I could hold up and say, THIS man could write women. I will think further.

Posted by: Jumper1 | January 27, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Story of My Life by Jay McInerney was written in a female first person perspective.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 27, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

(Scc: for "you", substitute "critics").

Wait a minute, unless the person tearing down a "pioneer" is an experienced critic and scholar, it's more fair to assume that they are reacting honestly as a reader, finding what they do and don't like in the work.

Few people are going to have read everything published in the 20th century and be qualified to evaluate who was a pioneer or not. (I don't really believe in that pioneer stuff, I'm afraid. Writers don't write in a total vacuum.)

Maybe Hemingway got a lot of press for his style and PR, but he was most likely inspired by a few stylists that have dropped from public knowledge.

People who tear down-- or deconstruct a writer-- are doing so for their own needs as readers or writers, in order to develop their own intellectual taste, rather than what they're told they're supposed to like.

Maybe they're not ready for that writer yet. It happens.

And Mudge, I dislike Faulkner, but I liked "As I lay Dying". It has 15 narrators, which is difficult in itself to make coherent, and he does it.

It is groundbreaking; the closest novel I've seen using multiple POV is "The Lady in White," and that used a formal letter format. It's most definitely worth reading if you're ever considering that POV format.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Good piece by Henry Allen on Updike:

Lots of quotes from his writing.

One reason Austen is read centuries later is because she captured the details of life in her time, which is what Updike did so well. If you want to know what American suburban life was like in the latter half of the 20th century, he lays it out.

Posted by: seasea | January 27, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

I thought about trying to refute the misogynist claim, seasea, but decided it was a fool's errand. But I agree with you. And I love "Of the Farm," too.

Joel raised an interesting point in the kit that we may have glided past. But who reads Malamud or Salinger anymore? Who holds them in as high a regard as I do? Probably almost nobody. (I could just never get into Pynchon.)

FYI, Roth's "The Great American Novel," for those who know nothing about it, doesn't remotely claim to be a serious attempt at "the great American novel," as Mailer constantly tried to fo. Rather, it is a hilarious picaresque comic novel about baseball. Which means most of you will never read it in a million years. But it is very subtle and subversive, and tied in to mythology: the first baseman's name is Gil Gamesh, and the narrator is a hack sportswriter ink-stained newspaper wretch (and how could I not love him as dearly as my own self?) named Word Smith.

And of course Malamud's wonderful "The Natural," is also a mythic story about baseball.

And my all-time favorite Salinger short story, "The Laughing Man," which is so good it should be tattooed on the forehead of every living American, is a mythic story Well, it's also about love, and hero worship, and glorious, wonderful, athletic, preppy college girls in black raincoats. (Wilbrod, you HAVE to read this, if only because of the two wonderful dogs in it.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, here's one guy who wrote women well, without even the benefits of modern society:

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

CqP, do you mean this: "Å"? On the Mac keyboard, it's shift-option-A.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 27, 2009 11:09 PM | Report abuse

Annie Proulx. Annie Proulx is a woman writer who writes great male characters, IMHO.

Posted by: seasea | January 27, 2009 11:14 PM | Report abuse

Who's talking about erotica? I'm not. Updike didn't write any, so far as I'm aware. Don't understand what that has to do with anything.

As for the claim that men write romance novels, I seem to recall the complaint was that men didn't write female characters "well." Since I don't read bodice-rippers (and don't hold the genre very highly), I am unable to say if these men write "well" or merely grind out formula.

But if we grant your claim that a lot of men write perfectly good romance novels, then the entire feminist claim that men DON'T write women characters well goes up in a puff of smoke. Can't have it both ways. I just hate to think that the ground-out bodice ripper is the standard by which we judge these things.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Gwen Ifill on the Daily Show, as I type. (Just for a change of pace)

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 27, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

AS far as I know, Flaubert lived with his mother most of his life. Apart from a few relationship with a couple of female authors (and the platonic relationship with George Sand) he is also mostly known for favouring prostitute and suffering, and dying, of multiple VDs. He made some of his rather dissolute friends (de Maupassant) blush in that regards, even if he was a very proper man otherwise.
He is the author of one of my favourite quotation, "Sorry for this long letter I do not have the time to make it shorter" .
He famously rewrote everything multiple times. Sentences were re-written, pages were re-written, chapters re-written then novels re-written. A nutcase.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 27, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Mudge for the recommend. I love the shout-out to Tale of Two Cities here, Phantom of the Opera, and so on.

It stinks that "Catcher in the Rye" wasn't about baseball at all. Unless you count the activity in which you are supposed to think about baseball.

Wilbrodog likes the idea of whispering orders into the ears of cocker spaniels. Fax him some?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

My error: Black Wing was a timber wolf, not a dog. But didn't his death break your heart?

That's a really excellent Henry Allen piece you linked, seasea.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 27, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

To be a writer is to be a nutcase, SD.

Oh I completely disagree with the feminist claim that men can't write women characters well, Mudge.

I remember having a dispute with an literature teacher over Zorba's viewpoint of women-- ironically he took a much harsher attitude to Zorba as being sexist than I did.

They'll write from a certain angle with certain emphasis, but for instance, I'd probably trust you to write the women you know far better than any random female writer would, if that makes sense?

This need to "explain" every character that comes in sight is um, a little overdone (I know I tend to like backstory.)

The best writers suggest much with very little.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

James Tiptree, Jr. was a writer who did well with the author's own gender, but rather poorly with the opposite gender. And yet, I liked Tiptree's work.

(waiting for the inevitable commentary from Those Who Know Something Is Up...)

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 27, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

The story you linked to-- "The Laughing man" is a very good example. The boy will never know exactly what happened, but he reports what happened and lets us share in with his perplexity and emotion.

And Mary Hudson sounds real enough to me, given the narrator. I have no problems with that. She doesn't do anything that would strike me as artifical.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

I agree, ScienceTim. I found her perspective of men to be a little alien, but she sure could write.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 27, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

OK, Tim. I know about Tiptree. Wish he'd been my tentmate in Boy Scouts.

*not sure if Wilbrodog wants me to fax him orders...or cocker spaniels*

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 28, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! No talking! Miss Lilly is coming onstage now!

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 28, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

OK, we can all breathe again (and I can go to bed a happy man). Don't think I've ever stopped breathing for seven minutes before.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 28, 2009 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Achenbach doesn't specify which two Rabbit novels he read, but the last two (Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit At Rest) are the best of the four (and, I believe,
the two he won Pulitzers for); the most assured and fully realized of the quartet.

Taken together, they have a pleasing sense of a closed circle. We meet Harry Angstrom on a basketball court and he leaves us on a basketball court. Throughout Harry's life, he provides for the reader a sense of familiarity as well as detachment, as Updike wrote about rain against a window: "things that touch, and yet don't".

On charges that Updike was a misogynist: I'm a working class feminist, and I've met plenty of misogynists. Updike was no misogynist. Occasionally bewildered by the opposite sex, yes, but not hostile.
Mailer was a nasty, ugly misogynist and jealous of Updike's easy success as well.

Posted by: citizenjane | January 28, 2009 12:20 AM | Report abuse

I got nothing to contribute about Updike having never read his stuff but I'm fascinated at the discussion going on here. It's better than any literature class I ever took.

Posted by: MiddleofthePacific | January 28, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Hi, citizenjane! Thanks for your perpective. I finally located my Rabbit book - Rabbit Is Rich. Must make time to read the books I own!

frosti, thanks for the Gwen Ifill alert. I love Gwen.

Posted by: seasea | January 28, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

'morning all. I beat Scotty for the early down patrol!
The transit strike hit 51 days old today. This getting up before the crack of dawn is getting old. Let's go kick the dogs to life while the coffee dribble.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 28, 2009 5:03 AM | Report abuse

SCC dawn
No doubt I'd be down quickly.


Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 28, 2009 5:15 AM | Report abuse

James Tiptree, Jr was mentioned in the film version of 'Jane Austen Book Club' as well as several other science fiction authors of the distaff gender.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 28, 2009 5:39 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Morning, friends. Just quickly stopping in to say hello. Ah, Wednesday, the busy day.

As for Updike, I had to read some of his stories in school, but can't remember which ones. I thought it was interesting that JA in naming authors did not include among the greats an African-American author. As a young person, I read a lot of books, some I've forgotten. I did this to spite the folks at the library at the time because they did not want "my people" to check out books. I made it my business to check them out every week simply because it pained them by my doing so. Of course, I fell in love with the library. My favorite author during this time was James Baldwin, simply because the man could express what I was feeling, and that of the African-American experience in America at the time. It was years before I even knew Baldwin was gay, and it didn't matter at all, not that it should have. I just liked his work. I've also read other African American authors, but really liked Baldwin out of all them. I think the people we like to read speak to us in a way that no one else does. Baldwin said the words that I could not, did not know to say. The hurt, the pain, the struggle, and he could do that, because it was his experience too. He made plain the two world existence we lived in, and still do to some extent, even today. It was almost like living in a bubble. Locked in, and looking out, but never admitted to the greater access. Placed where one can be seen at all times, but not allowed to mingle and move. Held hostage by the color of one's skin.

Mudge, Slyness, Yoki, Martooni, Scotty, and all, have a great day. *waving*

Ivansmom, and all that are experiencing bad weather, please be careful. And check on the elderly. They found a 93-year old man frozen in his home in Michigin this week because they had shut off his electricity. He owed them a thousand dollars.

Time to work.

Posted by: cmyth4u | January 28, 2009 5:45 AM | Report abuse

I read the Rabbit books as history, full of minor details about a specific time and place. Critics have found minor quibbles like Rabbit listening to a song that hadn't been released yet, but overall they seem to be valid anthropological studies.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 28, 2009 5:46 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle. Pretty bad conditions outside, I fear. We may have to stand down the Dawn Patrol this morning due to icing on the wings. Those canvas-covered wings can't handle very much weight, and chipping ice off them does more harm than good. Brag, this includes you: no foolish overflights over the Winter Palace this morning, OK?

There is still breakfast in the ready room; it's just that this morning some of you may be able to linger over a second cup, and fall asleep ion front of the big fireplace. (My batman, Jeeves, has got a nice blaze going for us this morning.)

Me, I've still go to go, alas. If I can make it to the Park-and-Ride I'll be fine.

Posted by: Curmudgeon- | January 28, 2009 6:14 AM | Report abuse

The pretty snow has started to fall.
The return commute will be fun if we get the 15cm/6 in. that is in the forecast. Oh well, it's winter after all.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 28, 2009 6:51 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

Ice, ice, baby - oy vey. Getting to work this AM is going to be - interesting.

I'm finding all of the literary discussion interesting, and of course, I'm learning something along the way.

I'm amused to see mention of Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, Jr., who was an enigma in certain literary circles and in the Washington DC area, but a remarkable writer.

Cassandra, I tend to see the written word not so much in color, but in how those words speak to me in simple black and white text. To your point, perhaps it really isn't that simple at all. Your perspective is different than mine, and I appreciate that you consider the ethnic background of the writer - I typically don't delve much into the lives of the writers I read, or read a given book because of who wrote it (Morrison included - and I dig her a lot). I'd always preferred to let the words do the talking, if you know what I mean.

I'd been reading - and loving - Octavia Butler and Sam Delany's (and Tiptree, Jr., for that matter) work for years before I came to know their ethinc backgrounds.

And I'd be happy if you picked one of their books up and enjoyed it.

For that matter, I'm going to try to find some James Butler.


Posted by: -bc- | January 28, 2009 6:59 AM | Report abuse

Morning, all. This has been a fascinating discussion of an author and an era that I haven't perused, so I have enjoyed all the comments without having anything to add.

You folks with bad weather, be careful this morning. I haven't looked out yet, to see if I may walk, or have to ride the exercycle.

However, I did bring something to the ready room: homemade country ham biscuits. (As if there were any other kind!) Enjoy!

Posted by: slyness | January 28, 2009 7:15 AM | Report abuse

Any Tintin fans out there?

They don't talk about the most important thing, who's going to play Milou/Snowy?

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 28, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Forbidding roads in our neighborhood are screaming caution this morning. Prudent day to hang out at home. Perhaps drink some hot chocolate modestly spiked with peppermint schnapps. Alas, there are a few things in the office that I really must get done. So in a bit I will be heading out.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 28, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

The boss weighs in on our new president:

Posted by: slyness | January 28, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, Boodle. Cassandra, I read Baldwin in grad school. That was in the early 80s, and it was valuable to get the perspectives of two of my classmates, both African-Canadian but from recent immigrant families, one from Kenya and one from Ghana. They instantly recognized the authenticity of the voice in the novels, without ever have shared precisely in the experience.

It is another warm day here, but the wind is gale-force, so I'm grounded too.

I am not looking forward to the last evaluation meeting today, it is with the only staff member whose performance was clearly unsatisfactory in one specific competency, and I expect there will be shouting. Not my favourite atmosphere in the workplace. Or anywhere else.

Those of you in the DC area who must venture out, please be careful. Or reconsider.

Have a good day, everyone.

Posted by: Yoki | January 28, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Mornin' all...

I've never read any of Updike's work (probably should, based on what I'm reading here) so nothing to add to that thread.

We were supposed to get 6 inches of the white stuff overnight but it appears to have turned to freezing rain. Another 6 inches is predicted for today, but I ain't holding my breath. Little Bean's school cancelled (oh, effin' joy) so I'm on entertainment duty today. This wouldn't normally be a bad thing, but I've got tons of work to do -- not to mention taxes and other fun paperworky stuff -- and having a six year old constantly pestering you is just not conducive to getting things done. She's probably going to want to have a tea party and stage a play. The tea party I can handle -- I'll be the "Mad Hatter" -- but her stage productions involve costumes, so I'm figuring I'll be dressed up as a cross-dressing devil pirate with wings at some point today.

The things us dads do for our daughters... I just hope she remembers all this when I'm a decrepid old bag of bones with a barmy brain and continence issues.

Peace out...

Posted by: martooni | January 28, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Too icy to walk the dog this morning. As far as work: 1) we have liberal leave 2) I have leave to burn 3) I really am not looking forward to Day 2 of the cr@ppy Quality Assurance (or is it Quality Control, Quality Planning? we spent most of yesterday discussing the difference) class.

Posted by: Raysmom | January 28, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

'Mudge was talking about Fellini last night? What??? :-)

Ice on the wings? I couldn't even make it to the hangar!!! But thanks to the wonders of the electron and the silicon atom, I shall still do productive work this day.

As for Updike, I shall always be grateful for his masterful recounting of the Splendid Splinter's last game and monumental last at-bat.

*triple-axel-without-even-leaving-the-ground Grover waves* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Good morning boodle! Thanks for sharing your perspective Cassandra. JA didn't mention any women either. Even if people read as much as they once did, they have many more voices to choose from. The "ultra-brand-name uber-lion," at least with regard to the much bemoaned serious fiction, is really most sincerely dead.

Speaking of race, Updike wrote candidly of his concerns for his bi-racial grandchildren making their way in a world that is not color blind. I like this line from his letter to his grandsons, Anoff and Kwame-
"Your two parents are about as black and white as people can be, and that helps make them a beautiful couple. But they are beautiful, too, for sharing similar temperaments, both being good-natured and nuturing and artistic, and similar backgrounds, coming as both do from the international race of teachers and artists." (from _Self-Consciousness: Memoirs_ 1989)

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 28, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I added a few more links. Probably more Updike than most people can stand! But I've enjoyed reading these various tributes. (A new kit is coming later this morning.)

We've had some good boodling over the last few years whenever we've talked about books. Via Google I find this, for example:

Posted by: joelache | January 28, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

And this:

Posted by: joelache | January 28, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Homemade country ham biscuits??!!! Slyness, you are the bomb. Fuse, clock, sticks of TNT, the works.

Don't think I have ever encountered the word/phrase "African-Canadian" before, but upon reflection, sure, why not? (Still think "black" is a better generic term, though, for a variety of copy editor reasons.)

Scotty, you've just given "8 1/2" a whole new meaning. Knew you'd be a fan of the TW/SS piece.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I tend to give everything a whole new meaning, 'Mudge, much to my surprise. :-)

And I couldn't help thinking Updike was sitting in the very same Fenway seat I would later occupy on my 40th birthday.

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Oh man, I so miss Nani and Error Flynn. And I used to write literate posts!

Thanks for the blast from the past, Joel.

Posted by: slyness | January 28, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Morning all, loved the Updike discussion yesterday, I am another who has not read any of his work (that I remember).

Snow day here, the school is closed because the last time we had a big snow (Dec. 19) they realized too late that the schools should have been closed, so in anticipation that today might be like that day - the closed were closed. A rarity here, normally schools remain open but the school buses are cancelled - meaning children who walk or get a drive are the only attendees.

Posted by: dmd2 | January 28, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

They are weirdoes those Haute Mainers. They go on cross country skiing cruises and when the ship get stuck in the ice it's PARTY TIME!

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 28, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Now here's a headline you don't see every day:

'Cello scrotum' exposed as a hoax


Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Darn good thing it was the Brits who did it, Scotty. If it had been done here, there'd have been episodes of Oprah, Dr. Phil and Maurey with victims of the dreaded condition, and perhaps a celebrity golf tournament to raise money and awareness.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Nomination for word of the day: "nugatory"

Nomination for heir to the uber-lions: the self-appointed Jonathan Franzen, who admittedly has not yet produced the Great American Novel, but is young and extremely talented, and ambitious in that direction. I wouldn't bet against him.

Posted by: kbertocci | January 28, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I hesitate to think what color ribbon one would wear.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Early on I liked "The Centaur" best and it was the ending that made the story work. I read the Rabbit series, but I kept wanting to grab the person talking and shake them and say "Listen. Think about this."

But I loved the details. And saw situations that would never be in my quiet life. Except when it was not, but still places I would never go.

But I never could.

Posted by: gary4books | January 28, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Bertooch. We missed you yesterday. The discussion was right in your wheelhouse.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Well, shoot, Mudge, I've been extra busy at home and at work lately and today I just about gave myself permission to forego the backboodling. Now I'll have to go back over there (when I have time...) and check out that discussion. Thanks for the tip-off.

I spent last evening at the nearby bookstore, at a reading by Benoit Denizet-Lewis of his new book _America Anonymous_. Interesting talk, and the audience had a lot to contribute, as well.

Posted by: kbertocci | January 28, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I find reading those old boodles both fun and sad. Some handles of old friends. And of course, it is always a little embarrassing to visit old comments. Everyone else was talking about Great Literature and Books and stuff and I was talking about,you know, bunnies.

Oh well. It is good to be in a warm safe cubical when the cold winds blow. Granted there are other warm places I would rather seek refuge, but, hey, it's still better than hanging out over a steam grate.

Got a nice mug of steamin' hot coffee (the best kind) and am about to venture into the Lab of Ultimate Darkness.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 28, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

11 am opening on campus today.

I have scoped out the least icy path on level ground to bike over to the U. Typically, I take two aerobically-rich hills. Not today.

I shall arrive with the dual beauty of hat hair/helmut hair. Rain in the forecast means that my rain pantaloons will be employed.

Stay warm and go slow, people.

Thanks, JA, for the links to old book threads that predate the CqP time on the boodle.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | January 28, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Oh my, I posted under a different boodle handle in the Attention Deficit Reading discussion. Had all but forgotten I dropped in here before becoming frostbitten.

Toodles for now, opening our building for census employment testing this morning. Hope we get plenty of local people applying for these jobs. $10-14 an hour with work that lasts through 2010 is about all the security anyone has in this area. Mr. F is convinced I've taken a vow of poverty to live here, and he's not far off.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 28, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Amen, amen, amen. Better to be in a miserable cubicle than on the street.

I work at the edge of downtown, just into the seedy part, and its sad to see that the condition of street people is not any better than the last time I worked in a downtown core (1978).

I read just yestaerday about a different sort of project that might make a difference. I read about the Homes First Society yesterday which I hope will help some,

I don't doubt that this is not going to solve it all, certainly it is not going to solve the huge problem of mental illness among street people, but maybe if we take enough baby steps,we'll start to make a difference. We are so rich a continent and yet there are so many who slip through the cracks.

Posted by: --dr-- | January 28, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

The first plow came through at 8, just as I was contemplating going back for a nap. Instead I went out and scraped all the ice off the driveway, the steps, and out the road enough to get my car to bare pavement. That took over an hour.

Last year I would just slide the car down the drive and come home to a perfectly dry and clean driveway. I miss having a teenage son around the house.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 28, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

There is nothing sexier than a lady cello player. Mmmmph!

Posted by: yellojkt | January 28, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

A couple of thoughts as I backBoodle:

I agree with RD; expressing an opinion on Updike's work, without reading much or any of it, but based on the expressed opinions of others, doeesn't count as an opinion.

I think too much is made of the gender issue. Like many women, I happen to find much of Updike's work unfriendly to women; that's one reason I often don't enjoy reading him. However, I separate that personal feeling from my appreciation for his craft, which was wondrous. I don't believe I have to like someone's work to acknowledge them as a great writer.

Mudge raises the point that perhaps we expect too much when we complain that Updike wrote about women and sex well from his own perspective, but not well from theirs. I think that's valid. For instance, nobody claims that Toni Morrison, who writes so well about women, does much with her male characters, but this charge is seldom leveled against her, and not (to my knowledge) by the same people who complain about Updike's work. For good or ill, I do think we expect a great writer to transcend his own perspective and write well from both points of view, but this expectation is most often met in the breach.

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 28, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Given the often-abusive nature of Toni's male characters, that is probably a blessing, Ivansmom.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | January 28, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, Boodle.

I'm falling behind on back-boodling. Hopelessly behind.

Great Updike Kit.

Joel's comment on present day writers. The vast majority are being ignored. Som great writers with good voices will never sell over a hundred books. If ya ain't famous, you'll never be famous.

A good example is the National Book Fair--only mega sellers allowed. Yhere are no stands for small publishers or authors seeking to break out.

The WaPo book section won't even publish a notice of a local book signing unless you are famous.

End of moan.

Posted by: Braguine | January 28, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

In other news, the sleet finally turned to snow last night then stopped, and today is a lovely sunny cold day. It is supposed to warm up and, I hope, turn all this ice into badly-needed water for the parched earth. The area schools and universities remain closed today, however, so we all slept in. Like collegeparkian, I did my part to ensure a snow day by preparing last night for today's class. Ah, the sacrifices we make.

Now I'll fix another cuppa tea and curl up with a good trial transcript, congratulating myself for my foresight Monday in bringing work home.

Shrieking Denizen, the Boy and I are Tin-Tin fans (though he, too, must be read with a keen grasp of the social conditions prevailing at the time). That film looks like it will cost Spielberg a lot of money (Peter Jackson as collaborator and a bunch of good actors, to start). Ivansdad asked if I would be willing to pay millions of dollars for my ticket, as he seems to think I will be the primary if not sole audience and thus the person upon whom all profit depends. Nonsense, I say. The Boy will be there!

Posted by: Ivansmom | January 28, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm with ya Ivansmom. I also think too much is made of the gender issue. I read not for any type of validation of my own story, but to learn of the perspective of others who walk through this world.

Like normal men in Toni Morrison's books, there's no such thing as a normal woman in John Irving's books (well, there's one in A Prayer for Owen Meany, but she dies on page 3), but that doesn't take away from the fact that they're well written good stories.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

What in the world was I doing in March '06 that I didn't contribute to the Attention-Deficit Reading Boodle???


I miss Nachomama, among all the other long-lost posters we miss. *SIGH*

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Procrastinating prior to organizing upgrades and stuff on a day when I don't have an organizational bone in my body. Raysmom, I hope you stayed home!

95 was totally clear, but the back roads were slick and snowy. While I was cleaning off my (running) car, I was delighted to see that once I'd cleared the snow off, the ice on the windows just started sheeting off, in one large piece per window. Not as beautiful as ice-encrusted lilacs, but unexpected and somehow cheering.

Posted by: -dbG- | January 28, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I've been pondering some things for the last few days--nothing to do with Updike--but Joel's "The Grand Idea." Funny thing, I was about as close as the imperceptible blonde fuzz on my chinny-chin-chin to buying, used, Kotkin's 2006 book, "The City: A Global History." Truth is, I couldn't remember if I already owned it. I don't, having instead an older book about American cities and Sir Peter Hall's tome "Cities in Civilization." I'm currently reading Crowley's book about the fall of the Red Apple in 1453--you know, another family story.

But what I did buy on Jan. 18, was Lawrence Goldstone's 2005 (issued a year after "The Grand Idea") book "Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution." After reading portions of it--with nods to Gist and Cresap, as Joel did, I'm curious about the following:

Joel mentions briefly the first Ohio Company of 1748--and Washington's involvement, but not the second, formed in 1786. Why not?

Goldstone: "Thus, the Constitutional Convention became simply an extension of the ongoing sectional struggle, a dispute that had begun to fester in the late 1740s, when land consortiums began to lay claim to millions of acres in the West. These partnerships first petitioned the crown, and then, after independence, called on the new government to legitimize old claims or authorize new ones. The fortunes of two very different land companies, each of which called itself the Ohio Company--one slave, one free; one southern aristocrat, one northern presbyter--would be key in determining that victor."

There's no mention of Franklin's Vandalia Company either in "Idea."

Why didn't Joel emphasize the Residency compromise more? Chernow points out in his biography about Hamilton, much more forcefully than Joel did in "Idea", that Hamilton was willing to give up New York City as the nation's capital so that he could garner Southern support for his Assumption plan, whereby the states' debts would be assumed by the federal government.

What about the powerful bloc of three Virginians--Washington, Jefferson and Madison--although Washington, as Joel points out, stayed more mum?

No mention of the passage of the Northwest Ordinance?

Posted by: laloomis | January 28, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Did Federalist surveyor Rufus Putnam name the first settlement in Ohio, Marietta, after Marie Antoinette, to stick it to the Republican/Democrats, or was it simply a nod to the French who had occupied the area?

Did the Swiss surveyor and later Treasury Secretary Gallatin let the surveyor Putnam go in part because he was a Federalist? Or was it that Jared Mansfield was younger and better qualified?

"To the contrary, Linklater [author, "Measuring America"] seems to hold Thomas Jefferson on an unrealistic pedestal as The Great American Hero, while painting Putnam as some kind of monster. The real truth, in my opinion, lies somewhere in between. Remember that Thomas Jefferson was a slave holder, which allowed him to mass his financial empire, while Putnam worked to get land sold for a fledging country that desperately needed the funds to pay war debts."

Interesting passage too from Goldstone about how Washington's activities in the hinterlands helped kick off the first world war.

Posted by: laloomis | January 28, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

BBQ for imaginary lunch sounds good. I don't know that I'd make this, but it sounds interesting. I think I'd probably set the covered patio on fire, though.

"This requires patience and some attention. It’s not McDonald’s.”

Posted by: -dbG- | January 28, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

dbG-no doubt Frostdottir will want this served at her wedding. At 8yo she declared she was going to be a vegetarian, except for bacon, sausage, ham, pulled pork and pork roast with sauerkraut. We still call her the family porketarian.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 28, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

The ScienceFamily is working from home, today. We slept late and have dined on a filling and fulfilling morning repast of left-over vegetarian chili on flour tortilla, topped by poached eggs and further topped by grated cheddar cheese. In other words, a variation on huevos rancheros. And now, I must do some science and clear some of the clutter from my (physical) desktop.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 28, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Love the term, frosti. Just imagine this in little logs, perfect for hors d'oeuvres.

Posted by: -dbG- | January 28, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

For imaginary lunch I have tater tot hotdish, of the gourmet St. Paul Winter Carnival variety. Mr. F really outdid himself with heavy cream and a quality mozzarella stepping up the game on this MN staple. Knocked Frostsis #2 off her thrown, though her county jail based recipe is still a winner if all you have are canned and frozen foods.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | January 28, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

SciTim - sounds like a great morning.

Never, ever take the ability to work from home for granted.

dbG - that thing looks like it could kill a person. Ah, but what a rapturous way to go.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | January 28, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Can't be better than ribs? It looks man-foodish to me. :-)

frosti, can we get Mr. F's recipe? Sounds better than Cracker Barrel's hashbrown casserole.

Now I really do have to do some work. /plods into the cubicle of boredom and puts in an REM cd/

Posted by: -dbG- | January 28, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

From the Attention Deficit Reading kit:

"But already the stack of stuff I'm supposedly reading is getting so high that I fear it will fall on me. All that unread material may literally crush my spirit."

What a clever turn of phrase; I think I missed it the first time around. The misuse of the word "literally" is one of my pet peaves and has been recently spotlighted by VP Biden. So I'm automatically saying, of course a spirit cannot be crushed "literally." But if it's a stack of books doing the metaphorical crushing? Isn't that "literally" in another sense? Well, this is what I call "creative writing."

Posted by: kbertocci | January 28, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Frosti, what was your old handle back in the day (Ought Six)? *humming the tune cootie, the Who's "Who Are You" from CSI*

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse



*getting a pile of napkins*


Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Morning friends.

Posted by: Sara54 | January 28, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Sara. Howya been?

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Hi Sara!!!

*faxin' a slab of Bacon Explosion* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

*heroically throwing myself on top of that faxed Bacon Explosion to keep Sara from getting seriously injured*

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Great. Had a dentist appointment this morning though. I cried. I'm a baby.

Posted by: Sara54 | January 28, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Thank you! I've had enough medical attention for one day. :)

Posted by: Sara54 | January 28, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

*faxin' 'Mudge another slab to see him through his convalescence* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Here, I am trying to reduce my wordly posessions to fit into a suitcase.

Unencumbered by ballast will be able to get on airplane and man the Boodle's southernmost station in Santiago.

A little over two weeks left 'til departure.:o)

Posted by: Braguine | January 28, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Shouldn't that thing have a government warning on it? Shouldn't you be 21 or older in order to smoke one? Is it covered by the second amendment?

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

The Bacon Explosion would be even better fried in lard, served with mashed peas and a warm pint, methink.

Nigel the Cook

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | January 28, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I think it has one of those FDA waivers: "This product is not meant to treat or diagnose any illness or medical condition."

Posted by: Scottynuke | January 28, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

laloomis, interesting thoughts, but your questions seem to indicate you're looking for The Grand Idea to be a book with a wider focus. It can't possibly be that JA didn't know these details; my guess is he chose not to include them because they were outside the scope of his aim. (Like any good artist, knowing when to stop is crucial.)

Besides, as JA says, "history is not an exact science and at moments is more like a séance, a desperate attempt, in the mist and fog, to channel the voices of the dead." Many of the whys and wherefores are lost to the winds.

Posted by: LostInThought | January 28, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Hi Sara! Hope you won't have to deal with Things Dental for some time to come.

Stayed home. Though was that when Raysdad decided to drive in I'd catch a ride. Hasn't happened. So I'm working on some personal stuff (taxes--yuck!) and will bring some work home over the weekend.

I guess I don't understand the concept of wishing an author had written a different book from what he/she did. They write it; they decide the content.

Posted by: Raysmom | January 28, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

brag! Really, only two weeks to go? I experience this as a bit of a loss, for with whom will I smoke with at future international BPHs, if you are not there?

Full circle, I guess, for the gallant adventurer.

Posted by: Yoki | January 28, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Raysmom and LiT, that's just Loomis being Loomis. Can't play nice, can't resist drumming up a criticism, has to show off.

She probably wonders why Shakespeare didn't pay more attention to Hamlet's obvious bipolar disorder and Ophelia's chronic depressive state, instead of mucking about with ghosts and revenge and swordplay and such male-oriented nonsense. And why didn't MacB get Lady MacB some treatment for her obvious hand-washing OCD, the callous b@st@rd.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | January 28, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: -dbG- | January 28, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

New Kit - Joel writing on failure - I might be able to add relevant comments to this kit. :-)

Posted by: dmd2 | January 28, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Why won't laloomis answer those questions in *her* next book? And who will she write it for -- herself, or every human who ever lived, is living now, or ever will?


Posted by: -bc- | January 28, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I want a full barbecue report from TBG. When I was in Durham on business just a few weeks back I got taken to Bullock which was very good family style BBQ, but not the small little open pit places that are so good to find.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 28, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

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