Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike Dead

I love Updike. I've been reading him since I was in high school. When 9-11 hit publishing really hard,and I was unable to sell books for 8 months, I read Updike to make me feel that books were worth selling (and therefore publishing).

I can't believe he's gone, or that I won't be looking for a new book from him next year and the year after that, or picking up a copy of the New Yorker and seeing yet another of his stories.

I have all these great little Updike stories to share - and now fewer and fewer people will know who he was.

The first time I met Updike (I have been waiting decades to write that) was at the annual American Academy of Arts and Letters Awards on 155th Street in Manhattan, when I was the editor of a community newspaper there. He was in his late 50's. I was in my 20's. His hair was breath-takingly silver. It was the physical thing about him I remember most. I mumbled something about how much I loved his work, and he mumbled something back. It was insignificant to him, but just incredible to me that I was meeting him (I met Ralph Ellison that day too!)

Years later, one of my best friends married into a family where John Updike was invited to her engagement party. She said he and his wife gave a lousy gift.

I also remember that in spite of how pivotal Rabbit, Run was as a book in the 60's, it was considered one of the worst movies ever made (starring James Cain). When I became an agent, I was told that Updike books were on the never option list in Hollywood.

Years later, when Witches of Eastwick was made into a movie, I was told a story (by some film agent) that the only way it got made was for Updike to promise to keep his hands off of it. They changed the ending completely and made it a better movie.

I remember being blown away by a simple sentence in Witches of Eastwick where Updike described the clouds in the sky as looking like bacon fat.

I learned only a few years ago that one of the reasons Updike was able to be the decades-long literary success that he was was because his mother had written for The New Yorker, and given him that all-important "in."

And I often think of just how good a short story A&P is all these years after reading it.

Tell me your Updike stories - I'd love to share them with my blog readers.


Jill Elaine Hughes said...

When Ravenous got all the publicity surrounding the John Updike blurb for Catherine Hiller's book, there was quite an incredulous reaction among other ebook authors in the blogosphere. Some people actually thought that Ravenous made the whole thing up, others were angry that an erotica ebook publisher was getting written about in the New Yorker.

One blogger in particular seethed that it would be good publicity, except for the fact that erotica readers don't read Updike.

Obviously, that blogger never read Updike herself!

ryan field said...

I've been reading Updike since freshman year in college. And most books more than once.

Seems to be a bad year so far for icons in the literary and art world.

Katie O'Sullivan said...

In 1991, John Updike spoke at a luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, sponsored by the New Yorker. I was working in advertising and our New Yorker reps invited my boss and me. Updike was somehow funny, pompous and self-deprecating in his talk all at the same time and I was blown away.

Standing in line afterward to have him sign my (free) copy of "Rabbit at Rest" I worked up the nerve to tell him that I was an aspiring writer. "Really?" he said. "Don't ever give up aspiring," he told me as he signed the book.

I still have the book, and I'm still aspiring.

Anonymous said...

How fortunate you were to have had the pleasure of meeting him!

The literary world suffered a great loss on Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

John Updike's conventional wisdom seems to have affected a lot of people -- I see little quotes of his all over

Patrick Foley Plummer said...

The passing of John Updike saddens me too. I look at the book shelf above my computer and see all the fabulous books of his that I have read and others that I will soon enjoy.

He was a master.

I was thinking of him only yesterday, considering which book I should read next. Perhaps Toward The End Of Time would be a good one to read now.

His humor, impeccable prose and insight into humanity will be missed.

Fortunately we still have him with us in his words.

Patrick Foley Plummer

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