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Self-Consciousness: Memoirs Paperback – March 13, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Updike's memoirit is by no means an autobiography, but rather, as the title brilliantly suggests, a thoughtful communing with past selvesis, as expected, wonderfully written. It is also disarmingly frank about certain aspects of the writer's life. He seems, for instance, to have suffered an unusual number of physical and psychosomatic liabilities: psoriasis (which he attempted to alleviate by soaking himself in Caribbean sun and eventually by living in Ipswich, Mass., where he could sunbathe in the dunes); stuttering, less than chronic but anxiously erratic; and crippling bouts of asthma. Updike writes of them with extraordinary and thoughtful intensity. He recalls also, tenderly, his hometown in Pennsylvania, his parents, and later, at exhaustive length and detail, a coterie of Updikes, seemingly every one who ever lived. He also talks of his politics (he was unfashionably a centrist on Vietnam) and the ways in which God permeates his life. About what one suspects has probably been a very lively sex life he throws out only occasional hintswhile admitting to failures as father and husband. Above all, he emerges as a most profoundly committed writer: "To be in print was to be saved. And to this moment a day when I have produced nothing printable . . . is a day lost and damned." BOMC and QPBC alternates.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This work by Updike is not an autobiography; that is, it is not a chronicle of events that have made up the author's life. Rather, as the subtitle states, it is a collection of memoirs, of memories. Updike is smart enough to know that though memory is not always accurate, it is still the essential element in a consciousness of self. Here Updike's consciousness frequently focuses on his struggles--with psoriasis, with stuttering, with dental problems, with his lack of doveishness during the Vietnam era. Readers will recognize in these memories scenes and snippets from his novels, fragments of which are provided. As always, Updike is an intelligent writer, and this book is essential.
- John Budd, Graduate Lib. Sch., Univ. of Arizona, Tucson
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812982967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812982961
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 lived in Massachusetts. He was the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
John Updike is arguably, with Saul Bellow, the greatest of living authors writing in English. This volume exemplifies his strengths. His evocation of growing up in middle-America is often quite beautiful. Yet this book is not a memoir in the conventional sense of a chronological account, but more of series of scenes and reflections from a full and satisfying life. Updike's moving account of his struggle with psoriasis and his marital difficulties is personal without degenerating into the narcissism of so much second-rate autobiography, even if he pays slightly more attention to his rakish period in the 1970s than we might strictly wish to know.
Updike writes poignantly but with resolution of his lonely status as a liberal writer in the 1960s who did not lose his ideals as a liberal Democrat, in the traditional sense of that term, and thus who abjured the descent into extremism and anti-anti-Communism of many of his contemporaries. To have believed that the Vietnam War was imprudent and prosecuted by morally dubious means, yet known the noble cause that was at stake in it - namely, preventing a country from falling to a ferocious Communist tyranny - won Updike few friends and lost him many, yet his stance was an honourable and principled one.
The final chapter of the book is, for me, the best. Updike writes particularly well of his liberal religious faith, which almost amounts to fideism. One can admire his honest wrestling with such questions without sharing his conclusions, and admire even more the quality of writing and personal reflection here expressed.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a beautiful book. From its extraordinary opening, as Updike returns to his childhood home, to its lucid and moving discourse "On Being a Self Forever," this book stands as one of Updike's most brilliant achievements. The memoir is structured, not as a chronological narrative of his life, but as a series of meditations on phases of his experience where Updike's search for the core of his own identity keeps criss-crossing with his search for a settled sense of meaning in the modern world. The writing is subtle, ironic, self-deprecating, utterly honest and luminous. The book itself is best seen, I think, as a worthy successor to a long line of works beginning, perhaps,with Wordsworth's The Prelude while it echoes the confessional voices of Augustine, on the one hand, and Robert Lowell on the other.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you like John Updike, and want to know more about
the author behind the characters, this thoughtful
auto-biography will offer you much insight into this
outstanding American author. He goes back to visit
Shillington, PA and thinks about his childhood and youth,
his parents, and the town that seems to have more impact
on his personality than subsequent experiences at Harvard,
the New Yorker, first or second marriage or fatherhood.
His contemplative eye was developed here, and he retains
much of the bemused observer of the boy growing up in small
town America around the time of WW2. Outstanding book,
non-fiction, but filled with Updike prose and thoughfulness.
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By A Customer on September 16, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
For those who have always wanted to befriend an author who has brought them much joy, this book is a must. John Updike as honest as a friend can be climbs out of the pages of this book and I feel I know him. Who else would share back seat of car stories with you? Only a friend
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
On the passing away of JU it occurred to me to read something of his to fix the memory of him and chose this book because of its autobiographical nature. The sort of books I would normally read with such a title would be about what Consciousness is and Self-Consciousness in particular, but this is JU's thoughts on his own self-consciousness - a very different sort of thing. The chapter "On Being a Self Forever" comes closest to what I would normally expect. But in chapter one the walk that night in Shillington eerily reminds me much of my similar experiences in West Chester. Even the street names are similar, though of course that was, for me, a college town, not where I grew up. In some of his comments in chapter two it strikes me how recent events in a near by community - Coatesville - there has been a string of arson fires destroying whole blocks of the town. Perhaps not the same reason as JU gives for the one he describes (p 65) but I am suspicious. In the chapter "On Not Being a Dove" I enjoyed the description of things associated with Unitarians. His father in law's statement that "our human need for transcendence should be met with minimal embarrassments to reason" (p 132) is precious. Love the Robin Williams quote "If you remember the Sixties you weren't there." (p 148) I suppose I should read Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos". "The yearning for an afterlife is the opposite of selfish: it is love and praise for the world that we are privileged, in this complex interval of light, to witness and experience." (p 217) I may get to use that line someday. It strikes me that his point of view is very contemporary on this. Not Medieval at all. Not Buddhist either. Quoting Unamuno "Consciousness is a disease.Read more ›
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