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Updike Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014

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Top 20 Selection: Amazon Best Books of 2014
This book has been chosen by Amazon editors as one of the top 20 best books of 2014. Looking for more great reads? Browse our editors' picks for the Best Books of the Year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, romance, and much more.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061896454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061896453
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2014: Especially with fiction, It’s often useful to separate artists from their art, to assume that a novel, or an entire body of work, isn’t thinly veiled autobiography. Updike, Adam Begley’s exhaustive and revealing account of the American master’s life, begs us to reconsider that doctrine. Detailed yet readable, it goes far beyond describing the chronology of this unsurprisingly complex (and often paradoxical) character, layering on the lit crit where John Updike’s real life bled into his novels. Essential for admirers and illuminating for anyone with an interest in literature, Updike already merits consideration as one of the best biographies of 2014. --Jon Foro

From Booklist

A keen appreciation for literary criticism is a prerequisite for reader interest in this thoroughly researched and rigorously presented biography of one of the most honored and respected American writers of the twentieth century. Updike was the last of the Renaissance men, at home in all fields of writing. His novels and short stories dominate his canon, but poetry and literary and art criticism did not take backseats in terms of the intelligence and writerly skills he brought to such endeavors. Updike certainly was multidimensional, and his long life and distinguished career attest to an unwavering focus on achieving distinctiveness in his writing. To that end, he gathered as fodder the details of the environs in which he lived, namely Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and all the subtleties of personality he could discern in the people who inhabited those locales with him, even close family members. It is Begley’s primary goal to stitch Updike’s writing to the realities of his existence. He does so meaningfully but too often intrusively, at the expense of a smoothly flowing pursuit of the events in Updike’s life. Nevertheless, this is an important view of a giant literary figure. High-Demand Backstory: A national media, radio, and print campaign and a social-networking campaign on Goodreads will be part of the publicity campaign to promote this major biography. --Brad Hooper

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Customer Reviews

Updike fans will want to read this book.
Writer Adam Begley writes a comprehensive and detailed literary biography of one of the most renowned authors of the Post-Modern era John Updike.
R. DelParto
In this biography Updike, author Adam Begley does good job of giving the reader insight as how Updike evolved as a writer and artist.
Dr. Wilson Trivino

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Israel Drazin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an easy to read, very detailed, sympathetic, and insightful biography of Updike’s life and an explanation of his writings. Begley drew upon extensive interviews, including talks with Updike’s mother, friends and acquaintances, and meticulous examinations of much archival material. Despite details, it is not at all ponderous. To the contrary, the book is interesting, enlightening, and enjoyable.
Begley tells about Updike’s early years in Berks County during the depression, how he wanted to be a cartoonist, how his mother was the strong figure in his family and overrode his wishes and those of his father. She was also a writer, although not successful. She was certain that her son would be a great writer and therefore took him, against his wishes, to a somewhat secluded farm. Begley describes Updike’s strange relationship with his parents and how he depicted them in his writings in a somewhat negative fashion, although his parents admitted that he described them correctly.
Begley tells about Updike’s escape from his parents as soon as he was able to drive, his life in Harvard, and his years at The New Yorker, which rejected many of his early writings, for writing for The New Yorker was his early life-time goal. He also tells about his foreign travels and his final home where he remained until he died in 2009.
Most interesting is Begley’s examination of Updike’s stories and his revelation that many incidences are based with very little disguise on Updike’s life, and on his description of Updike, revealing that he was not precisely what he appeared to be.
Readers will find much that will interest them in this bio and will learn much about this famous author.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By not a natural on April 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
For those of us who do not read a lot of fiction and have little knowledge of the world of contemporary literature, Adam Begley's biography Updike is more accessible and interesting than one might expect. Even though Updike's work includes literally hundreds of titles -- novels, short stories, poems, exercises in criticism, edited collections, obituaries, tributes, and works that defy conventional categorization -- Begley provides the kind and level of coherence that even we relatively untutored readers can follow. In view of the sheer volume of Updike's prose and poetry, Begley's ability to loosely but interpretably tie things together thematically and stylistically is very helpful, providing encouragement and generating interest in reading Updike's work, whether systematically or in a catch-as-catch-can manner.

Following Begley, Updike's writing, with occasional exceptions, might usefully be characterized as a long-term ethnography of himself. Whatever he was doing, from having sex to planting a vegetable garden to putting up storm windows, Updike maintained an essential detachment, enabling him to observe himself and how he felt even when fully engaged in the activity at hand. Whether his tasks were exotic, mundane, dully commonplace, or fraught with a disparate multitude of other feeling and ideas, he retained his role as an observer.

This same capacity for non-stop observation and internal documentation enabled Updike to become keenly adept at describing his physical environment in remarkably fine detail.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are occasional passages (e.g., in the chapter “The Two Iseults”) that read like a fast-paced motor tour of Updike’s stories –hey! hop, skip, it’s time to move on to the next story-- but for the most part, Begley is a sympathetic reader who uses the blatantly autobiographical material of Updike’s corpus to dig into the writer’s complicated inner life and its connection with his fiction, poetry and prose. The book is peppered with sympathetic insights into Updike’s life and literary corpus and Begley, former book editor for the New York Observer (1996-2009) writes like a dream.

In a famous address, Updike once said that his fiction pledged allegiance “to the mild, middling truth of American life” but as a writer, he was seldom if ever middling. Dismissed by some critics as too much a miniaturist and memory artist, Updike yet managed to pull off one of the great literary coups of modern times with his magnificent Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy. If he had written nothing else I suspect we’d be reading him for quite a long while but he was prolific writer (sixty-four published volumes in his lifetime!). It would be hard to better Begley’s biography of the artist. It is both graceful (grace-filled) and insightful.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book has been eagerly praised, including by major figures in the literary establishment. I am a dissenter. This for me is a drab piece of work with little insight or verve.

I love Updike's work, especially his short stories which constitute a body of work to compare with Chekhov. The Rabbit novels are a unique social chronicle and a wonderful mix of the poetic, coarse, elegaic,witty, and lyrical. His ability to switch so easily between styles and perspectives in dialog and observation are hard to match among contemporaries. He can be so sharp in commenting on TV jingles or the interactions with children, or sexuality and body parts, or yearnings and regret. There is so much panache as well as stylistic bravura.

None of this comes through in this placid, even flaccid, book. It lacks insight into the writing and presents a fairly bland record of the writer -- contracts, locations, colleagues. It offers few quotes or analyses. Some books are passed over in a sentence or so -- Gertrude and Claudius for example is summarized as "clever and engaging (yet slight)" and that's it. The Maples stories, so poignant and even unsettling, get no systematic assessment that would make them even more interesting to the reader. There is so little on the growth of the writer and writing -- there are a few passing casual references to Henry Green, a writer who seems to have had strong impacts on many others, but with no exploration of how Updike evolved through his own growth and influences. This could be a book about a film maker, chef or architect; it lays out the details of the professional without bringing out the magic of the artist.

It is all just flat. I can't recall anything in it that evoked more than a "yeah... well, OK..." There's nothing much to drive you back to the books or look for them if you are new to Updike. The best I can say of it is that it is bland.

That is just an opinion, of course, Other reviewers love it.
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