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Updike Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014
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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
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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Begley's exemplary biography of Updike is filled with detail that I'm happy to add to my awareness:
Updike wrote his first story at age eight. As an adult, he wrote of his mother's Remington typewriter: "I still carry within me my happiness when, elevated by the thickness of some books to the level of my mother's typewriter, I began to type the keyboard and saw the perfect letter-forms leap up on the paper rolled around the platen."
After Harper rejects THE POORHOUSE FAIR, Updike is encouraged to submit it to Knopf, which then becomes his career-long publisher. Begley describes Alfred A. Knopf as "a vibrant character: portly with Burnside whiskers and proud of his sartorial flair -- he favored brightly colored shirts and vivid neckties. Updike described him as a cross between a Viennese emperor and a Barbary pirate."
In 1962 Updike taught a summer writing class at Harvard. A student recalls "the day Updike came in and read with mock gravity a letter from the Tootsie Roll company sent to him because he had mentioned the candy in RABBIT RUN. The company thanked him for choosing its product as a representative symbol of American life and begged him to accept as a token of gratitude a six-gross box of Tootsie Rolls. Updike put the letter down and addressed the class: 'Such are the benefits of the literary life.'"
As a reviewer, Updike preferred to write about things he liked, but he occasionally "tumbled unresistingly into parody, as in his review of Samuel Beckett's HOW IT IS, which concludes, memorably, after a few pages of punctuationless meandering, in the style of the text: 'the end of review the END of meditating upon this mud and subprimate sadism NO MORE no more thinking upon it few books have I read I will not reread sooner SORRY but that is how it is.'"
I do want to note that a future biographer will want to address why Begley's biography seems to become thin or rushed after Updike's second marriage.
Beginning in small Pennsylvania towns (Shillington and Plowville) where he grew up, moving on to his successful years at Harvard, then to New York City where for a couple of years he wrote for the New Yorker, and then onto Ipswich, MA for 17 years, where his family and career took off, and then a few floundering years between his two marriages, and then for over 30 years at Beverly Farms, MA, the coastal mansion where he lived for the last 3 decades of his life...
This is the story of his close relationship with his mother, his two wives (Mary and Martha), his children, his friendships (personal and professional), and his dalliances during the Ipswich years.
It is the story of his incredible productivity (60 novels, dozens of short stories, book reviews, poems), as well as the story of his particular craft, i.e., autobiographical fiction, whereby changing names and places, he built his stories around his own experience and the experiences of those with whom he lived and played..
It is also the story of his interests and pastimes...He loved poker and he loved golf, twice a week weather permitting. He was a committed Christian engaged for much of his life church on Sundays, often going by himself. He was a devoted father to his five children.
He was a peripatetic author, traveling throughout the world, giving talks almost whenever and wherever invited, at places where his books were feted. By dint of his discipline, he became wealthy and he won virtually every literary award that was to be had.
Adam Begley, the author, has done a beautiful job.
For those like myself, who have enjoyed reading Updike, this is a wonderful read...
He led a a great life and died showered in honors.
Adam Begley goes beyond the surface of Updike';s persona to show us a man who was deeply conflicted and guilty over his seemingly easy trip to the top of the literary ladder. Begley succinctly examines Updike';s works and gives us a good picture of the man behind the pen. This book will whet your interest in reading the short stories and novels of one of America';s greatest authors. A pleasure to read and an insightful examination of a major novelist and writer of countless works of importance to the human condition.
Most recent customer reviews
WORKS, SO THIS BOOK WAS HELPFUL TO ME IN UNDERSTANDING THE MAN!!