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Updike Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 145 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st 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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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Format: Hardcover
Tracing the growth and development of Updike's career from humble beginnings in rural Pennyslvania to his eventual position as one of the pillars of twentieth- and early twenty-first-century American literature, UPDIKE makes it clear that he always believed himself to be a provincial person who had somehow strayed into the Establishment. This is clearly evident, for instance, in the way Updike continually makes use of his past throughout his substantial oeuvre, especially the traumatic move from small-town life in Shillington to the farm at Plowville. Although his mother believed at the time that this was a good idea, Updike himself found it difficult to adjust to a life of isolation, where books provided his only comfort. Nonetheless the move proved highly beneficial in terms of the young author's intellectual development; by the time he went to Harvard, he had already read many of the classic texts that formed the syllabus in English, and could talk about them with such lucidity that he became the object of considerable admiration.

It was at Harvard, however, that Updike developed his lifelong talent for role-playing. He loved to be the focus of attention, especially among those kind of societies which hitherto had only been available to students from privileged backgrounds. He was certainly not backward about coming forward; and it was this pushiness that helped him achieve his dream of becoming a full-time author.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beyond the basic task of giving the trajectory of a subject's life, the standard for detail in a biography should be that it's of interest. (Jean-Yves Tadie's biography of Proust is rough going because so much of the detail is of no interest whatsoever. If Proust stayed in a hotel and Tadie could find out who else stayed there on the same day, you get the list, not as a footnote -- which would be bad enough -- but as part of the text, with any further details about each guest that Tadie was able to dig up. You also get when the hotel was built, with how many rooms, etc.)

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.
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