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John Updike

Biography

This site has a few writers who, frankly, should not be here but are here because they have a reputation which well exceeds their literary abilities. John Updike is definitely one of these. Critic James Wood described him as A writer of harmless, puffy lyricism, which puts it better than I could. Gore Vidal, justifiably, said that he had never taken him seriously as a writer and condemned him as a reactionary, two spot-on judgements. John Gardner likened his work to sermons and said that his work would die of fakery. Tom Wolfe, a man pretty well devoid of literary talent himself, called Updike and Mailer two piles of bones and those two and John Irving the Three Stooges. Salman Rushdie famously said of him Somewhere in Las Vegas there’s probably a male prostitute called ‘John Updike’… He should stay in his parochial neighbourhood and write about wife-swapping, because it’s what he can do. In short, bad sex is what he does best.

Unlike, I suspect, most of his readers, I started at the beginning with The Poorhouse Fair. It struck me as the sort of exercise that a ninth grade English composition class might be asked to produce and then turn out. Not bad but hardly great literature. As I read my way (chronologically) through his work, I saw very quickly that he was very, very good at jumping on bandwagons. Peyton Place sex in the suburbs? Give ’em Rabbit. Ponderous Greek allegory? Gotta be Centaur. Porn? Then it’s Couples. Children’s books, witchcraft, a Jewish novelist, an African dictator, golf, terrorism, even science fiction and an attempt at postmodernism, Updike was there with a book for it. And, of course, the mid-brow American reading public lapped it up. They love sex and sleaze (though pretend not to) but they particularly like it when it is disguised as art, sorry as ART. Witchcraft and terrorism and Jewish novelists, all were carefully timed to appeal to these same mid-brow readers and Updike made a very good career out of it. Fortunately, in fifty years, he will be as well-known as those other former literary superstars, Christopher Morley and Mrs. Henry Wood.

John Updike was born in 1932, in Reading, Pennsylvania. His father was a high school science teacher. He received a scholarship to Harvard where he majored in English. After graduation, he and his wife spent a year in England and, when he returned, he worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker for two years, before becoming a full-time writer. He achieved a breakthrough with his second novel, Rabbit, Run. He has continued to publish a series of novels and stories which pander to the American reading public, with liberal doses of naughty sex and little original writing. He died in 2009.

Other links

John Updike
John Updike
John Updike
John Updike (1932-2009)
Life & Times: John Updike
John Updike’s life and work
Featured Author: John Updike
The essential Updike
Updike remembered
On John Updike (by Ian McEwan)
The John Updike Society
Picked-Up Pieces (samples of his writings from New Yorker)
John Updike’s Dead: Do We Still Have To Pretend To Like His Books?
Whisper it: you don’t need to have read John Updike
Obituary
Obituary
Obituary
Obituary
Obituary
Obituary
Interview
Interview
Interview
Interview

Bibliography

1958 The Carpentered Hen (poetry)
1959 The Poorhouse Fair (novel)
1959 The Same Door (short stories)
1960 Rabbit, Run (novel)
1962 A&P (short stories)
1962 Pigeon Feathers (short stories)
1962 The Magic Flute (children’s)
1963 The Centaur (novel)
1963 Telephone Poles (poetry)
1964 Olinger Stories (short stories)
1964 The Ring (children’s)
1965 Of The Farm (novel)
1965 A Child’s Calendar (children’s)
1965 Assorted Prose (non-fiction)
1966 The Music School (short stories)
1968 Couples (novel)
1969 Bottom’s Dream (children’s)
1969 Midpoint (poetry)
1970 Bech: A Book (novel)
1971 Rabbit Redux (novel)
1972 Museums And Women (short stories)
1974 Buchanan Dying (drama)
1975 A Month Of Sundays (novel)
1975 Picked-Up Pieces (non-fiction)
1977 Marry Me (novel)
1977 Tossing and Turning (poetry)
1978 The Coup (novel)
1979 Problems (short stories)
1979 Too Far To Go (short stories)
1981 Rabbit Is Rich (novel)
1982 Bech Is Back (novel)
1983 Hugging The Shore (non-fiction)
1984 The Witches of Eastwick (novel)
1985 Facing Nature (poetry)
1986 Roger’s Version (novel)
1987 Trust Me (short stories)
1988 S. (novel)
1989 Just Looking (non-fiction)
1989 Self-Consciousness: Memoirs (non-fiction)
1990 Rabbit At Rest (novel)
1991 Odd Jobs (non-fiction)
1992 Memories of the Ford Administration (novel)
1993 Collected Poems 1953-1993 (poetry)
1994 Brazil (novel)
1994 The Afterlife (short stories)
1996 In the Beauty of the Lilies (novel)
1996 A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects (children’s)
1996 Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf (non-fiction)
1997 Toward The End Of Time (novel)
1998 Bech At Bay (novel)
1999 More Matter (non-fiction)
2000 Gertrude and Claudius (novel)
2001 The Complete Henry Bech (novel)
2001 Americana and Other Poems (poetry)
2001 Licks of Love (short stories)
2001 Rabbit Remembered (novella)
2002 Seek My Face (novel)
2003 The Early Stories: 1953-1975 (stories)
2003 Three Stories (stories)
2004 Villages (novel)
2005 Still Looking: Essays on American Art (non-fiction)
2006 Terrorist (novel)
2006 A&P (poetry)
2006 In Love With A Wanton: Essays on Golf (non-fiction)
2007 Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism
2009 My Father’s Tears and Other Stories (stories)
2009 The Maples Stories (stories)
2009 Endpoint and Other Poems (poetry)
2011 Higher Gossip (non-fiction)