John Updike Remembered

January 30, 2009

The death of John Updike (1932-2009) on Tuesday has brought forth a plethora of obituaries to remind us of his contribution to American literature. We recommend that you read something, anything, he wrote–novels, poetry, essays, criticism; your choice. No really. Don’t just put it on a to-do list. Do it. We grow complacent that such gifts will always surround us and we need do nothing to nurture their existence.  It is occasion for intellectual pursuit, no, more than even that, for the development of character, at any age or stage of life, to tear open such nourishment and hungrily devour the vitamins within. Most of us will admit, even if only to ourselves, that the preponderance of daily thought is centered on fairly banal stuff. Hear the call to do, and be, better. Let us honor Updike’s devotion to, and capacity for, lifting us higher out of the proverbial mud.

Read excerpts here from Nicholson Baker’s U And I, an essay on his adoration of Updike. Baker, no literary slouch himself, describes Updike’s ability to speak “in swerving, rich, complex paragraphs of unhesitating intelligence…”  And a caution: “He was, I felt, the model of the twentieth-century American man of letters: for him to die would be for my generation’s personal connection with literature to die, and for us all to be confronted at last with the terrifying unmediated enormity of the cast-concrete university library, whose antitheft gates go click-click-click-click as we leave, dry laughter at how few books we can carry home with us.”

Borders website offers an audio clip excerpt of Updike’s speech at the 2006 Book Expo of America on the power of books.

Read Updike’s obituary from The New York Times.