As a young teenager, I was quite a curious reader and if I was told not to read someone, I generally disregarded the warning and read them anyway. Such was the issue with John Updike. I was told that his themes of death and sex were unsuitable for a 13 year old. I remember the school librarian telling me, “You are too young to understand such things.” I laugh at that notion now because I had already read War and Peace by that age and was told the same thing about it. So, as that curious young reader, I did the opposite and I read him and read him and read him. His Rabbit series was my first taste of his writing, which I continued to read up until the last one was published in 1990. I also read The Witches of Eastwick around 1984 and The Widows of Eastwick in 2008. Over the years, I have probably devoured around 15 of his novels, two of his poetry books and even a few of his non-fiction works. What inspires me the most about Updike’s writing is that he speaks to the everyman with his topics of morality, mortality, religion, death and sex. And as my old High School English teacher would say, he “knows how to you use his words.”
In the introduction to Picked-Up Pieces, his 1975 collection of prose, I learned how to read and understand a writer’s intentions (and how to write amazing book reports!). He listed his personal rules for literary criticism:
1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
2. Give enough direct quotation—at least one extended passage—of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy précis.
4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.
5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s œuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?
To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never … try to put the author “in his place,” making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes by John Updike:
And here are a couple of videos of John Updike via Youtube:
Interesting Facts: John Updike was awarded 30 awards from 1959 thru 2008, including two Pulitzer Prize for Fiction awards. Politically, he was a life-long Democrat.
For a complete list of his works, go here