Wednesday, January 28, 2009

dear john

I put an idiotic place-holder here ealier that read "Updike :(" to remember to write about him. What can I write? I enjoyed (? not sure that's the word; got all sniffly/engaged) reading Lehmann-Haupt's obit in the Times; the Kakutani piece too. (The top of the Chi Trib home page is an image gallery of Updike over the years...strange thing to foreground, although I didn't like JKeller's Rabbit-focused piece much). I liked Updike's quote about writing about the middle class: “I like middles; It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

He holds up well in obituaries. He makes sense. Maybe it's the relief of putting a fence around so much literary activity, having it end--that sounds brutal, but the obit allows you to not pretend to not compare earlier, maybe more successful work with latter, in an ultimate way. There is a lot of say here about the writing who keeps writing/the shape of a career/etc. I admire what he did, and didn't want to read every book.

I forgot how much of him I read when I was a teenager. He was really around in my life as a bookshelf-snuffling kid, that huge nose of his peeking out from endless book jackets, hovering above a sweet but potentially evil smile. I know that I loved the Bech books; they originally confused me (unbelievable, but true) about Updike's religion and background (ah, so everyone is Philip Roth?). I remember reading Couples and Pigeon Feathers and couple of the Rabbits and I was even attached to his light verse; I still have a few of those books of his lying around. I haven't read much of him in recent years.

He was kind of my first adult writer. I read lots of other books for adults before I read him, but when I started to read him as a teenager I was reading...him. Not just his books. The smutty qualities helped, for sure, kept me interested. But it wasn't just that, nor the fact that he was more or less pointing out the adult lives being lived around me. I do remember every time I read a book of his that there was a spot on every single page that would make me want to put the book down, mark the page, throw my hands up, stop reading...it would be so good, so spot-on, or so transportive, or so poetic, or so real, or such sheer good writing that it would stop the flow. I know that didn't always serve his story-telling well, and it almost made me ambivalent sometimes as a reader--what do you do with that?--but I remember worlds cracking open for me because of it. He was really important to me, maybe just in terms of showing how far you can go with observing or sympathizing with the human race, which was way closer than I thought you were allowed.

When you look at all those jacket photos together now they seem just sweet to me, sweet and knowing.

1 comment:

skip said...

Ah ha! I knew that you'd say it loud and righteously. I really haven't read him and as always your writing has sparked my interest. Nice essay!