Sad News in the Literary World

After jumping from one news sight to the next I didn’t come across this article until got to the Toronto Star.  That’s right CBC and CNN didn’t have this article highlighted.

Author John Updike dies at 76

Jan 27, 2009 02:01 PM


NEW YORK – John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died today at age 76.

Updike, a resident of Beverly Farms, Mass., died of lung cancer, according to a statement from his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

A literary writer who frequently appeared on best-seller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir “Self-Consciousness” and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams.

He was prolific, even compulsive, releasing more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s. Updike won virtually every literary prize, including two Pulitzers, for “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest,” and two National Book Awards.

Although himself deprived of a Nobel, he did bestow it upon one of his fictional characters, Henry Bech, the womanizing, egotistical Jewish novelist who collected the literature prize in 1999.

His settings ranged from the court of “Hamlet” to postcolonial Africa, but his literary home was the American suburb.

Born in 1932, Updike spoke for millions of Depression-era readers raised by “penny-pinching parents,” united by “the patriotic cohesion of World War II” and blessed by a “disproportionate share of the world’s resources,” the postwar, suburban boom of “idealistic careers and early marriages.”

He captured, and sometimes embodied, a generation’s confusion over the civil rights and women’s movements and opposition to the Vietnam War.

Updike was called a misogynist, a racist and an apologist for the establishment. On purely literary grounds, he was attacked by Norman Mailer as the kind of author appreciated by readers who knew nothing about writing.

But, more often, he was praised for his flowing, poetic writing style. Describing a man’s interrupted quest to make love, Updike likened it “to a small angel to which all afternoon tiny lead weights are attached.”

Nothing was too great or too small for Updike to poeticize. He might rhapsodize over a film projector’s “chuckling whir” or look to the stars and observe that “the universe is perfectly transparent: we exist as flaws in ancient glass.”

In the richest detail, his books recorded the extremes of earthly desire and spiritual zealotry, whether the comic philandering of the preacher in “A Month of Sundays” or the steady rage of the young Muslim in “Terrorist.” Raised in the Protestant community of Shillington, Pa., where the Lord’s Prayer was recited daily at school, Updike was a lifelong churchgoer influenced by his faith, but not immune to doubts.

“I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe,” Updike told The Associated Press during a 2006 interview.

“I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, `This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.’ ”

He received his greatest acclaim for the “Rabbit” series, a quartet of novels published over a 30-year span that featured ex-high school basketball star Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom and his restless adjustment to adulthood and the constraints of work and family. To the very end, Harry was in motion, an innocent in his belief that any door could be opened, a believer in God even as he bedded women other than his wife.

“The tetralogy to me is the tale of a life, a life led an American citizen who shares the national passion for youth, freedom, and sex, the national openness and willingness to learn, the national habit of improvisation,” Updike would later write. “He is furthermore a Protestant, haunted by a God whose manifestations are elusive, yet all-important.”

Other notable books included “Couples,” a sexually explicit tale of suburban mating that sold millions of copies; “In the Beauty of the Lilies,” an epic of American faith and fantasy; and “Too Far to Go, which followed the courtship, marriage and divorce of the Maples, a suburban couple with parallels to Updike’s own first marriage.

Plagued from an early age by asthma, psoriasis and a stammer, he found creative outlets in drawing and writing.

Updike was born in Reading, Pa., his mother a department store worker who longed to write, his father a high school teacher remembered with sadness and affection in “The Centaur,” a novel published in 1964.

The author brooded over his father’s low pay and mocking students, but also wrote of a childhood of “warm and action-packed houses that accommodated the presence of a stranger, my strange ambition to be glamorous.”

For Updike, the high life meant books, such as the volumes of P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Benchley he borrowed from the library as a child, or, as he later recalled, the “chastely severe, time-honoured classics” he read in his dorm room at Harvard University, leaning back in his “wooden Harvard chair,” cigarette in hand.

While studying on full scholarship at Harvard, he headed the staff of the Harvard Lampoon and met the woman who became his first wife, Mary Entwistle Pennington, whom he married in June 1953, a year before he earned his A.B. degree summa cum laude. (Updike divorced Pennington in 1975 and was remarried two years later, to Martha Bernhard).

After graduating, he accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. During his stay in England, a literary idol, E.B. White, offered him a position at The New Yorker, where he served briefly as foreign books reviewer. Many of Updike’s reviews and short stories were published in The New Yorker, often edited by White’s stepson, Roger Angell.

By the end of the 1950s, Updike had published a story collection, a book of poetry and his first novel, “The Poorhouse Fair,” soon followed by the first of the Rabbit books, “Rabbit, Run.” Praise came so early and so often that New York Times critic Arthur Mizener worried that Updike’s “natural talent” was exposing him “from an early age to a great deal of head-turning praise.”

Updike learned to write about everyday life by, in part, living it. In 1957, he left New York, with its “cultural hassle” and melting pot of “agents and wisenheimers,” and settled with his first wife and four kids in Ipswich, Mass, a “rather out-of-the-way town” about 30 miles north of Boston.

“The real America seemed to me ‘out there,’ too heterogeneous and electrified by now to pose much threat of the provinciality that people used to come to New York to escape,” Updike later wrote.

“There were also practical attractions: free parking for my car, public education for my children, a beach to tan my skin on, a church to attend without seeming too strange.”

I’m reading Rabbit Run right now so to say the lest I found this to be of great interest and thought it’s rather sad.  My Thoughts go out to family and friends of John Updike.  So, in light of this new information I invite everyone to join me in reading the Rabbit collection this year.  I’ve started Rabbit Run and will be moving on to complete the other books.  Join me if you’re interested.


Weekley Review #4

This week was full of accomplishments.  I managed to finish 3 book and get another 3 started.  When work is slow I have time to read and it’s amazing how much one can get done when they are reading almost 7 straight hours in the day.

The first book I finished was David Sedaris’ book Naked.  I thoroughly enjoy this book.  It was as funny as I remember Me Talk Pretty One Day but I still enjoyed it.  Then I read Ghost World by David Clowes.  These were the books I managed to complete at work.

At home I finished The Lennon Prophecyby Joseph Niezgoda.  I also got a review, first book review of the year.  Then at home I started The Devil’s Picnic and Rabbit Run by John Updike.  So far both are proving to be difficult to put down.

I’ve also started The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  Great book and it very refreshing.  Lots to read in the next little bit.

Until next time happy reading.

The Lennon Prophecy – Book Review

productimage1The Lennon Prophecy

By Joseph Niezgoda

Genre: Non-fiction

John Lennon and the Beatles have been a source of interest for many people over the years.  The death of John Lennon has been of greater interest.  Joseph Niezgoda explores the subject of Lennon’s death and relates it to the theory that Lennon may have sold his soul to the devil.  Stories of people selling their souls to the devil have been quite popular over the centuries, the most famous of those stories undoubtedly being that of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.

Marlowe’s story is one of my favorite plays and is quite dramatic and is probably the story we immediately think of when we hear of someone selling their soul to the devil.  Niezgoda talks about other people that have reportedly sold their souls to the devil before delving into the Lennon theory in The Lennon Prophecy.

The Lennon Prophecy is told like a biography of Lennon’s life with interjections that are given as “proof” that he did indeed sell his soul.  Some of these interjections are so absurd and can come across as a crazy person just like those theorists that claim people haven’t been on the moon yet.  I can see how some of these things are coincidental but then other things are a far streatch and if I wanted to could take the same examples to prove just about anything.

This was an interesting novel and it’s easy to read too.  The story of Lennon is far more interesting than the theories presented in this book.  If you can look past some of the crack pot ideas present as “proof” that John Lennon sold his soul to the devil it’s a great book.  The idea is interesting but Niezgoda wasn’t able to present his theory with solid ideas.  It wasn’t too crazy to prevent me from putting the book down without finishing it, that’s good right?

Until next time happy reading.

Booking Through Thursday #21

Booking Through Thursday

Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

This is an interesting question and haven’t really thought about what it is that inspires me to read.  I guess it really goes back to my love of knowledge and I want to know as much as possible.  The best way to do that is to read.  Knowledge is gained when I read both fiction and non-fiction.  And my love of reading also comes from my love of film and theatre.  I try to read several novels that have inspired a film and I read several scripts within the year as well.

I’m sure there are many other answers out there for the inspirations you have.  I’m looking forward to seeing what others have to say.  Happy Thursday, until next time keep reading.

Inauguration Day Thoughts

As I’m sitting watching the inaugural celebrations on CNN I cannot help but think back on the last 8 years of Bush’s reign and my first encounter with Barack Obama.  As a Canadian it’s not always kosher to say much about the political landscape of the United States of America but our politics are so interwoven I think it wouldn’t be prudent to dismiss today.

On that election night in 2000 I’m sure we can all recall how confusing it was and how contriversial that evening and the following months were.  For me Bush was always controversial and I must admit I was never a supporter of her but my support for that president dwindled from very little to not all when everyone was protesting against the Iraqi war and Bush stated, “I don’t care what these people think, we are going to war”.  And that doesn’t take into consideration all the other gaffs Bush made during his presidency.

I don’t remember when it was but I recall see Obama on Operah talking about his book The Audacity of Hope.  After hearing him speak I wanted to read his book.  I knew this was a man that wanted to bring hope and healing to a nation and world in so much turmoil.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Obama with do for America and the world.  He has a lot on his shoulders today but I think and hope he will come through.  I’m just concerned that he will be assassinated because of the popularity he has how he can easily polarize the nation.  Let’s appreciate this great man and help him achieve the changes he wants to make and the world needs.

Weekly Review #3

Well after last weeks post I decided to put The Yiddish Policeman’s Union aside and start something else.  Rather than starting one book though I got two on the go.  I was just getting too frustrated with the copious use of Yiddish and I want to enjoy my time when I’m reading.  So, it was time to put is aside and maybe come back to it later.  But I must say I’m excited about the up and coming movie based on the book.

The first book I’ve started is The Lennon Prophecy: A New Examination of the Death Clues of the Beatles by Joseph Niezgoda.  I received this promotional copy a couple weeks ago and I must say this is fascinating.  Niezgoda chose to write a book on the legend that John Lennon sold his soul to the devil for fame and popularity.  I find it interesting that I started this book as the Conservatory class at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival did a reading of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (the classic tale of the great doctor who sold his soul to the devil for knowledge).

The Lennon Prophecy begins with Lennon’s early years and continues to progress through the popularity of the Beatles.  I just completed the chapter dealing with the infamous “more popular than Jesus” statement Lennon made.  The book is proving to be a very easy read and full of information and theories.  I hope to get this book finished in the next couple of days.

The other book I started this week was purchased with the gift certificates I got from work for The Book Vault.  After reading Me Talk Pretty One Day I’ve wanted to read more by David Sedaris.  So I picked up Naked which is another collection of essays by Sedaris.  I work at the Festival and do outbound calling and so I have a lot of free time on my hands at work between calls because we don’t call a lot of numbers at once, each person makes a single phone call and so it takes a while before I get a change to talk to someone.  That time is spent reading now, and it is proving to allow me to get lots of reading done.  These essays are full of humour and some great insights.  I’m looking forward to the other tales Sedaris has spun in this fantastic book.

Until next time…happy reading.

Booking Through Thrusday #20

Booking Through Thursday

If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.

So, today’s question?

  • What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
  • Why?
  • And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?

You don’t have to restrict yourself to modern songsters, either … anyone who wants to pick Gilbert & Sullivan, for example, is just fine with me. Lerner & Loewe? Steven Sondheim? Barenaked Ladies? Fountains of Wayne? The Beatles? Anyone at all…

This is a great questions, I’m looking forward to reading what other have to say on the subject and hopefully be introduced to new songs and singers. There are a lot of fantastic songs out there it can be difficult to narrow down which song or songs to talk about but here’s a go at things.

When I first read the question the first name that sprung to my mind was Leonard Cohen. I really enjoy his music, and even enjoy it when he sings what he writes himself. Two works of his in particular have significant meaning because of both the lyrics and tune. The first was introduced to me in grade 9 English by my then teacher Mrs. Robinson (could you think of a better name for an English teacher?). She was a huge fan of Cohen and spread that excitement to several students in class. The tune she introduced us to was Democracy and I think one of the reasons I really love this song is because of fascination with politics and the song was performed by Cohen at Clinton’s inauguration. It’s a fantastic tune.

The other is of course Hallelujah. I find it difficult to pin point why I love this song, I think it has to do with the combination of tune and lyric. The combination make this a very powerful song. There are many different people that have recorded this song but I think it’s the Canadians that have done the best at it. Cohen’s of course is the ultimate recording, the simplicity is great and k.d. Lang also did a fantastic job of recording this song (but then all of Hymns of the 49th Parallel are superb).

I think I’ll leave my answer at that right now. I look forward to hear what you had to say. Until next time happy reading.

Weekly Review #2

This week ended up being a little disappointing for several reasons. I guess the most disappointing was that Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow wasn’t at work for me when I got there. There was some kind of mix-up with ordering them and the time frame they would be able to pick the up in the US. We all hope that the books will be here soon as everyone in To Read or Not to Read are really keen on getting started on this book.

I’m also in debate mode at this time. I stated in last weeks post I was reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. Well for the most part I’ve been enjoying the book but I’m finding all the Yiddish a little overwhelming at times and it makes reading the novel a little sluggish. So I’m starting to consider leaving it behind. I don’t like to do that but it’s becoming very slow to read since I’m finding that I have to read some things several times to really get the just of what’s being said.

On a positive note I got $20 worth of gift certificates for The Book Vault. At work there are a some incentives and we points for various sales or memberships and those can be traded in for gift certificates or Festival paraphernalia. I traded mine in for $20 for The Book Vault which is the best book store in Stratford.

Well, that’s my week. Happy reading.

Weekly Review #1

** I’m not sure why this didn’t post last week, I guess better late than never **

For something a little different I thought I would do a journal type entry on here every week to discuss the reading and book type things that I’ve done throughout the week. This is mostly done to try and help me keep up with the reading that was lacking at the end of 2008, most due to health reasons. So with a new year come new things.

This first week brought the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 so there was a lot of celebrating going on. But I also had plenty of opportunities to read. And with this opportunity I started reading Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Which has been enjoyable so far. I find the amount of Yiddish make the reading a little cumbersome at times and makes the book a little reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

When I get back to work I should have a copy of Ragtime waiting for me for the new book club at work. As I’ve mentioned over and over on this site I love Ragtime and it’s my selection for the book club. As a result I’m sure I’ll devour this book in a couple days. This week should have some exciting things going on.

Until next time grab that book and read away. All the best for ’09.

Who Named the Knife – Book Review

Who Named the KnifeWho Named the Knife
By: Linda Spalding
Genre: Non-fiction

Who Named the Knife: a Book of Murder and Memory by Linda Spalding is perhaps the best non-fiction novel I read in 2008.  It’s a wonderful novel of friendship , betrayal and murder.  Spalding felt compelled to tell the story of a young woman caught up in a murder trial whom she befriends.

Spalding comes across a notebook that she used while a member of a jury in the murder trial of Maryann.  She was an alternate in the jury and due to a minor incident she had one morning which resulted in her being dismissed.  She found this particular notebook after she had moved to Canada with her new husband Michael Ondaatja (which made reading this book a little more interesting because she refers to her husband and boyfriend simply as Michael).

The murder took place in Hawaii but over the years Spalding continues the relationship with the imprisoned Maryann.  Where more and more of the story comes alive and real to Spalding and thanks to her wonderful ability to tell a story comes alive to the reader.  The story is very touching and real and never more so than when Spading tells the imprisoned Maryann that if she would have stayed on the jury Maryann would be free.

This is a must read and has a great connection for Americans and Canadians alike because the author has spent significant years in both countries and both are connected with in the tale she weaves in Who Named the Knife.