Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009: UPDATED

I saw John Updike when he came to Graham Chapel at Wash. U. in the mid-nineties. He read a story called "Lifeguard," from his early collection Pigeon Feathers. After reading it, he expressed surprise at some of the details that dated the story—pregnant women smoking on the beach, for instance. He expressed some embarrassment that so many students across the country had been required to read his story "A&P." He took questions, and I raised my hand in the packed chapel. He pointed at me, but a guy a few rows up stood instead and asked a question. I was disappointed, but then after answering that guy's question, Updike said that he'd actually meant me, so I got to stand up and ask mine after all. In a small way, Updike's graciousness and attention to detail in that moment seem of a piece with the grace of his prose and his attentiveness to the particularities of experience and art in his fiction and criticism.


Some good Updike links: Updike's 2005 "This I Believe" piece; George Saunders remembers Updike; as do ZZ Packer, Jonathan Lethem, and E.L. Doctorow


emiss said...

1. What was your question? His answer?
2. Can we trust the Corresponding Fractions blogger to separate his being recognized by a writer of Updike's stature from the objectivity of his critical assessment?
3. The guy who waited in line all those years ago to ask Updike if "The A&P" was, finally, comic or ironic to settle an old sophomore year score was the first person to e-mail me of Updike's death.
4. Here's an interesting piece on Updike from salon.com in 2000; they posted it again today (you've probably already seen it but, since the author once jumped you in line at Nacho Mama's, refuse to pass along the link).

emiss said...

Whoops. In my snarkiness I forgot to paste the link. I'm such an amateur.


framiko said...

1. My question was what Updike thought of Nicholson Baker's book U & I. He answered by saying some nice things about Baker as a writer and by noting that the book was really more about Baker than it was about Updike.

2. I wouldn't trust the Corresponding Fractions blogger any father than you can throw him.

3. You'll have to tell me privately who that was.

4. I thought I'd tracked down and killed every man who ever dared jump me in line at NachoMama's. I'm intrigued that one apparently survived to write for Salon.com.