Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Remembering John Updike

On Sunday, the Kennedy Library Forums in Boston presented A Tribute to John Updike.

Christopher Lydon introduced the speakers, all writers save Updike's daughter Elizabeth, who is an artist.

Their remembrances were moving and informative and painted a portrait of Updike the man as well as Updike the writer. Always modest and unassuming, Updike is not just renowned for his many novels but also for his poetry, essays, book reviews and even his love of baseball.

He lived North of Boston long enough to become a real New Englander. Nicholson Baker, Dr. Stephen Bergman, Anne Bernays, Elizabeth Updike Cobblah, Charles McGrath and William Pritchard all shared their fond and humorous memories of Updike.

Updike was Pennsylvania's Proust and he produced a vivid chronicle of life in the 50's until the present. Looking at the audience, I was struck, as always by the modest dress of New England's literati, gathered for the occasion looking like nothing so much as drab little sparrows, dressed in brown and gray and black like so many Puritans or Quakers as perhaps their ancestors were.

In spite of what the newspapers and magazines proclaim, there is little sense of style here, because we prefer the life of the mind and appear in a low key rumpled comfort. Very not New York. In fact, one of the speakers noted that Updike thought New York was like a jar of tapeworms, all trying to eat each other. Always quick with an image, he was.

Of course, the greatest honor we can pay Updike, like all authors, is to read his books. Aren't you about ready to have another go at Rabbit Angstrom? I know I am.


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