One-Minute Book Reviews

May 23, 2008

John Updike (1932-2009) Explains What His Books Are ‘About’

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:42 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

John Updike has died of lung cancer at the age of 76. This is a re-publication of an earlier post about his work.

Critics often fault John Updike for not having a social message or making a point that runs throughout all his books. Is this fair? Updike deals with the meaning of his books in an interview in Picked-up Pieces (Knopf, 1975), one of his early collections of essays, reviews and other nonfiction:

“My books are all meant to be moral debates with the reader, and if they seem pointless — I’m speaking hopefully — it’s because the reader has not been engaged in the debate. The questions is usually, ‘What is a good man?’ or ‘What is goodness?’ and in all the books an issue is examined. Take Harry Angstrom in Rabbit, Run: there is a case to be made for running away from your wife. In the late Fifties beatniks were preaching transcontinental traveling as the answer to man’s disquiet. And I was just trying to say: ‘Yes, there is certainly that, but then there are all these other people who seem to get hurt.’ That qualification is meant to frame a moral dilemma.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I’ve read the “Rabbit” books. Patiently. Despite the apparent lack of point. But I sensed it. Updike does suburbs as well as anyone.

    It’s difficult to hear in the suburbs – there is a lot of likeness and plainness, like a white noise. But that’s only the surface. IT is, like everywhere, stocked with individuals.

    Updike will remain a favorite though I have never approached one of his books in anticipation of a page-turner nor in anticipation of a great moral lesson.

    I’ve read him because he is so one of us. He hears below the surface and I suspect if you stuck him in the midst of a great city or a flat wild plain, he’d hear the human depths of that place, too, not the stereotypical pain/angst/struggling/winning but the regular incessant wondering heartbeat of it.

    Comment by oh — May 23, 2008 @ 10:54 am | Reply

  2. I agree that the “Rabbit” books aren’t page-turners. But I read Updike for the same reason you do — he sees “below the surface.” And he may excel at more genres than any of the greatest living American writers: fiction, poetry, criticism.

    I especially love his early light verse and hope to review some of it on this site. It really helped to get me excited about poetry when I was younger.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 23, 2008 @ 11:57 am | Reply

  3. John Updike’s passing is sad, but he left a ton of awesome work. “Immortality is nontransferrable” he said appropriately.

    Comment by coffee — January 30, 2009 @ 3:04 am | Reply

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