TRIBUTE: John Updike and America

John Updike died today at the age of 75.* That’s a good statistical age. It sounds like an average lifespan; like a neat round American age. He was in many ways a penultimate American, a writer in love with the American idea.

*-OK, news reports are now correcting themselves; his age was 76. An even more American number. (P.S., Years ago I adopted the use of “OK” rather than “okay” from Updike’s novels.)

John Updike. Photo by Martha Updike.

The New York Times has an old page (from 1997) that includes links to two NPR Fresh Air interviews with John Updike, as well as articles including reviews of his books.

Updike was an incredibly prolific writer. In his later years he focused on serving as an art critic and essayist. He wrote poetry, too. His most famous poem is “Player Piano,” which the New Yorker published in 1954. It was in 2000, upon reading “Rainbow” in The Atlantic, that I first observed, however, that it seemed like he was writing poetry to stay in shape for writing novels.

Taken together, his Rabbit series may well be considered an epic prose poem on the later half of the twentieth century in America. That is the place to begin if you’ve never read much (or any) Updike. Grab Rabbit, Run and go.

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