Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike

John Updike, 1932 - 2009

John Updike died of lung cancer on January 27. I remember reading about the young Updike in Time Magazine back in the 1960's. I was struck by his distinctive facial profile and the fact that he had studied art before turning to writing. I read my first Updike novel when I was in the Peace Corps. His novel Of the Farm was included in my Peace Corps book locker--a varied collection of about 40 fiction and nonfiction books given to each volunteer. There were two or three versions of the booklocker, so I sometimes swapped good books with other volunteers when we met. I was hooked on Updike and read him intermittently from then on, especially savoring each of the four Rabbit books when they came out, decade by decade. I always thought his poetry was underrated partly because it was eclipsed by his fiction (and criticism) but also because he mostly wrote light verse, though it was very good light verse. Some scenes and images from his work have stayed with me. Somewhere, he describes a flock of birds as "a drunken fingerprint in the sky" or something like that. I saw Updike at the University of South Carolina several years ago when USC's Don Greiner, a longtime Updike collector, honored the writer with a large display in the library Rare Books Room. I have the poster commemorating that occasion.

John Updike page at Poetry Foundation Site

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