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February 10, 2023


#Biography John Updike

by NancyElin


Finish date: February 2023
Genre: biography – Updike by Adam Begley (ISBN: 9780062410894)
Rating: A+++++

Good news: I did not want this book to end. Having discovered  John Updike for the first tiime,  I did not want to lose him in the final chapter.His life  began in  Shillington Pennsylvania. It was unremarkable. Nobody goes there. There is nothing to see, yet for Updike it is the most  comforting place on earth.

Good news: In the first chapter I connected immediately  to Updike remembering  my own  hometown USA.   Playgrounds where we played dodge ball,  the library where the floors squeaked in hushed silence and Mahoney’s  drugstore where we gorged on cherry cokes and hot fudge sundaes.Updike’s  mother told him “he could fly” and he believed her. She was determined not to let her son John become a Shillington ‘know-nothing’. Adam Begley has done an excellent job bringing  Updike’s  literary greatness  to life  by analyzing his short stories, novels and  poems.

Good news: This book gives the reader so many insights  into  the ‘autobiographical’  aspects of Updike’s writing. (timeline: 1932 – 2009). The Centaur is a touching tribute to his father, The Maples stories  expose Updike’s  marital woes and the  Henry Bech stories reveal   Updike’s  alter-ego filled with literary  adventures.

Good news:  Adam Begley explains Updike’s  “delicate art of weaving popular culture, politics and economics into the fabric of the narrative” (pg 394) of the  Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run;  Rabbit Redux;  Rabbit is Rich and  Rabbit at Rest). Updike introduces us to Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom   whose basketball skills did not translate into post-high school success.


This biography is a wonderful start. Subtle meanings and painful backround information will make the “Maples stories” come alive. Updike’s prose is drenched in his personal life.

I won’t go any further  into the details of Updike’s  life because I want you to discover this writer for yourself. There is always a sentence that lingers after reading a book.  Updike’s  description of a family home filled with children    ” wandering in and out with complaints their mothers brushed away like cigarette smoke”.     Updike describes  what it was like  in….hometown  USA. This  is an excellent biography of a great writer and I would highy recommend it.  Begley does not write a biography as a summation of facts.  He lets us discover Updike — essay by essay, story by story, novel by novel.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 10 2023

    A well-done author bio is a real treasure isn’t it? So glad you found a book that really spoke to you 🙂

    • Feb 11 2023

      This was a burst of good reviewing IMHO…but struggling to keep this quality going for every book. February is waning…..but a blog ‘dip’ is hanging over me like an ominous winter cloud. I’m reading many French books and feel no one is interested in them. Seriously considering stopping blogging (permanently or temporarily ) as I see one of my favourites has done it (What’s Nonfiction?). I hope to get over this hurdle…fingers crossed. Thanks for your comment.

      • Feb 11 2023

        Blogging slumps are part of the game. When I nearly stopped last year, I realised that I still wanted to somehow record the books I read even if I had nothing much to say about them. That desire to keep track of my reading will always keep me going I guess. Check in with yourself – why do you blog?

        But bloggers do come & go – I would miss you, especially now I no longer use Twitter)it has been so freeing to not go down anymore Twitter rabbit holes!)
        But you should always do what’s right for you. Take care Nancy 😍

  2. Feb 11 2023

    Thanks Brona, for your words of encouragement. I seem to remember I did exactly the same for you during your “dip”. Just telling somebody that I’m struggling is relief in itself. I have a few reviews ready…and will have a “deep think” this weekend. If anything will motivate me it is reading IRISH literature. Perhaps just a good time to make a reading list…that always cheers me up! Just finished a 1 hr bike ride in the bracing cold winter morning…so my brain is read to read…and blog! XO

    • Feb 11 2023

      I spotted Cathy’s post too – a good Irish book should do the trick 🙂


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