Updike is Adam Begley’s masterful, much-anticipated biography of one of the most celebrated figures in American literature: Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike—a candid, intimate, and richly detailed look at his life and work.
Of course John Updike was a brilliant writer, and of course he wrote important books, books that made a difference to the culture (the Rabbit Tetralogy alone guarantees him a prominent place in the history of 20th-century American literature), but what's less immediately obvious is that he was the most professional writer of our time. Man of letters was a role he played to perfection, with the public, with the media, and with his editors and publisher. I want to write a biography of Updike that honors that professionalism and reflects it, a book that illuminates his life as a writer with special attention to his work. Most writers are only interesting in so far as they write books we value. Their daily lives are generally bereft of high drama. Though Updike's life can only be described as sedentary (how else could he have produced more than 60 books in just 76 years?), his character was more colorful than most (he was an attractive man easily attracted to others), and manifestly complex (he was a kind man who was ruthlessly competitive and a gentle man with a vicious wit). My principal aim in writing his biography will be to illuminate for the reader the nature of his character and of his greatest accomplishments. I am not proposing to write a minutely detailed chronicle of his comings and goings. I am interested in what he did on any given day if it reveals an aspect of his personality or sheds light on his work. Similarly, I am only interested in writing about those books that are of enduring literary value (no shortage there) or reflect some notable character trait. I do not intend to trudge dutifully through each book, explicating as I go. In sum, I propose a full-length biography that is nonetheless rigorously selective, that zeroes in on what makes John Updike fascinating as a man and as a writer. Though I will always be first and foremost an Updike reader (I've written reviews of at least a half dozen of his books), I had many opportunities to observe him in person a history that stretches back to my infancy in 1959. Updike and his first wife were friends with my father and mother, and family legend has it that Updike was the first person to make me laugh, a feat he apparently accomplished by juggling oranges. (My father and Updike were classmates in college, both of them majoring in English.) In 1994, on assignment for Mirabella, I spent several days following Updike around in Northern Wisconsin, where he was being honored by a small liberal arts college. We were in sporadic contact for the next nine years, and then in 2003 I wrote a second profile of him for The New York Observer. I liked him very much personally, and though I haven't always liked every one of his novels, I remained an ardent fan of his writing to the end. I am very eager to plunge back into his work, and to thoroughly explore his life, and I would like to think that I could deliver a completed manuscript within eighteen months.
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