RIP – John Updike

I’ve made it a small habit to write something brief about American writers who have had some impact on my life. When John Updike passed away on January 27th, I missed the event and only found out by chance a few days later while scanning the internet for some piece of information that I’ve already forgotten about. My first feeling was surprise that I hadn’t seen any news about Updike’s death on CNN which I watch at least once a day when I get home from school.

John Updike

John Updike

I was going to write something then, but I felt that I needed to reflect on what Updike meant to my life, to the writing that I’ve done, to the path that my life has taken. The first of Updike’s tetralogy about Rabbit Angstrom, “Rabbit, Run,” was the first work of “adult” fiction that I read. I was a high school student then, just moving from the work of what we now call young adult fiction, and Updike’ s novel was like a boilerplate thumping me over the head. It was the first time that I paid attention to the words that a writer used; their order and position on the page; the use of metaphor. And the story. I felt that I was viewing one of the possible paths that I could end up taking in my young life, obsessed as I was at the time with my future.

Rabbit, Run started me on the road to reading serious literature. I followed Updike’s career over the years and bought his new work as it was published. Later, when I moved overseas, and long before proper bookstores reached the shores of Bali, I would scrounge through the used paperbacks in the back corner of a little tourist shop in Lovina, which is now gone, looking for anything by Updike. When I was lucky enough to find an Updike novel, I’d immediately purchase it and race home to read it, usually reading it all in one setting and then going back and reading it again more slowly so that I could enjoy the language and the craft.

I miss those days and the excitement of finding an Updike in Bali partly because it reminded me of my childhood thrills when I opened a new pack of Topp’s baseball cards and slowly searched through the pack looking for any card of a St. Louis Cardinal. I’m looking forward to going home to Bali next month and sitting down with one of my Updike novels and remembering one of America’s great literary figures.


~ by drbrucepk on February 8, 2009.

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