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4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  437 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
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.

In this magisterial biography, Adam Begley offers an illuminating portrait of John Updike, the acclaimed novelist, poet, short-story writer, an
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by HarperCollins
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Jason Coleman
Apr 30, 2014 Jason Coleman rated it really liked it
Shelves: greatest-hits
I thought and dreamt about this book for many years before it existed, or before it was even in the works. I almost never read Updike these days; in my twenties, however, he was second only to Nabokov (another writer I almost never read any more). I didn't just read the Rabbit novels or those old anthology stand-bys "Pigeon Feathers" and "A&P." I read it all—things like A Month of Sundays, say, or the poetry. I think I even took a stab at his play Buchanan Dying. He was about my parents' age ...more
Ben Batchelder
Jan 29, 2015 Ben Batchelder rated it really liked it
Let me say upfront: I’m not usually a fan of biographies. They always end badly. Especially in today’s morally unanchored world, the towering ambition of most lives worthy of a biography leaves a path of destruction on the way to temporal success: families destroyed, other careers shortened, lives poorly and feebly lived, if not outright crippled with disease.

Despite being one of my favorite authors on late 20th century American life, John Updike does not diverge greatly from the pattern. While
Jan 30, 2014 Grady rated it it was amazing
'You have to give it magic'

And magic is just the descriptor for this immensely informed and intelligent biography of John Updike by the gifted author Adam Begley. It goes so far beyond where biographies usually tread, giving us insights into a great American author as a man, an original thinker, and as one of the finest novelists of the last century. A quick glance at the facts form Wikipedia, `John Updike (18 March 1932 - 27 January 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art
James Smith
Jul 12, 2014 James Smith rated it really liked it
It would be easy to underestimate Begley's Updike, only because Begley makes it look so easy. The approach he has taken--to read Updike's fiction as a thinly veiled chronicle of his real life (in other words, the Maples stories are Updike's story)--seems so natural and fertile that one might think it obvious, even easy. But that would be to miss the creative genius it takes to land on this approach. It would also miss the stunning mastery of Updike's oeuvre that Begley displays--again, effortles ...more
Ryan Williams
May 04, 2014 Ryan Williams rated it really liked it
Borges once said of James Joyce that he was less a man of letters than an entire literature. If you wanted a sentence that sums up the career of John Updike - who published over fifty books over a long writing career and twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - you'd struggle to dream up a better one than that.

Admittedly, 'struggle' isn't the first word you associate with Updike's career, but after reading Adam Begley's assured, informative biography, you might well modify that judgement. Upd
Feb 23, 2014 J.R. rated it liked it
“More than fifty years after his first New Yorker check, he was still happily amazed that he could make a living this way, that his boyhood plan to ride ‘a thin pencil line out of Shillington, out of time altogether, into an infinity of unseen and even unborn hearts’ had succeeded quite so brilliantly.”

Pennsylvania-born John Updike was a man who found no greater joy in life than in the sheer act of writing.

Adam Begley’s comprehensive and sympathetic study of Updike’s life makes that abundantly c
May 12, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing
Fascinating reading for this Updike fan.
Bears revisiting often.

31..why was i so comfortably situated? had given my father a beating.
44..avenging the slights and abasements visited upon his father
78..monotonously triumphant career
167..effortlessly industrious
224..religion enables us to ignore nothingness and get on with the jobs of life.
240..The courtly love conceit is ingenious but limiting, the characters diminished rather than enhanced by their role in a medieval tragedy (Tristan
James Murphy
Jul 05, 2014 James Murphy rated it it was amazing
I've been a fan of John Updike's work for a long time. I read this first biography eager to learn more about where the fiction I admire came from. I was a little surprised to learn that it came from his own life. For the most part he recast his own personal experiences into his writings. From the early short stories to the first novel, Of the Farm, to the magnificence of The Centaur to Marry Me and even to the racy, notorious Couples, Updike was telling his own story. The famous ...more
Steve Petherbridge
Jul 03, 2014 Steve Petherbridge rated it really liked it
I am an avid Updike fan. He captures America and the lifestyle of middle America, emerging from post WWII austerity, from the 1950's to the early 21st Century, mostly through fictionalised lives of ordinary Americans, mostly middle class, embracing the post-pill freedoms, Vietnam, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter and touching on the Civil Rights and other 1960's turbulence, though he does not go deeply into any issue.

Mostly though, his fiction is isolated from the greater American political stage wit
May 04, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
UPDIKE. (2014). Adam Begley. ****.
Towards the end of his writing career, John Updike suffered a decline in popularity among his readers. There was a time – early on – when any new book by the author was eagerly anticipated. Then came the slump. It was not because the writing quality declined, it was simply that his readers began to tire of his stuff. I don’t know if Mr. Begley intended his biography as a way of revitalizing Updike’s image, but if it was it fell short because the last twenty year
Nov 25, 2014 Dpdwyer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
A detailed, seemingly comprehensive 500 page biography that reads almost like a novel. Begley shows how Updike repeatedly and mercilessly, yet lovingly, mined the relationships and experiences of a lifetime in his fiction, essays, and poetry. Many exquisite quotes from Updike’s works like the following:

Updike’s stated goal in his writing: “to give the mundane its beautiful due.”

“I read slower than I write.”

“The world keeps ending but new people too dumb to know it keep showing up as if the fun
Apr 11, 2014 Joe rated it it was amazing

I Review Adam Begley’s “Updike,” a Biography.

By the time "Rabbit" hit the bookstores Updike was ‘falling in love, away from marriage.’ After Rabbit, Run, sexual elements became stronger in his fiction, and if the Brewer of “Rabbit” was really Reading, Ipswich was really Tarbox, despite Updike’s denials — especially his denials after Couples appeared in 1968. Updike wasn’t the first in his Ipswich crowd to commit adultery, and possibly not the first in his marriage, according to Begley. Mary like
Les Dangerfield
Nov 05, 2015 Les Dangerfield rated it really liked it
Unusually, I read the biography without having read any of his work. That may have made it more difficult to get into the book at first, but it is very well written and researched, interweaving the events of his life with summaries of the plots of his novels, which more often than not closely reflected his life. The book focuses on the 50s,60s and 70s to the relative neglect of the following three decades, which are given light coverage in the final two or three chapters. This may have been ...more
Mar 26, 2016 Beverly rated it liked it
This was a well researched, somewhat comprehensive biography of John Updike, but it was a little dull. This may be a function of Updike's life: his most interesting activity was writing. I love about him his appreciation for the mundane and how he turned it into art. Begley failed to understand the centrality of faith in Updike's writing and, presumably, life. He also spent too much time on individual short stories to the neglect of the novels, and he skimmed over the later novels and some of ...more
Nancy Burns
Jul 27, 2014 Nancy Burns rated it it was amazing
John Updike was a classic American writer.
He saw himself as a literary spy in suburban America.
He was the ‘golden boy’ at The New Yorker for years and is known for his short stories (Maples and Henry Bech series), Couples, The Witches of Eastwick and the Rabbit tetralogy.

Here is my review:
Carl Rollyson
Jun 26, 2014 Carl Rollyson rated it really liked it
Reading Adam Begley’s book on John Updike confirms my beliefs that biography matters and that first biographies of major writers invariably leave more to be explored. Begley shows that while it may have seemed effortless for Updike to write sixty-odd books, this production took a lot of effort. Updike was more disciplined than almost all of his contemporaries, except for the likes of Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates. And like these two, he suffered at the hands of undiscerning critics, who ...more
Mark Stevens
May 15, 2014 Mark Stevens rated it it was amazing
If you like the prose of John Updike, you’ll enjoy this biography. I suppose my job is to answer the question for non-believers: why should I read this? The answer is simple: Adam Begley’s fine portrait helps us see the combination of family forces and innate personality traits that produced one of the finest writers of the 20th Century. "Updike" is entertaining and deliciously detailed. And, most of all, reading Updike gives us the chance to watch an artist develop and get to work.

Quite litera
Oct 13, 2016 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Updike's unique life

This is an interesting look at Updike's life. What I found most unique was the dichotomy of a kind of familial normalcy coupled with his longevity atop the literary world and his sexual dalliances. I haven't read much Updike but recently finished Rabbit Redux and am on an Updike kick. That said I really enjoyed this book but it certainly was earth shattering.
Howard Cincotta
John Updike “rode the thin pencil line out of Shillington,” his Pennsylvania boyhood home, in a high-performance, all-terrain writing engine that, as Adam Begley relates in this superlative biography, propelled him to become one of the great literary stylists of the English language, a master of the short story and novel, as well as one of our finest literary critics.

In his stories and novels, such as the Rabbit tetralogy, Updike celebrated late 20th-century America with a compassion and eloque
Richard Needham
Sep 12, 2015 Richard Needham rated it it was amazing
This biography is very well written and gave me new insights into one of America’s great 20th century authors. Certainly it helps to be fairly familiar with his output, and to really like his work as you delve into this book, as this is a biography with lots of insight, analysis and background on almost everything he wrote.
John Updike was an amazingly prolific writer, who captured my imagination way back in the early 1960’s and continuing to his last works. I haven’t read everything by him, but
Richard Block
Aug 04, 2015 Richard Block rated it really liked it
Finding the Big in the Small

Adam Begley's mammoth bio of the great John Updike is more than complete, it is a fat 9 course Rabbit meal. I read it before - and after Roth Unbound (shifted out of Ch.3 into Roth), which I ran through. I love both authors but preferred Roth's bio, because Updike's life, like many of his books, are not as interesting as Roth's life. So forgive the comparisons, but it is impossible to avoid them.

Like Roth, Updike wrote of real life best, with great observation and rev
Richard LeComte
Adam Begley's exhaustive, engaging and every once in a while repetitive biography of John Updike takes up a difficult task" How do you write a biography about a man who exposed just about every aspect of his life in his fiction?

The answer is you check and double check, then bring in other sources. Rather than bring us vivid descriptions of his boyhood and writing life-- after all, they appear in Updike's stories -- Begley offers his interpretations of Updike's writing (along with asides weighin
Robert Miller
Jun 28, 2014 Robert Miller rated it liked it
The author, Adam Begley, digs deep into the professional lives of John Updike, his lovers and wives, and to a much lessor extent, his children in preparation for this biography. He carefully reviews Updike's writings and seeks to interpret them, interviews the many people intertwined in his life and compares Updike to several other writers of the day. He talks about the thinly veiled characters appearing in most of Updike's works who, Begley believes are really those appearing in Updike's real ...more
Linda Gaines
Jun 25, 2014 Linda Gaines rated it it was amazing
Adam Begley's biography of John Updike is wonderful. He tells of the life and the writings in measured steps. He reviews and summarizes the novels and stories written at various periods of Updike's extremely productive literary life. I read almost everything Updike wrote, especially all the early works, so these views were very interesting to me.
Some of the criticisms of the man and the author were evaluated. I had never thought Updike the author was against women, although many of his characte
I enjoyed this book, but it didn't make a huge impression on me. I couldn't help but pair Updike in my mind with Cheever, the terrific bio of that other mid-20th Century WASPy New Yorker writer named John. That book was, I thought, an excellent exploration of the life, the works, and the psyche of a noted author, and well worth its 600 or so pages.

This book, in contrast, seemed to me to be a noble attempt to build a work of the same scale on the life of a man who just wasn't that interesting. U
Dec 05, 2014 Vicky rated it it was amazing
This book is the story of John Updike's life, the author of many novels, short stories, poetry, and reviews. Early in this book the author points out that Updike wrote about himself over and over again. He wrote about the town in Pennsylvania that he grew up in and the town in Massachusetts where he spent life with his first wife. He wrote about family and friends barely, if at all, changing his characters so that they did not resemble the real-life people upon whom they were based. When he ...more
May 05, 2014 Robert rated it it was amazing
Sup[porters and detractors of the work of John Updike agree that his prose masterfully depicts the quotidian details of the lives and places of his characters. Begley presents a strong argument that Updidke's ability to closely observe and describe the lives of the middle class in post war America is the essence of the author's fiction. Begley's gracefully written literary biography is a delight to read. He presents a lucid and well documented argument about Updidke's ability to harness his ...more
Phyllis Gauker
Jun 29, 2014 Phyllis Gauker rated it really liked it
Although all biographies are rather tedious to read, I enjoyed this one. Seems that Begley really nailed the essence of John Updike, and proves it through his thorough research. I'd read quite a few Updike novels through the years, but the biography caused me to want to read more. I plan a trip to the library or a trip to in the near future.

Some of the lines I especially enjoyed were from his poems, with its spare language.

Each hour seemed a rubber band
the preoccupied fingers of God
Oct 06, 2014 Andrew rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book in retrospect, although I did enjoy it. It is not your classic biography. It doesn’t really nail Updike. The writer obviously spoke to a number of sources, but their views seem quite muted and give limited insight into his personality and events. Perhaps the fact that Updike’s second wife did not participate in the biography may have coloured the process. Perhaps, aside from wife-swapping small town gossip, there really wasn’t that much to say, especially as ...more
Hank Pharis
Feb 23, 2015 Hank Pharis rated it it was ok
Having read a couple of John Updike's novels in "Classic" book clubs he remains an enigma. No one doubts his writing abilities. He is one of only three authors to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction (as well as a host of other awards). He certainly professed to be a Christian and theological themes permeate his novels. But so does sex. He is probably known as much for his sexual themes as anything. So how does this fit together. After listening to Begley's interesting biography it sounds to me ...more
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“For John’s senior year, the young couple rented the cheapest apartment they could find. For thirty-five dollars a month, they got a fairly big room that served as kitchen, dining room, living room, and music room—it contained both an upright piano and the table where they ate. There was a tiny bedroom and a tiny bathroom. At least it was a nice neighborhood, a pleasant ten-minute walk from the Yard. They had a cat, Ezra (after Ezra Pound), who came in and out of the window—inspiration for a short story, “Spring Comes to Cambridge,” which Updike submitted to The New Yorker. It was rejected on the grounds that the quota of cat stories had already been filled. (This” 1 likes
“Blessed Man” is a tribute to Updike’s tenacious maternal grandmother, Katherine Hoyer, who died in 1955. Inspired by an heirloom, a silver thimble engraved with her initials, a keepsake Katherine gave to John and Mary as a wedding present (their best present, he told his mother), the story is an explicit attempt to bring her back to life (“O Lord, bless these poor paragraphs, that would do in their vile ignorance Your work of resurrection”), and a meditation on the extent to which it’s possible to recapture experience and preserve it through writing. The death of his grandparents diminished his family by two fifths and deprived him of a treasured part of his past, the sheltered years of his youth and childhood. Could he make his grandmother live again on the page? It’s certainly one of his finest prose portraits, tender, clear-eyed, wonderfully vivid. At one point the narrator remembers how, as a high-spirited teenager, he would scoop up his tiny grandmother, “lift her like a child, crooking one arm under her knees and cupping the other behind her back. Exultant in my height, my strength, I would lift that frail brittle body weighing perhaps a hundred pounds and twirl with it in my arms while the rest of the family watched with startled smiles of alarm.” When he adds, “I was giving my past a dance,” we hear the voice of John Updike exulting in his strength. Katherine takes center stage only after an account of the dramatic day of her husband’s death. John Hoyer died a few months after John and Mary were married, on the day both the newlyweds and Mary’s parents were due to arrive in Plowville. From this unfortunate coincidence, the Updike family managed to spin a pair of short stories. Six months before he wrote “Blessed Man,” Updike’s mother had her first story accepted by The New Yorker. For years her son had been doing his filial best to help get her work published—with no success. In college he sent out the manuscript of her novel about Ponce de León to the major Boston publishers, and when he landed at The New Yorker he made sure her stories were read by editors instead of languishing in the slush pile. These efforts finally bore fruit when an editor at the magazine named Rachel MacKenzie championed “Translation,” a portentous family saga featuring Linda’s version of her father’s demise. Maxwell assured Updike that his colleagues all thought his mother “immensely gifted”; if that sounds like tactful exaggeration, Maxwell’s idea that he could detect “the same quality of mind running through” mother and son is curious to say the least. Published in The New Yorker on March 11, 1961, “Translation” was signed Linda Grace Hoyer and narrated by a character named Linda—but it wasn’t likely to be mistaken for a memoir. The story is overstuffed with biblical allusion, psychodrama, and magical thinking, most of it Linda’s. She believes that her ninety-year-old father plans to be translated directly to heaven, ascending like Elijah in a whirlwind, with chariots of fire, and to pass his mantle to a new generation, again like Elijah. It’s not clear whether this grand design is his obsession, as she claims, or hers. As it happens, the whirlwind is only a tussle with his wife that lands the old folks on the floor beside the bed. Linda finds them there and says, “Of all things. . . . What are you two doing?” Her father answers, his voice “matter-of-fact and conversational”: “We are sitting on the floor.” Having spoken these words, he dies. Linda’s son Eric (a writer, of course) arrives on the scene almost immediately. When she tells him, “Grampy died,” he replies, “I know, Mother, I know. It happened as we turned off the turnpike. I felt” 1 likes
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