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Bech: A Book (Bech)

3.54  ·  Rating Details ·  782 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
Henry Bech is a Jewish American writer in his early forties, struggling for fame, no Norman Mailer, or Philip Roth, or Saul Bellow, he. We see him on his travels to Russia, to Bulgaria, and in the beds of his various mistresses. This is a funny, witty book about the world of writers and the quest for success.
Published October 1999 by Ballantine Books (first published 1970)
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MJ Nicholls
Mar 25, 2012 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bech is an old-school American writer (i.e. sexist and racist) whose books have secured him a place in the pantheon of the greats. Ah, the days when we had pantheons! When writers had stature and respect and tabloid headlines, when adoring fans tore their knickers off over a potent metaphor or sly Greek allusion. Gone are the days! He travels the world being droll and patronising the locals for not speaking English, and looks at ladies’ ankles, thighs and calves a great deal before he sleeps wit ...more
Sep 20, 2016 Alan rated it it was amazing
Actually, I think Bech is a form of Bellow, successful enough to win a cultural exchange to Eastern Europe, where there's a hilarious conversation weighted and delayed by translators, or the absence of them. Rumania, Bulgaria.
The Rumanian cab driver is a hoot. Going through a village, the "driver would speed up, and intensify the mutter of his honking; cluster of peasants and geese exploded in disbelief…As they ascended into the mountains, the driver demonstrated his technique with curves: he
Feb 16, 2009 brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i love updike. i’d like to felch his three week old corpse. amidst a great comic novella he throws out BRAIN-EXPLODINGLY GREAT STUFF like this:

He saw that even in this age of science and unbelief our ideas are dreams, styles, superstitions, mere animal noises intended to repel or attract. He looked around the ring of munching females and saw their bodies as a Martian or a mollusc might see them, as pulpy stalks of bundled nerves oddly pinched to a bud of concentration in the head, a hairy bone k
Harold Griffin
Revisiting this work after more than a decade since my first unsatisfying time through, I have reassessed it. I previously rejected it as dull, uninteresting stories about a character about whom I could care less. This time through I found it a pleasant if mostly uninspiring read, a nice period piece.

I think the fundamental problem with the character of Henry Bech is two-fold. First, to some extent Bech represents the Henry Jekyll of Updike's split personality, the opposite of Harold ("Rabbit")
Carol Storm
Jul 23, 2015 Carol Storm rated it did not like it
Back in the Roaring Twenties, someone was talking about Warren G. Harding, or it might have been Shoeless Joe Jackson, and they said, "he was the ultimate example of just how far a man might go without brains."

John Updike's life was a similar American miracle, except for "brains" you would have to substitute "character," or "moral courage," or "integrity," or something like that.

Updike was prodigiously gifted, enormously talented, and blessed with seemingly inexhaustible reserves of energy and
Jan 22, 2015 Jay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read more Updike novels than short stories, and I'm amazed at how dense these short stories on the life of author Beck are. Updike often strings together two or three quite pithy descriptive phrases in a sentence that really describe the people inhabiting these stories. These stories, besides the last one, find Beck travelling to portray the famous author in foreign countries, at a college, and even on vacation (where he starts a trip of a different kind). My favorite is "Beck Swings?", whe ...more
Mar 11, 2008 Deborah rated it liked it
Unforgettable characters always in Updike's books.
Feb 16, 2013 S. rated it really liked it
shit. it's been years since I read this. just remember it was good. 4/5

John Updike does this quintesential new yorker thing of being a privileged son of connecticut imitating the over-sexed, verbally-frantic extremely jewish Bech. people don't read this this much these days, it's too bad. woody allen before woody allen after all.
Jerry Pogan
Mar 16, 2017 Jerry Pogan rated it liked it
I have to admit, I didnt enjoy the book. I was waiting for it to end the whole time I was reading it.
Nov 19, 2014 Grant rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Updike lovers only
Recommended to Grant by: no one
What I love about Updike is his ability to see, and show the reader-the person inside of his character-who he really is as defined by his the characters first-person story line: vs. who he is perceived to be, as defined by the actions and interchanges he has with others. He uses very clever techniques to accomplish this, and I always find it fascinating. Here is an example:
"He thought back through his life, so many dreams and wakings, so many faces encountered and stoplights obeyed and streets c
Chad Bearden
Oct 08, 2009 Chad Bearden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Henry Bech is no Harry Angstrom, but if its John Updike writing it, you know it has to be in some way worthwhile.

I've talked with a lot of people who prefer the Bech stories to the Rabbit novels, but I can't help but think that people who prefer the short vignettes of Bech's life must not have the attention span to stay with Harry through the decades-long saga that was his life. The first chapter of "Rabbit, Run" was far richer in lush characterization than the entirety of "Bech: A Book" was. Th
Jeremy Sullivan
Mar 17, 2014 Jeremy Sullivan rated it really liked it
Sometimes, I feel that books about writers tend to lean on the side of self-indulgent. Updike's Bech: A Book is an example of this done right. On one end, you see the every day happenings of a larger-than-life figure. Henry Bech's first book Travel Light is a cult classic that the author can never seem to follow up. I was reminded of Joseph Heller's Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man when reading this. Sure there are a lot of things in this book that seem to have become cliche in recent years: ...more
Bruce Beckham
Mar 31, 2015 Bruce Beckham rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this short novel (143 pages), which I guess must be significantly autobiographical.

There is no story as such – it is basically the travelogue of a famous-though-blocked American author in his mid-forties, weighed down by the meaning of life (or lack of, as he sees it), passing the time by accepting international speaking assignments – but Updike’s sardonic humour and the must-have-been real events carry the day.

Style-wise, it is classic Updike – poetry in prose – without being too self
Jul 09, 2014 Ronnie rated it really liked it
"A deft poke at what it means to be a writer in America," The New York Times said, and it definitely is that, but along with the poking there's much more here that shows a true love of and veneration for the craft and the lifestyle, and Updike, one of America's preeminent men of letters, clearly had fun creating this character. I'm sure there are studies analyzing how autobiographical Bech is, and those might be interesting in their own way, but I think anyone who's fairly well-read in 20th cent ...more
Anisha Y
Jun 08, 2016 Anisha Y rated it liked it
Being in the mind of a cynical old white man was not the most comfortable experience, but as an aspiring writer, I learned that I most definitely never want to be famous. I want to achieve a delicate amount of respect for my name, but never one that warrants a deluge of interviews and eager critics drilling into my work to find meaning that I never intended nor care to elaborate on. It sounds too exhausting. Updike certainly convinced me of that, although I understand this is a satire. Though, t ...more
Feb 03, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bagatelle, ficciones
I read the first three (of seven) stories last year and quickly put this aside. Henry Bech seemed very facilely cobbled together out of American Jewish Writer tropes, and the Eastern European settings, while not quite ringing false, insinuated the idea of an immediate, obligatory, journalistic deployment of impressions Updike gathered while, like Bech, touring the Eastern Bloc on a State Department goodwill cultural jaunt. I should have pushed on through then, because Bech does become somewhat a ...more
Todd Thompson
Oct 19, 2014 Todd Thompson rated it really liked it
Great collection of stories in Book 1 of the Complete Henry Bech. I never read an Updike book without some new appreciation for his uncanny realism, expressed in bright satire, especially in these stories about a fictional, internationally famous, writer. "Bech in Heaven" was my favorite of these as Henry Bech is inducted into a literary society, mainly because he had simply survived long enough that those in the society gave him a sympathy vote. Updike's language, is, as always, full of surpris ...more
Brian Beasley
Mar 25, 2015 Brian Beasley rated it liked it
Shelves: short-reads
2.5 stars; Let me begin by stating that I love John Updike. Unfortunately I felt like Bech was just a poor man's version of Rabbit from the Rabbit, Run series. Updike wasn't very polished here and this book really> doesn't hold too well with time. If it were anyone else I would have put it down, only a few sparse nuggets of brilliance.
Dec 17, 2008 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Updike is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. This isn't so much a novel as a series of vignettes about the life of New York novelist Henry Bech. Bech is notoriously unproductive, gamophobic, and Jewish; in short, he's the complete opposite of everything associated with John Updike, who is a famously prolific Ivy League wasp who's been married with children a few times over. At first, the stories are presented as though they're part of a critical overview of Bech's life but that pretens ...more
Jul 25, 2016 Justinmmoffitt rated it really liked it
John Updike's prose is magnetizing. It's a train of thought that doesn't even stop at your station. It's by far his work's best quality. If it weren't for his unique way of phrasing the most mundane things, this book would have fallen flat. While not perfect (one can only have so many womanizing escapades) it's an enjoyable read.
Joseph Muniz
Sep 25, 2013 Joseph Muniz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 14_52x52
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 12, 2014 CamiBlue rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Si te gusta el humor negro en un mundo de escritores decadentes, otrora taquilleros, este es el libro perfecto. Humor cáustico y reflexiones sobre sexo, drogas y muerte mezcladas con situaciones extraordinarias, vueltas anodinas por la mirada gris del escritor ficticio/autobiográfico Henry Bech. Escrito con chispa, se ríe de todos y de nadie.

Carmelo Militano
Jul 19, 2012 Carmelo Militano rated it really liked it
If you are interested in what it was like to be successful NY writer in the early 60's and like the wonderful engorged prose style Updike is famous for you will love this book. Funny, insightful and clever
Govind Nagarajan
Sep 27, 2016 Govind Nagarajan rated it really liked it
An amusing read, rather than an outright comedy. Updike's satirical description of Bech's experiences behind the Iron Curtain is brilliant. Starts brilliantly, but drags on from the midpoint. 4 stars because this is my first Updike book and I found it interesting.
Oct 29, 2007 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I was having a hard time getting into this one, but by the third chapter I remembered why Updike is one of my all time favorites. I would happily read this man's footnotes to the phone book.
Sep 07, 2011 Joseph rated it really liked it
Good book about writing and being a writer. There's a sequel too. Beck is back.
Will Clarke
Feb 02, 2011 Will Clarke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far its one of those lesser novels by a great author that is nonetheless almost breathtakingly funny and hums along at the brisk pace of a sprinter. Highly enjoyable.
May 20, 2016 D rated it liked it
Shelves: comedy
Amusing, which, I think, was the intention of the writer. A bit in the style of Roth but not as good.
Boris Feldman
Mar 27, 2012 Boris Feldman rated it liked it
Not as good as I thought it was when I first read it 35 years ago.
Kate Fitzgerald
3.5 stars. Delightful, amusing character. Interesting, well crafted scenes. Some of the book dragged, but other parts made up for it. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
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John Hoyer Updike was an American writer. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, havin ...more
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Other Books in the Series

Bech (7 books)
  • Bech is Back
  • The Complete Henry Bech
  • Bech at Bay
  • Basic Bech: Bech a Book, Bech is Back
  • Bech at Bay and Before: Three Bech Novels
  • Bech: His Oeuvre

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“Actuality is a running impoverishment of possibility.” 2 likes
“Write him down, if he must write him down as something, as a disbeliever; he disbelieved in the Pope, in the Kremlin, in the Vietcong, in the American eagle, in astrology, Arthur Schlesinger, Eldridge Cleaver, Senator Eastland, and Eastman Kodak. Nor did he believe overmuch in his disbelief. He” 1 likes
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