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Constant Reader > A Last Look at Updike and Cheever (Video)

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message 1: by Joy H. (last edited Apr 27, 2011 12:18AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments I few days ago I started listening to an audio version of Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey. As I got into it, I found it more and more compelling. The book takes the reader behind the scenes with the author as he agonizes over his craft. He interacts with editors like William Maxwell at the New Yorker where so many of his stories were published. He goes through periods of alcoholism, non-productivity, and lack of funds. Finally, he wins the Pulitzer Prize.

After much searching online for a video of John Cheever being interviewed, I finally found one. The video shows Dick Cavett interviewing both John Cheever and John Updike in 1981 (the year before Cheever died). (Updike died in 2009.) The video can be seen at the link below:
The title of the page is: "A Last Look at Updike and Cheever".

message 2: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9170 comments Updike and Cheever - two of my very favorite writers. They make it look so easy.

message 3: by Joy H. (last edited Apr 28, 2011 03:44AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Much has been said about Cheever's patrician accent and his way of speaking. That's one of the reason's I was interested in finding an interview where I could hear him speak. Some say it was an affected way of speaking. Cheever didn't have a patrician background but all his life he tried to develop an aristocratic persona.

While reading various articles online (who knows where?), I came across a comment which mentioned the unique way William F. Buckley, Jr. spoke. This brings up the question of whether or not these accents were affected. Someone commented on the way Archibald Leach had remade himself into Cary Grant. Leach had actually BECOME Cary Grant. The affectation became the person. So we might say the same of Cheever and Buckley. Anyway, it's interesting to think about... the way people can re-invent themselves... and why.

PS-I have to say that during the interview, Updike seemed so much more relaxed and genuine, compared to Cheever. (They were always being compared.) Updike had such an engaging and appealing personality... and a wry smile too. He was an interesting person. Perhaps I'll look into his biography too. Any recommendations?

message 4: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Martin | 650 comments Thanks, Joy, for the link to the Cheever and Updike interview. Have only read a couple of Cheever's short stories, but have Blake Bailey's bio of him, as well as Bullet Park and Falconer on my TBR list.

The Dick Cavett show was one of my favorites. Do you think there would be an audience today on commercial TV for such a show with interviews of authors?


message 5: by Joy H. (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Marge, that's a good question. I wish there were more author interviews on TV. Nowadays, if an audience doesn't consist of several million people, the program is considered a failure, profit-wise. Smaller, more specialized audiences are left in the dust. Charlie Rose seems to have more politically-minded guests rather than fiction authors. Yes, like you, I enjoyed Dick Cavett's shows. He was so witty and good at repartee.

NPR radio often has author interviews. I should listen more often.

message 6: by Michael (last edited May 03, 2011 10:21AM) (new)

Michael (MichaelCanoeist) | 678 comments Joy H. wrote: "Updike had such an engaging and appealing personality... and a wry smile too. He was an interesting person. Perhaps I'll look into his biography too. Any recommendations?..."

Joy, you've started some great threads. That is an interesting show. I have not been able to watch the whole thing yet -- Cavett's diffidence gets on my nerves a bit. And Updike, charming as he certainly is, cannot quite hide his tremendous self-satisfaction after many of his replies! LOL....

But I do have a recommendation for a biography of Updike. I read a terrific one, although it is in three volumes.

The first covers his boyhood and adolescence, and early married years, and got raves ["Some of the most beautiful writing in contemporary American literature is between the covers of this book . . ." BOSTON HERALD]: Pigeon Feathers Pigeon Feathers by John Updike

The second covered his husband-and-family years in the first marriage thoroughly, and has a lot of beauty and heartache in it: Too Far to Go Too Far to Go by John Updike

And the third covered his older years, with sweeping looks back across his whole life: Villages: A Novel Villages A Novel by John Updike

Possibly not entirely objective, but very enjoyable reading..... :)

message 7: by Michael (new)

Michael (MichaelCanoeist) | 678 comments Also, as far as shows -- you must know this one, you are sure to be way ahead of me on this -- what about Book TV? It is focused on non-fiction, but it sure has some great stuff on it, longer shows where authors and topics get a thorough airing:

message 8: by Joy H. (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Thank you, Michael. Yes, I too noticed the look of "self-satisfaction" (as you say) on Updike's face during the Cavett interview with Cheever. Updike seemed to be smirking or smiling to himself like a Cheshire Cat, as if he knew a secret about Cheever... and not a good one... because Cheever didn't seem to be smiling back!

Thanks for the book recommendations. I suppose those books are autobiographical to some extent, but they were written as fiction, weren't they?

One of the customer reviews of the book, Villages: A Novel, said: "I guess the key to reading Updike is to accept that he will not inspire you to become a better or happier person or give you any kind of fresh hope or appreciation for life. If you just focus on enjoying the lush, refined prose you might be all right." How true is that, I wonder. Food for thought.

After watching the Cavett interview I came away liking Updike's personality better than I liked Cheever's personality, even though personalities of authors are not what we should be judging as readers. Nevertheless, I am interested in personalities, sometimes more than I'm interested in fictional characters. Updike seemed much more comfortable with himself during the interview. From Cheever: A Life, I can see that Cheever was never comfortable with himself... unless he had a few drinks in him. What a shame.

Speaking of personalities, while you are sometimes bothered by Cavett's "diffidence", I find it charming, since he mixes it with a quick wit.

Thanks too for reminding me about Book TV. I have caught some interesting talks on that program, although most of them deal with subjects I'm not particularly interested in. So I've tended not to look for the show anymore. But I should. I must admit that Goodreads has gotten me away from any TV lately... except for the Royal Wedding and the recent "Obama got Osama" releases. (yay!) With Goodreads spurring me on, I am more and more experiencing the life of the mind and my brain is whirring with all the books out there waiting for me to get to them. (They have a long wait!)

message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael (MichaelCanoeist) | 678 comments What you say about Villages is exactly the conundrum for Updike fans, of which I am obviously one. Yes, the books are all autobiographical (my little joke), but through a lens, gloriously.... He is very self-justifying, though his charm makes it seem less so. Thus the Rabbit books unfortunately tell some truth about him. As a reader, I feel like the later in his career he wrote the books, the more smugness crept into them. That's why I really like the early ones the best; and, in fact, mostly the short stories. Perhaps because he was a little less sure of himself and his position in the world, maybe that brought him up to an even greater degree of honesty in his observations. Pigeon Feathers I think is fantastic; and Too Far to Go heartbreaking and tender.

message 10: by Michael (new)

Michael (MichaelCanoeist) | 678 comments P.S. And there was something fresh about Villages, too, maybe because it involved his own summing-up. It would help to know the early stuff, the Shillington stories, to fully appreciate what he put into Villages.

message 11: by Joy H. (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Michael, is there anywhere online that Updike said those books were autobiographical? I searched, but couldn't find anything solid. I suppose they were, just as Cheever's stories reflected his own life, but still... we have to take everything in the stories with a grain of salt. I got the impression, from _Cheever-A Life_, that Cheever was prone to exaggeration. He'd say one thing somewhere and then his journals would indicate that the facts were different.

There's no doubt that Cheever was a tormented man. Not only did he have doubts about himself and his sexual orientation, but he (probably like many writers) felt a stinging rivalry with his fellow writers, including Updike. It's interesting to read about the arguments he had with his editor, William Maxwell, about his work. He was on pins and needles much of the time, waiting for his submissions to the New Yorker to be accepted or rejected. He was short of funds at different times.

Interesting fact from _Cheever-A Life_: Cheever got a total of $60,000 for rights to his story "The Swimmer", which was adapted into a movie with Burt Lancaster. There were bad feelings between Lancaster and Cheever because Cheever tried to pad his small cameo part and Lancaster was annoyed.
"The Swimmer" (1968):
"Burt Lancaster stars as the titular backstroker in this adaptation of John Cheever's short story about one man's attempt to find meaning in his life. Ned Merrill (Lancaster) wakes up in a haze, confronted (and confounded) by the sterility of his wealthy suburban Connecticut existence. So, he decides to "swim" back to his house via every neighbor's pool along the route. Along the way, memories are evoked, and the "American Dream" is indicted."

message 12: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Martin | 650 comments Thanks for the Updike book recommendations, Michael.

I feel as Joy does about Cavett's diffidence- charming. Along with his quick wit it is why I liked him so much. And I liked the way he really listened to the people he interviewed, unlike many of the show hosts today, who step all over their guest's answers trying to show how clever they (the hosts) are.

I thought the film, The Swimmer, from the Cheever short story, was one of Burt Lancaster's better films.

And I watch BookTV as often as I can. I'm interested in politics and biographies and get a lot of recommendations for books to read from that weekend CSpan program. You can get a schedule of each week's programming on the internet at


message 13: by Joy H. (last edited May 04, 2011 11:57AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Yes, Marge, I really must pay more attention to that Book TV website!
Thanks to Michael for recommending it:

message 14: by Joy H. (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Occasionally I store bits of interesting info re authors in a file on my computer. I came across these bits about John Updike today:

“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to,” he told The Paris Review in 1967. “The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.”
"Endowed with an art student’s pictorial imagination, a journalist’s sociological eye and a poet’s gift for metaphor, John Updike — who died on Tuesday at 76 — was arguably this country’s one true all-around man of letters, moving fluently from fiction to criticism, from light verse to short stories to the long-distance form of the novel: a literary decathlete in our age of electronic distraction and willful specialization, Victorian in his industriousness and almost blogger-like in his determination to turn every scrap of knowledge and experience into words."
"John Hoyer Updike ... American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Both Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest received the Pulitzer Prize. ... Updike was widely recognized for his careful craftsmanship, his highly stylistic writing, and his prolific output... Updike died of lung cancer..."

message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael (MichaelCanoeist) | 678 comments Joy H. wrote: "Michael, is there anywhere online that Updike said those books were autobiographical? ..."

Probably, but I don't know where. If you check, though, I think you'll find that all the major events of his adult life, and even some of the smaller events of his childhood (moving out of Shillington/"Olinger" to a "country" farmhouse) recur somewhere in the stories and books. His parents, lots of details about them and their lives.... there is at least one story about the narrator going to an Art School in England, as Updike did.... lots on the first marriage (especially the Maples stories in Too Far to Go).... the Couples era, the divorce..... Of course, there are lots of events in the books that were not part of his life, needless to say. The Rabbit plots.

message 16: by Joy H. (last edited May 05, 2011 05:24PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Michael, thank you for your reply to my question. I'm zero-ing in on one of the Updike books you mentioned which I haven't read: The Maples Stories.
Below is a link to a Google eBook copy which can be sampled on my computer:
Excerpt from the blurb:
"Seventeen Maples stories were collected in 1979 in a paperback edition titled Too Far to Go [1980], prompted by a television adaptation. Now those stories appear in hardcover for the first time, with the addition of a later story, “Grandparenting,” which returns us to the Maples’s lives long after their wrenching divorce."
-from link above
Thanks for the suggestion.

message 17: by Michael (new)

Michael (MichaelCanoeist) | 678 comments "....prompted by a television adaptation..."

Back when it was Gwyneth Paltrow's mom who was the beautiful blonde with her own style.

Hope you enjoy the stories. Not the happiest of subjects, as you know, but the writing was astoundingly particular in its details, as I recall.

message 18: by Joy H. (last edited May 06, 2011 07:51PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments Michael, I might watch the TV adaptation:
"Too Far to Go" (1979-TV)
"The story of a 20-year marriage, from the days preceding the wedding, up to the time of the divorce that ended it."

As I've been thinking about the way Updike and Cheever wrote stories which were often autobiographical, I've been starting to see my own marriage more objectively, as they must have seen theirs while they were writing. As a result, I write my own stories in my head, similar to:
"They drove to town together. It was a gorgeous spring day. Everything was in bloom. They went to the bank and at the ATM machine she asked for $80 cash. The machine spit out four old, wrinkled $20 bills. She remarked about it to her husband and said she was going to go into the bank to exchange the old bills for some newer crisp ones.

"While waiting for the teller to get the new bills, her husband began badgering her for being so fussy. 'I want them for the grandchildren', she explained.

"'The kids don't notice that sort of thing', he scowled.

"As they drove home, she remarked, 'You're always making negative remarks about nothing important enough to be worth arguing about.' He came back with: 'You're the one who's always complaining.' She said, 'OK, I won't talk to you anymore. I won't share my private thoughts with you in the future.'

"As they rode along, she observed the lovely day, the colorful tulips of bright red and yellow and the blossoming trees. She breathed in the fresh spring air.

"'What is life?', she thought. 'A beautiful journey or a lonely trek?'

"A little while later he started to say something. Sounded negative.
"Then he said, 'Never mind.'"

message 19: by Joy H. (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments I admire you, she said at last, for being yourself.
I've tried being other people, Bech said, fending, but nobody was convinced.

-John Updike, Bech: A Book

message 20: by Kenneth P. (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 746 comments Marjorie, your comments about the Cavett show are well taken. To take it a step further, how about the sessions on the Tonight Show with host Steve Allen where he played improv piano while Jack Kerouac read poems. Could that happen today, a poet reciting on the Tonight Show?

Susan Cheever's memoir Home Before Dark is an interesting read and a terrific look into the Cheever family. Twenty years ago I had the book with me in the waiting room of my dentist. A technician asked about the book and I explained that it was a book about the writer John Cheever. Focusing on the title Home Before Dark, she said, "Is it scary?"

message 21: by Joy H. (last edited May 11, 2011 09:26PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments That's another book for my to-read shelf: Home Before Dark: A Biographical Memoir of John Cheever by His Daughter (Contemporary Classics by Susan Cheever. Thanks for reminding me, Kenneth.

message 22: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Martin | 650 comments Kenneth said, "how about the sessions on the Tonight Show with host Steve Allen where he played improv piano while Jack Kerouac read poems. Could that happen today, a poet reciting on the Tonight Show?"

Nope! Don't think any program like that with poetry reading would be shown today on commercial TV (but perhaps on NPR)

I loved the old Steve Allen show. Did you know that all the recordings of it were destroyed without Allen's knowledge?


message 23: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Martin | 650 comments This should probably be another thread, but I don't know how to do that.

Speaking of commercial TV, my son was watching a program last night with the man who was the lead character on Married With Children. I asked who was that young woman talking with him, and my son said, "That's his wife! Nutty, huh, an old man like that with a wife who's young enough to be his daughter."

That's one of the reasons I don't watch TV sitcoms. On TV and U.S. movies, a woman who is over 40 isn't allowed to play a romantic lead.


message 24: by Kenneth P. (new)

Kenneth P. (kennethP) | 746 comments Marjorie, I have bunch of Mp3's of Kerouac reading on the Tonight Show. I downloaded them a while back from Napster. They are probably out there somewhere.

message 25: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 9170 comments Marjorie, to start a new thread go to Constant Reader, scroll down to Discussion. On the right there will be
"all / new / unread. Click on "new" to start a new thread.

message 26: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Martin | 650 comments Thanks Kenneth. I found Jack Kerouac reading on the Steve Allen show on YouTube. Wonderful! I finally got around to reading On The Road not long ago.

And thanks Ruth for directions on how to start a new thread!


message 27: by Anne (new)

Anne | 1 comments My husband discovered John Updike late last year, and now he's wondered why he took so long to read him! He loves Updike; I'm definitely going to share these video links with him. Thanks for posting them!

message 28: by Joy H. (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 633 comments You're welcome, Anne.

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Books mentioned in this topic

Cheever (other topics)
Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories (other topics)
Too Far to Go: The Maples Stories (other topics)
Villages (other topics)
The Maples Stories (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Blake Bailey (other topics)
Susan Cheever (other topics)