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4.10  ·  Rating details ·  509 ratings  ·  105 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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4.10  · 
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 ·  509 ratings  ·  105 reviews

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Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rabbit Run was the first grown up book I read as a young adult that I could truly identify with. I remember thinking that Updike was a genius without knowing anything else about him. He wrote with teutonic precision, to borrow a phrase from Adam Begley the biographer, in capturing Harry's innermost thoughts. I went and devoured the rest of the Rabbit tetralogy. All the novels in the series felt genuine and authentic in spite of the criticisms around Harry's excessive testosterone and mysognistic ...more
Jason Coleman
Apr 25, 2014 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 09, 2015 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
Ryan Williams
Apr 22, 2014 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 want a sentence that sums up John Updike's career - a man who published over fifty books and twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - you may struggle to concoct a better one than that.

Updike was the only child of poor, Depression-era parents. The creator of juvenile basketball ace Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom doesn't sound like the type of kid you'd pick for the school team. Young Updike was gawky,
Jan 30, 2014 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
May 26, 2014 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
James Murphy
Apr 10, 2014 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 characterization ...more
Feb 12, 2014 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
Stephen Hoogerhyde
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
A very interesting literary biography. I had not realized that Updike put so much of his own life experiences into his stories and novels. However, that should not be surprising, given his expressed desire to, in his own words, "give the mundane its beautiful due." Updike published more than 60 books in his half-century career: novels, short stories, poems, book reviews, other prose pieces. He love the feel of typewriter keys (as opposed to the PC), and the tactile pleasure of a book. And he nev ...more
Malena Barzilai
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
John Updike is my favorite writer, so how could I not love such a well-done biography of him?
Steve Petherbridge
May 26, 2014 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
Nov 25, 2014 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
Mar 24, 2014 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
May 12, 2014 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
Mar 26, 2016 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 th ...more
Les Dangerfield
Nov 01, 2015 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 beca ...more
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A big book that I planned to skim and read the parts of his life and about the books and stories that I was most interested in learning more about - but ended up reading it in the more traditional linear fashion. I was able to get the audiobook about halfway through the print copy and I finished it in that format which was a good idea.

Updike is probably my favorite contemporary writer, so I found all the small details interesting.
Carl Rollyson
Jun 26, 2014 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 thin ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Aside from a recent biography of Charles Dickens, I rarely read biographies of writers. Their books are what I'm interested in, not so much the lives that produced them. John Updike, though, is an exception as many of his novels and stories are thinly disguised autobiography so his books and life overlap and shed light one another. Further whetting my interst is that Updike was a chronicler, especially in his Rabbit Angstrom quartet of novels, of 20th century American middle-class society, a gro ...more
Steven Meyers
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mr. Begley's biography about John Updike focuses on how Updike's fictional stories were ill-disguised reflections of the author's life and thoughts. There are no examples of great heroics in the famous author's life. If anything, beyond his breathtaking achievements in the literary world, it's somewhat mundane beyond Mr. Updike's wandering libido. Mr. Begley, therefore, focuses on the artistic merits and ingredients behind many of Updike's works. The biography is less an emphasis on writing a ch ...more
Mark Stevens
Mar 30, 2014 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
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Having enjoyed the works of many great American writers (Yates, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald among them) it was a librarian, many years back, who asked if I had tried Updike novels. The conversation we had left me curious - she was of a mind that this would be one US author I would loathe. So, I picked up the first of the Rabbit novels to discover more. The 'charges' levelled at Updike's work always refer to misogynistic tendencies - I found I loved his way with words. His characters have a 'life' to t ...more
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
John Updike is one of my favourite authors, and this is a BRILLIANT biography. Begley intertwines Updike's work with his writing- the level of autobiography in his every novel, poem and short story is brought out vividly, as Begley takes us through his life. From a happy childhood in Shillington, Pennsylvania, child of a not particularly successful teacher father ("The Centaur" !) and an ambitious, literary mother who relocates her family to a rural location ("The Centaur" again!); his time in H ...more
Remembering no Updike read in my youth, although there very well may have been some, Adam Begley's book left me wanting to read none. Updike starts off confusing and draggy, starts coasting at Harvard and flying in New York, only to hit a wall in Ipswich. John Updike comes across as a self-obsessed mama's boy, a favorite son always craving special attention from a woman in one adulterous affair after another; until he ends up with a second wife who is like both a dominating mommy and daddy, shie ...more
Richard Bolson
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
I didn't care much for this book, but it's only half due to the author. In his defense, the life itself is not very interesting - no real struggles, no revelations, no depth; in short, Updike comes across as a person who elicits neither sympathy nor affection. The part that is the author's fault is that, while I find it interesting to learn a little something of how an author includes personal details and experiences in his or her works, this book maps nearly every event (without regard to its l ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great biography of John Updike. I would only recommend this to someone familiar with and enthusiastic about, his work, because his life was heavily reflected in that work - this biography ties together a lot of his different fiction and how he drew on his own experiences for inspiration. I found this very engaging right away - it's quite lengthy but I was delighted with the details it contained.
Finished the hard bound volume this weekend and enjoyed the perspective it gives on the sweep of the man’s life and work — and since this is Updike how those two things intertwined. Updike was a veritable writing machine, finishing his last book as he transitioned to hospice care. It’s not only an informative read. This book is a joy to read for any Updike fan.
Stephy Costa
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
I got about half way thru book and couldn't stand it anymore. This book made an interesting life of a great American author seem dryer than a corn husk and more boring than looking at snow on a TV with no reception.
Donald Trump (Parody)
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
AMAZING. i tell you this Updike was a real class act. he ran Ipswich like a fuckin' KING. hey future casanovas take notes from this guy. he really knows how to drop dead weight if you know what i mean. cream and retreat, fellas, cream and retreat.
John Bond
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting portrait of my favorite writer. Balanced and not to salacious, given the subject. Well done.
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Adam Begley was for twelve years the books editor of The New York Observer. He has been a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Guardian, Financial Times, London Review of Books, and Times Literary Supplement. He lives with his wife in Cambridgeshire, England.
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“We forget most of our past but embody all of it.” 2 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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