Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Self-Consciousness” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.80  ·  Rating details ·  490 ratings  ·  47 reviews

One of our finest novelists now gives us his most dazzling creation -- his own life. In six eloquent and compelling chapters, the author of The Witches of Eastwick and the wonderful Rabbit trilogy gives us an incitingly honest look at the makings of an American writer -- and of an American man.

Here is Updike on his childhood, on ailments both horrible (ps
Paperback, First Ballantine Books Edition, 271 pages
Published July 1990 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1989)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Self-Consciousness, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Self-Consciousness

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  490 ratings  ·  47 reviews

Sort order
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
My third date with John Updike. And for the third time in a row he's irritated me a good deal more than he's charmed me. There's no question he can write. But so much of what he writes about holds little interest to me. He's a writer obsessed with the minutiae of his childhood and his own appetites. The first section of this memoir is a detailed account of the small town where he grew up. It might have interested me more had it been a small English town and I could relate to the cultural referen ...more
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Updike is a terrific writer. He exhibits this "self-consciously" in these reflections on his life, times and family. It's humbling to read someone whose narratives seem to flow with such ease, and with such felicity. He led a special life, and his ability to describe it so fluently gives away why.
I especially appreciated the chapter regarding life during the sixties, "On Not Being a Dove."
Having stuck with JU through his formative years,enduring his self-admittedly plebian sufferings over his psoriasis and his dental issues,his painful articulation of his anti-pacifist stance,butI almost chucked the whole thing in my frustration with his egocentric rambling in his chapter dedicated to his two African grandchildren. This book in no way endeared me to the man, nor his writing.

However, I chose this book not out of any affinity with JU, but rather my fasciination with the topic of th
Richard Gilbert
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Without trying, I was always reading something by John Updike. It was hard not to, especially if you read The New Yorker, where his fiction, essays, and reviews appeared for fifty years. I love his memoir, Self-Consciousness, much of which explores what made Updike awkward and shy: his introverted boyhood, his stutter; and his many adult afflictions, especially psoriasis and bad teeth. It’s a fascinating inquiry into the nature of subjectivity and memory.

Early in Self-Consciousness Updike unfold
Samir Rawas Sarayji
A striking passage from Updike’s memoirs Self-Consciousness taken from the essay ‘On Being a Self Forever’:

Celebrity, even the modest sort that comes to writers, is an unhelpful exercise in self-consciousness. Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face. As soon as one is aware of being “somebody,” to be watched and listened to with extra interest, input ceases, and the performer goes blind and deaf in his overanimation. One can either see or be seen. Most of the best fiction is written out of e
James Murphy
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For my money, if the Dallas Cowboys are America's team John Updike was America's writer. He writes with such elegance it's a pleasure to read an Updike sentence. Near the end of Self-Consciousness: Memoirs he describes watching Olympic ice-dancing on television and being struck by the poetry of the moves as the dancers glide and shift through their routines. The same could be said of Updike's writing, the fluid movement from thought to thought.

Self-Consciousness is a memoir written in his mid-fi
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I skipped his letter to his mixed raced grandsons as they seemed a little bit self-congratulatory-white-guy for my taste ("Look at me! My DNA is in a brown person! How bohemian of me!" etc. etc.), so my thoughts are about the remainder of his essays.

I found Updike most compelling when his pieces were grounded in a physical place, and/or at least involve scenes into which I could plant my mental feet. (This offers a hint to how I can improve my own writing, i.e., plagiarize off Updike; write abou
Feb 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the public library a few days ago, having time on my hands while waiting for my grandson to finish looking at the HO model railroad display featured this week, I browsed the nonfiction section of John Updike’s work, in part an homage on the occasion of his recent death, in part out of my interest in reading something other than his novels – of which I have read several, the beauty of his language always having failed to compensate for what I felt was the banality of his subjects, leaving me d ...more
For the Updike reader, this is an indispensable volume. He's not afraid to show some of his warts along the way of writing this memoir. I think it's clear that his relationship with his mother was very important as she too was a writer. Along the way, he admits to reading comic books and science fiction as a young boy. He often had choking fits at dinner (nervous swallowing habit) which may also have been brought on by being too self-conscious. In total, it feels like a pretty honest account and ...more
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A life-view by the living can only be provisional. Perspectives are altered by the fact of being drawn; description solidifies the past and creates a gravitational body that wasn’t there before. A background of dark matter—all that is not said—remains, buzzing.

I became determined to hunt down John Updike's Self-Consciousness after coming across this article , and was quite relieved that I managed to locate it at a nearby local library (glad to have avoided the pains of my 3-month search for Will
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
John Updike's writing always meant a lot to me because, early in his career, he focused on the part of Pennsylvania where he and I both were born, he some 20 years earlier. This self-portrait renews his encounter with southeastern Pennsylvania, its fertility, simplicity, directness, friendliness, modesty and self-absorption.

Shillington, Pa., his hometown, is a suburbanized nothing sort of place whose metropolis is Reading, an urban nothing sort of place, but in his childhood, it was intensely fa
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a fine memoir, more reflections on a few topics of his life than a traditional "then in 1971 I did this..." type of memoir. There are sentences that stop you in your tracks. Especially good is "A Soft Spring Night in Shillington," a walking tour of the Pennsylvania city of his youth and his childhood memories, and "On Being A Self Forever." One compelling sentence from the latter: "Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were ye ...more
Sep 12, 2011 rated it liked it
I've never been a huge fan of John Updike, although I admire his writing talent and skill, his perceptiveness, and his compassion for ordinary people. This memoir confirmed all of that and also surprised me in its revelation of the extent to which his fiction draws on his life.
Jul 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
There's an awesome essay in here about his skin condition and how it maybe influenced his prose style, how he tries to make the language as clean-gleaming as possible compared to his skin . . .
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. There are six essays that provide some interesting comments on who John Updike is. I particularly liked that essay on psoriasis, where he discusses the affect the condition had on his life choices. His statements about his life in the 1960s are interesting in providing his political views at the time and their basis. The 'Updike' family history was a little too detailed for me though I can understand other readers finding it interesting how unique the name is in the USA. There is litt ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
You can do better, John. So he had a skin disease and he stuttered (or stammered?). A lot of genealogy. Nice name, yes. He knows what consciousness is. But unfortunately, he fails to mention Julian Jaynes. A pity. Since he had written about him. 7/10
Charles Kerns
A self indulgent, but well written as ever Updike, working his way through his life with a long review of why he did not come out against the Vietnam War. You gotta be an Updikean to stick with it or love his sentences at the least.
Abby Nichols
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Interesting! You would never know... what a private fellow.
Apr 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This book has significantly lowered my opinion of Mr Updike: it really represents everything that is good and bad about him. On the good side, it is very well written.
On the bad side there is much to say. I came across an interview of Gore Vidal the other day which raised the two central objections to Updike: firstly, 'he describes to no purpose'; secondly, his work shows 'a bland acceptance of authority'. Once I had this pointed out by Vidal, I couldn't help noticing it in almost every senten
Ardà Rbo
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
«Lo más profundo que hay en el hombre es la piel.»

En el segundo capítulo de su autobiografía, Updike habla de su psoriasis, enfermedad que le sobrevino con seis años y fue arrastrando durante toda su vida. Esta afección de la piel fue uno de los motivos por los que terminó siendo escritor. Desde la perspectiva de la piel, Updike se explica la mitad de su vida. Su temprano matrimonio, su huída de Nueva York y de sus sombras urbanas, los constantes y fugaces vuelos al sur en los meses de invierno,
Richard Block
May 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Magical Memoir

It is fashionable among some intellectuals and critics to deride dead white authors, but reading John Updike's unusual and revealing memoirs remind me of his now past greatness. As an avid reader, Updike is one of the great stylists I have read, a chronicaler of ordinary lives and times, a man who sees through the detail of everything he confronts with a clarity that defies comparison. He was great, and this memoir, strange as it is, is great.

Updike chooses to tell fragments of his
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, classics
Terrific book by a superb stylist and writer (much missed):

"I did not like it when my first books met the criticism that I wrote all too well but had nothing to say: I, who seemed to myself full of things to say, who had all of Shillington to say, Shillington and Pennsylvania and the whole immense mass of middling, hidden, troubled America to say, and who had seen and heard things in my two childhood homes, as my parents' giant faces revolved and spoke, that would take a lifetime to sort out, pa
David James
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it

Updike, John. Self-Consciousness

Self-Consciousness opens with the author's protest that his reason for writing this memoir was that he had heard that 'someone' wanted to write his biography, 'to take my life, my lode of ore and heap of memories' from him. This disingenuous apology for writing is merely an excuse for self-indulgence (like all memoirs) and probably the most dishonest thing in the book. Of course one might say that Updike is being ironical, but why bother? You want to indulge yours
James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Six autobiographical essays.

The first three essays are on his earlier life. As I suspected in reading them, many of his early stories and novels are essentially autobiographical, especially The Centaur, which may be why, despite the fantasy elements, it seemed to me the most realistic and the best of his books. In these essays, the events are presented more nostalgically than in the stories; what I liked about the stories was that they were not nostalgic.

The fourth, "On Not Being a Dove", was m
Mar 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed-by-kate
Rather than a classic autobiography that might offer a chronological account of one's life, this memoir contains a series of essays on aspects of John Updike's life that he considers fundamental, though they might seem--and in certain cases are--superficial. For example, a chapter is devoted to the writer's lifelong struggle with psoriasis, a skin condition that disappeared with heavy doses of sunshine, only to reappear and embarass in wintry climates. Updike argues that psoriasis was responsibl ...more
Aug 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, american-lit
John Updike wrote a lot of fiction over several decades so he should know a little bit about it when he says he believes that ''most of the best fiction is written out of early impressions, taken in before the writer became conscious of himself as a writer,''. He begins by going to the source of his own early impressions and in this book subtitled "memoirs" he includes six vignette-like essays about his life. The first chapter is familiar to readers of his short stories since in ''A Soft Spring ...more
Miriam Jacobs
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am very surprised to report I like this collection of memoirs as much as I do. I expected smugness, and got it, but I did not expect it to be self-conscious (see title) or rueful. Updike is honest about his flaws as a writer and a human being. He also offers a number of insights on those subjects that I, myself, find useful. I did not expect, even for a second, I would feel sorry for Updike, but he engaged my sympathies almost immediately. It's surprising for the obvious reason that Updike, by ...more
Oct 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I adore Updike. His writing is so singularly brilliant, so beautifully, uniquely cadenced and metered, it has a music of its own; one that is, without question, sublimely unique. In short, he could write a shopping list and it would still send shivers down your spine. But beautiful writing alone is not enough; there must be substance to the words, to the mellifluous perfectly-weighted phrasing, and Updike's sharpness of insight and wit is more than enough to sustain even the most demanding of ap ...more
David Kent
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
A somewhat complex memoir of a somewhat complex writer. I actually met John Updike once; he lived in our town and I played soccer with his son David. He was the mysterious Pulitzer prize-winning author of the books we were assigned in high school. This series of six chapters, each focused on a different element of his life (including, oddly enough, his persistent skin condition and stutter), removes some of the mystery, but not all. Overall an interesting window into an extraordinary writer who ...more
Vernon Goddard
I really appreciated the revelations by Updike in this informed and informal description of his growing-up from childhood to beyond. When I read it, I was absorbed in the "Rabbit" books and wanted to know more about the author and his upbringing. "Self-Consciousness" provided the links. In separate but related chapters he conveys exactly the notions of moving through childhood. His descriptions are everywhere vivid and often poignant. His content riveting. Here is a gifted author telling a littl ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Farm in the Green Mountains
  • Walt Whitman: A Life
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: A Life
  • Poets in Their Youth
  • U and I
  • Marcel Proust: A Life
  • The Blessing: A Memoir
  • My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor
  • Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert
  • Ralph Ellison: A Biography
  • Conundrum
  • Rodinsky's Room
  • The Italics Are Mine
  • James Baldwin: The Legacy
  • This Quiet Dust: And Other Writings
  • The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993
  • In the Shadow of Memory
  • String Too Short to Be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm
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
“Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face.” 595 likes
“Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” 35 likes
More quotes…