Arts In Defense of a Certain Rabbit Who’s Running Scared
It’s not “in” to say this, especially post Hitchens’ Atlantic piece, but I like John Updike. I’m glad that he continues to exist. One of my friends raises an imaginary gun to her temple whenever The New Yorker publishes a new story by him. Former Stranger staffer Nate Lippens used to say: “Too male, too pale, to stale, too Yale,” which still makes me laugh. Paul Constant has a review of Updike’s Terrorist in The Stranger that comes out in a couple days, and I don’t want to give anything away, but the sub-headline of the review is: “Newsflash: John Updike Is Not ‘With It.’”
What inspires me to raise an imaginary gun to my temple, more often than not, is the Sunday New York Times Book Review, which was so crashingly boring this week I can’t bring myself to revisit it. The only thing I read to the end? On the last page, an essay by Updike commenting on that article by Kevin Kelly on the cover of the New York Times Magazine a couple weeks ago—the one about the end of physical books as we know them. That article was annoying, especially the part where—and Updike takes Kelly to task for this—Kelly describes that, once all books ever written by anyone are owned by everyone on the universal library of all written knowledge or whatever, copies of books are no longer going to be how writers make money. Writers will instead make money on “performances, access to the creator, personalization…” This is presented as an exciting development: more fetishization of the writer as opposed to the writing. Sounds like a goddamn nightmare. Kelly is the “senior maverick” for Wired magazine, and I bet he watches a lot of TV.
Incidentally, the Updike piece was adapted from a talk he gave at BookExpo America a couple weeks ago (a bookseller convention that Paul Constant ate pâté at).
And here’s a link for anyone who wants a lot more information about Updike’s career than you probably need.
UPDATE: I just found—on that abovelinked Updike page (actually, a sub-page called What’s New in Updikiana) a link to this rebuttal to John Updike on Time magazine’s website. Now, I loves me some Sean Wilsey, and he makes a lot of good points and a couple of choice digs (Updike is “a writer who hasn’t actually been edited for decades”), but Sean, what about the whole making-money issue? How do you feel about selling personal access to yourself as your only way of making a living? (This particular issue is complicated by you, Sean, since your book is a memoir—which is, you know, a way of selling to other people access to yourself.)