John Updike

I was fortunate to hear John Updike read at UCLA’s Royce Hall last November 13th. Foolishly, I brought a copy of rabbit, run for him to sign. Everyone in the audience seemed to have the same idea - everyone had brought had least one of his books, many had several tucked under their arms, clearly with the same idea. His was an older generation than mine. I knew him mostly as a regular with the New Yorker and as the author of an unlikely book, The Witches of Eastwick.

Looking every bit a pencil drawing from the New Yorker, in a thin grey suit and pink tie, Updike read for about ten minutes from his latest work, The Widows of Eastwick. I remember thinking how young and dapper he looked with his thick white hair, beautifully cut. Yet his reading focused on old age, on the old age of the witches as if they were rare stone age insects he had hoped to never come across and whose venom had not yet diminished. And then he stopped and the interview with LA Times’ David Uhlin began.

But it didn’t matter what the questions were, because Updike managed to bring the discussion around to age and his astonishment at having grown so old. By the time the evening drew to a close, I was convinced that, though he looked about 60, Updike was at least 120 years of age. But I had learned one more thing about John Updike – he loved paper, the texture, the smell, the weight of it. Of course there were the words – he loved those too. He described himself as a bit of word hog, someone willing to write short stories, poetry, and even reviews just to see his name in print. But the most important function of words was that they were something he could put on paper at the typewriter each morning. Paper will miss him, it’s greatest lover.

Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Updike died yesterday, January 27, at the age of 76 of lung cancer.

Photo above of Updike as a young man

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