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By Adam Begley

In Updike, literary critic Adam Begley offers the first full-length biography on a larger-than-life American writer.

THE TOPIC: Up to his death in 2009, John Updike was one of the most acclaimed and prolific American writers of the second half of the 20th century, with dozens of novels, hundreds of short stories and essays, and a closetful of major awards to his credit. He was also a man of contradictions, whose personal and professional lives--a Harvard education, a staff position early on at the New Yorker, a storied, decades-long career, and a laundry list of dalliances-while fodder for his fiction, remained tantalizingly out of reach for a society so given to celebrity gossip. Through close attention to Updike's work and the known facts of his life (the author's first wife, Mary, and his four children spoke with Begley; his second wife, Martha, did not), Begley illuminates the life of an important writer and an enigmatic personality.

Harper. 576 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9780061896453

NY Times Book Review ****1/2

"This well-researched, considerate and almost affectionate biography illustrates how Updike was so fond of Mickey Mouse he could draw the character from memory even in old age--but it also reminds us that behind his youthful desire to be the next Walt Disney lay the fact that Peter Pan was the highest-grossing movie of the year when Updike was a junior at Harvard. ... The greatest pleasure in reading this biography is in discovering--essay by essay, story by story, novel by novel (and with the help of an index)--the daily vicissitudes that lay behind Updike's ability to inhabit multiple identities, and the sheer range of his versatile pen" ORHAN PAMUK

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"A massive, engaging and generally admiring work that enlightens, entertains and gently probes the numerous cracks in Updike's character.... Begley's weighty work reminds us how lamentable is our loss of Updike's flowering plans, of those lost dreams" DANIEL DYER

Washington Post ****

"Not only has Begley written a convincing interpretative biography, one characterized by suavity, wit and independent judgment throughout, he has also produced a major work of Updike criticism.... Displaying total command of his material, Adam Begley does his author proud." MICHAEL DIRDA

Miami Herald ***1/2

"Begley is a literary critic, and his reading of Updike's work is enlightening and devoid of academic jargon.... If Begley's biography generates renewed interest [in Updike and his work], it will have done yeoman's service." ARIEL GONZALEZ

San Francisco Chronicle ***1/2

"Updike is gracefully written--it had better be, given his famously elegant prose--and it delves deeply into the origin stories behind his famed 'Rabbit' Angstrom novels, his native-Pennsylvania-inspired short fiction and any number of his poems and essays.... What Updike tends to lack, though, is any real sense of narrative tension." KEVIN CANFIELD

USA Today ***1/2

"Ultimately, Updike's own life is not as interesting--or knowable--as the inner life of many of his characters. The more I read about Updike, the more I wanted to go back and read Updike." bob minzesheimer

Seattle Times ***

"Begley's approach will appeal to fans of Updike's body of work, but it doesn't fully explain Updike's contradictions.... Updike is an engaging and thoroughly told account of the life of a literary giant, but for the essence of John Updike, you'll have to do your own exploration of his lyrical, complex, shocking, moving and very human stories." MARY ANN GWINN

New York Times **1/2

"It's an honorable book but also a slight, frictionless and oddly subdued one, unlikely to jump-start new popular or critical interest in Updike's vast oeuvre.... [Updike] isn't so rigorous and bristling with facts that it feels definitive, yet it isn't so lively and argumentative that it succeeds as a buoyant piece of writing." DWIGHT GARNER


Adam Begley is a respected literary critic and reviewer who knows the vast body of John Updike's work inside out. He's also done his research on the author's life (to the extent that it can be known, at this point). Updike's early development as a writer and as a character comes to life, buoyed by Begley's obvious affinity for his subject. Still, Updike's later life remains oddly elusive, effectively shut off from public scrutiny after his second marriage in 1977. Even from the grave, America's most famous chronicler of suburban angst hides his secrets well. And although "Mr. Begley is a gifted literary critic" who crafts an astute first biography of record on Updike, the New York Times critic points out, "[he] does not deploy his knife skills to great effect here. There are few penetrating shafts of insight."



A timeless book to be read by all


One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans

of the genre


Some problems, approach with caution


Not worth your time
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Date:Jul 1, 2014
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