It's true. You can now get Ghost Notes and/or Stuck Outside of Phoenix for your Kindle device. Go here:
Stuck Outside of Phoenix
If you buy one, I'll be curious to know what you think. This is my first foray into this realm, and I have no way to test them. I need to know how it looks, if it looks the way it's supposed to look, anything weird that might jump out at you. So if you buy, don't be shy.
Or you can write to tell me how much you love the novels. I'm always open to that.
"When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teenaged boy finding them, have them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano’s, are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf."
-John Hoyer Updike (1932-2009)
It wasn't exactly east of Kansas but in San Francisco, and I wasn't exactly a teenager but about 29, and it wasn't at a library but at a used bookstore where I first took the plunge into Rabbit, Run, the first book of the Rabbit Tetralogy by John Updike. Many times I'd walked the row of his novels at Changing Hands bookstore on Mill Avenue in Tempe--downstairs, in the used books section--in the decade I spent in Arizona. John Updike. I knew the name, but I'd never read anything by him. Frankly, he sounded a little tame compared to what I was used to reading--Faulkner, Vonnegut, Beckett, Miller--major stylists who broke all kinds of literary rules to become lions of the genre. Updike's work--I knew nothing of it, but still I was convinced--was decidedly safe and conventional by comparison. Didn't he write "domestic realism," about normal people in the suburbs doing barely deviant things? (Hell, that was me.) So for years I skipped the U section at Changing Hands (he seemed to take up the whole thing), and moved on to what I thought of as more adventuresome pursuits.
But when I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I was ready for change. I'd just finished my tenure in the Refreshments, and I was ready to explore life after rock music. I guess something more tame didn't sound half bad. So I broke down, bought a copy of Rabbit, Run at a used bookstore, and took the Updike plunge.
That was ten years ago (to the month, in fact), and it began my decade of reading Updike. I was immediately hooked by the beautiful prose, the spot-on tropes, by the insights into life in the latter half of the 20th Century. Try this one on from Rabbit Redux:
"We make companions out of air and hurt them, so they will defy us, completing creation."
I could think about that all day and never quite unriddle it.
Oh yeah. I loved the sex, too. (Woo hoo!)
I immediately plowed through Rabbit, Run and finished the tetralogy by the end of the year. I reread all four books a few years ago, and I'm now convinced this series is the single most rewarding literary experience of my life. I place it above all of my other loves: Proust, Vonnegut, Faulkner, Bellow. I'd start the whole thing over again right now, but I'd like to forget more of it so it retains its freshness. Maybe next year, or the next time I've earned a treat.
Rabbit, Run was also the literary model for my first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix.
In the last decade, I've read most of Updike's novels (a few I couldn't finish, but hey, that's what happens when you write twenty or so), and I've become aware of the biggest gripes against him. Most offensive is the fact that he seemed to live the life any aspiring writer would want to live. He wrote beautifully and widely, sold well, was critically acclaimed, was published in all the right places, and seemed to hang on to his slot in magazines like The New Yorker for far longer than other writers would've cared for.
Fortunately, I don't write many short stories, and I don't read The New Yorker, so this jealousy never penetrated me. I was free to enjoy his work.
So, it saddened me when I heard John Updike died last week at the age of 76. For me, he will always be this author whose work I walked past in the used section at Changing Hands, the volumes taking up the entire U row, waiting patiently for me to be ready for them.
What about you? What's your Rabbit Tetrology? What single work or series of fiction would you rate as the one that most rocks your world? And why?
Yours in laying down the law,
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