Wednesday, August 25, 2010

book talk - John Updike Edition

I was having a conversation with an older teaching friend once and she remarked that she just had to finish this puzzle she was working on. It was one of those huge jigsaws that take up an entire kitchen table. She muttered something about "once that thing is done I can get on with my life".
I feel the same way about books all the time. I realize that reading is a pleasurable, free time activity, but I also see it as something you kind of need to motor through. For the last few weeks, Rabbit, Run by John Updike has been my jigsaw puzzle.
I loved reading adult fiction this summer, but I have a lot of children's books piling up on my desk that I really have to read. Last night, I finished the first of Updike's Rabbit books. At first, I didn't love it. A story of a man abandoning his wife just bugged the hell out of me. Especially a wife with a drinking problem and a two week old baby. But, I liked Rabbit, Run's stream of consciousness because, it reminded me of the stuff I enjoyed reading in high school and college. I like Updike. I read The Complete Henry Bech a few years ago and really enjoyed Bech as a character. I think of Updike as being like an author's author. He seems pretty snooty to me. Probably because of the whole New Yorker thing.
Anyway, when I was reading Rabbit, Run I kept whining to people about how much I disliked Rabbit (Harry Angstrom) and what was wrong with John Updike to create this horrible character and then go on to write 4 more books about him! My dad is like this too, he always hates to read a book that has nothing but bad guys in it. I gave him Blood Meridian for Christmas several years ago and didn't like it because "stories should have a good guy". I used to think this was silly, but I guess I've turned into my dad.
But, towards the very end, Updike starts writing from the perspective of Harry's wife, and that's when I saw the merit in the book. Updike knows what it feels like to be a woman. He knows. He made me feel like he knows the physical and emotional toll giving birth has on a woman. And he knows that losing a child by your own hand is "the worst thing that has ever happened to a woman". And then I came to my senses and realized that Updike doesn't really "like" Harry either, but that's not the point.
Some day I will read the rest of the Rabbit books. Like maybe when I'm 40.

When I dropped the book in the library drop box this morning I felt refreshed. Sure, I still had my late night reading hangover headache. But at least I was done and ready to move on with my life. And the 12 Mark Twain Award Nominees that my library students are expecting me to have already read.

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