John Updike is totes one of the smiliest old dudes I’ve ever seen. He has this really nice countenance that doesn’t even betray the fact that he’s been an amazing taste-maker for my beloved New Yorker and kickass critic and short-story phenom and literary mega-star. And I’m pissed that critics have been shitting all over him. Enough already! Guy wrote 22 books! Did you? No, you did not, Mr. Nasty Washington Post book critic. FYI, John’s got a face as red as a lobster (I wonder if he tries tanning to draw attention away from the fact that he’s mega-old?) and a blindingly white mop of hair.
The Harvard Book Store hosted his reading last night at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, and even though the place was absolutely stifling (what, Unitarians can’t have air-conditioning?), Johnny boy was super formal in his mustard-yellow blazer, khakis, and what looked to be a very expensive silk blue tie. When he sat down to sign books, though, he let things get a little crazy and took off the jacket. Yowzah!
The reading itself was old-fash and formal as well, which was kind of refreshing considering lately, they can become more of a rambling Q&A session that allows the audience to jabber and hear themselves talk — instead of an opportunity for the writer to actually, you know, read from their work. Which Johnny did. He busted out three separate passages from his newest novel, Terrorist, which I’ve already tried to pimp out below. I haven’t started reading it yet, but from what I heard during his story-time, I think I’m going to like this one. That isn’t surprising, since I like anything and everything he writes. Thank you, king of suburban miseries. I am so grateful that being the product of an unhappy suburban adolescence resulted in a backlash of Updike worship, instead of something much worse, like, I dunno...an addiction to Sweet Valley High? Oh yeah, that happened. Whatever, you read them all too. (And for the record, Elizabeth sucks.)
Anyway, John was all about reading in a venue right across the street from his alma matter. Actually, he wasn’t. He called it both disconcerting and wonderful.
There was a brief Q&A period where an HBS employee moderated. People passed up index cards with questions, which eliminated the whole raise-your-hand-stand-up-be-all-nervous-cause-you’re-asking-a-literary-god-a-question...OMG OMG it’s John Updike, what the fug do I ask him, wait, it’s okay he’s a real person-stomach-churn. Or was that just me? Also, what a relief to not have to listen to any of the oldsters in the audience lapse into any long-winded tales about how they totally identify with the Rabbit or Bech or whoever. So yeah, here’s what John boy said:
1. His book isn’t a 9/11 novel. It’s a novel about the post-9/11 world where terrorism still happens, straight up.
2. No, he’s not a Muslim, and no, he is not 18 anymore, but he can still imagine what it might feel like. Thus, his protagonist, Amad.
3. You have to really care about your characters before you sit down to write them. Then, your readers will care too.
4. Jonathan Safran Foer goes for “cute titles, and more power too him.” (I hated Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).
5. Kids don’t read enough these days. Well, duh! They’re too busy watching America’s Got Talent.
6. John has a computer, which he “composes” on, but he isn’t hooked up to the InterWebber. And he doesn’t read blogs, because bloggers aren’t craftsman, they aren’t wordsmiths, and he is, so shut up: “It’s like giving just anyone a pen and a notebook and seeing what they come up with.” Holler!