Remembering John Updike (1932-2009)

The summer I turned 18 I bought a Penguin paperback edition of John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run in the back of small antique bookstore in Copenhagen, where I used to go after school. It was unlike anything I had ever read before; the prose was like poetry, demanding to be read aloud.

After the summer I came back to look for more of his books – Roger’s Version, Couples, Marry Me. Over the years he has been with me wherever I’ve studied and occupied my time, whether my dorm room in Canterbury, my father’s old apartment in Copenhagen or Miami, of course. Even at a small restaurant in Munich I remember being hunched over his collected poems.

John Updike’s death last week of lung cancer at the age of 76 affected me deeply. As a reader, my relationship to him was sometimes ambivalent but always alive. His overwhelming literary output inevitably led to novelistic failures, yet when he succeeded (as he often did) he succeeded with the force and beauty that made him the English language’s most brilliant contemporary stylist. As a writer, nothing escaped his vast and generous scope. His frequent contributions to The New Yorker, whether poetry, essays or criticism, seemed a necessity for sustaining life, like rays of sunlight.

Now that he is gone, we console ourselves at the thought of the countless books he has left behind, the many other writers whose work he has influenced. But without him the world seems smaller, poorer. A great mind has left us. I miss him already.