Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike

John Updike died today. I am not sure why this bothers me so much. It's not like I have been an Updike advocate reading his books with relish. But Updike was critical in my evolution as an English major and as fan of literature.

I took an American Novel class while in college with my favorite professor in the entire world, Johnny Wink. Johnny's love for literature and his quirky sensibilities made an indelible impression on me and helped ensure that I would be a lifelong reader. In doing so, he introduced me to an entire new world of literature that I have never even heard of. (Though clearly not teaching me to not end a sentence with a preposition. Am real good English grad.) In his American Novel class, we read a novel a week and one of Johnny's selections was Rabbit Redux. And I'll be honest. I was appalled. It was my first foray into the social commentary of the 60's. And was certainly the first time I had ever read anything that was sexually explicit. The long conversations about social injustices (and pot) were a little much for me and I felt it was the worst book we read that semester. Johnny, on the other hand, was passionate about Rabbit. He pointed out the well-written parts and brilliance of Updike's commentary. I begrudgingly admitted that it wasn't the worst novel ever, but certainly not one of my favorites. I never picked up an Updike novel again.

Now, I know that sounds super negative and not a good reason to care that 10 years later Updike is dead. The thing is that he left a huge impression on me. He taught me to appreciate writing. I didn't enjoy his novel. But I learned from him. And I've always appreciated his prolific work. In those heady days of college, where I had all the time in the world to discover literature, he played a huge role. I have vivid memories of reading about Rabbit's exploits while sitting on a blanket in the quad. I remember talking about how much I hated the book, yet I was unable to put it down. I remember telling Johnny I disliked the novel greatly and him challenging me to articulate 'why' I hated it, instead of just writing it off as "that was dumb." I learned to be more critical. I learned to think outside the box. And for that, I will always be grateful to both Johnny Wink and John Updike.

So today, I feel a loss. Someone who helped me become an adult is gone. I know it is inevitable. I know that people will not always remain. And it's yet another reminder of the ever changing landscape of life. But that doesn't make it hurt less. I'm grateful for my learning experience from Updike and who knows, maybe I'll give Rabbit another try. I have a couple of his novels on my shelf, just sitting and waiting for me to delve back into his world and learn more about America, myself, and Mr. Updike.