Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When Beloved Writers Die

John Updike died earlier today.

I was reading Updike's Bech: A Book when I heard, and in it, Updike is funny and smart, and loving.

He loved books and writing so much, and he loved showing everyone how much he loved books and writing. You can see it on every page.

When David Foster Wallace died recently, I wrote a piece for my other blog about the deaths of the writers we love.

Here's that piece:

I've been a reader for 50 years and I've seen writers I love die, some naturally and some unnaturally. I've said goodbye to Faulkner, Hemingway, Plath, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Primo Levi, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Saul Bellow.

The deaths have always hit me hard because the relationship you have with a writer is different from the relationship you have with anyone else. In the secret place you go to when you are reading, you and the writer share dreams and fears and wishes and hopes in a way that is nothing like your relationship with anyone else.

The writer is your lover and your confessor, your mother and your father, your God and your Satan. And you are the same for him. The writer tells you what he dreams and what he fears. When he tells you what he dreams, you help him come a little closer to those dreams. When he tells you what he fears, you help him push those fears away a little bit. And this works the same for you when you tell the writer in this secret place about your fears and dreams.

It's hard when a writer you love dies, but it's only hard for a while. His death begins to fade when you pick up his book again, return to that secret place.


Geo-B said...

Updike published 61 books (wow). Through his stories, his criticism, his poetry, he's been with us for a very creative 50 years.

John Guzlowski said...

That's amazing.

Sara said...

Thanks for the notice, John. I almost completely missed this. Did you ever hear Updike read? The man could read.

Christina said...

I posted about this on my Thoreau group- Saunterers, yesterday. I recalled that his standard, "Ex-Basketball Player" was the first poem in high school that I ever paid attention to; thought about and re-read. It stayed with me.
I recall reading it aloud in class while the room buzzed with jock's spitwads, and wondering if they were listening.

Urkat said...

He wrote a lot.

Urkat said...

I think that what we don't talk about enough is, not writers like Updike who were arguably very successful, but those of us who are aging, yet have never achieved what you could call commercial or even popular success. What many of us go through all the time is the creative struggle to put words down on paper so that we may eventually be recognized as someone who was very good at what we do. Many of us watch our lives dwindle away without any noticeable writing success, but we keep on trying.

I know writing is intrinsically valuable, but I think we want more than that. We want some recognition, and a little money would be nice. We want to see our name on a book cover that sells.

Strawberry Girl said...

I know I have read him before, but I can't pin down what. It's amazing that you have lived and loved so many authors and paid attention when they passed away...