The Other John Updike Archive
On Paying Attention

On Paying Attention


JU in Boat




The picture shows John Updike wearing these shorts and this watch. Why would Updike save these shorts and this cheap watch from this photograph? Vanity? I doubt it. Historical relevance? Not really. This is hardly the iconic dress from Gone With The Wind that I saw on display at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin a couple of weeks back when I gave Ian McKuen Updikes glasses and his 1951 Harvard Lampoon.  I think he kept these things as they were part of HisStory. John Updike was no Buddhist. He sought not to transcend his world but to revere it. This is your life on planet earth. Look past the horror, past the heart of darkness toward the absolute miracle of your existence. At least try. I think that is what he was always telling us. In taking his communion he focused upon the miracle of simple bread, not whether or not it was gluten free.


September 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Paul, I too am grateful you preserved the materials in JU’s ” throw-away trash.” You have used it online responsibly, I think. My guess is that many other Updike “scholars” will be furious you regularly did that. I am not. I am grateful we have some of the materials which help us understand JU in more indirect ways. So take the scorn some will show and recognize the multiple motivations which are behind it.

Neither his wife nor likely some of JU’s children will currently be pleased, I feel sure. But on longer time reflection they may nonetheless all see the historical and critical value of these rescued unattended throw-aways. I know you will try to make them public responsibly and, while it is not something I would have recommended nor sanctioned ahead of time, life is such that unintended consequences often tell us helpfully more than we expected about life and people we love or hate, indeed more of what we really truthfully need to know about those other persons or life situations to write accurate history.

Now, at 81, I know I had my say about JU in The Centaurian and have left all of it behind–twelve years of really daily hard work publishing equally his critics and admirers. The many years of The Centaurian’s daily updated records were all instantly lost when one day in 2009 the professional internet site source I rented malfunctioned and instantaneously electronically collapsed. Totally. Poof! They folded their online business and simply disappeared. No other information was provided to me.
Nonetheless, over the twelve years of that site editing I hope I helped readers better comprehend JU and his critics, as well as his admirers. JU was not always pleased with what I published online and told me so, firmly but candidly.

Over the years we also frequently corresponded warmly by personal letters and postcards and those materials are now archived at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran College in St. Peter, Minnesota. They help us understand the depth and quality of Updike as a writer of great literature. I believe the materials in your “JU trash archive,” responsibly presented, will do the same over time. I am grateful the material is in such responsible hands as yours.

Most cordially as always,
James Yerkes
Founder and Former Editor of The Centaurian, “A John Updike Website”


What a spirit feeling spinning round my head, makes me feel glad that Im not dead

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