The Other John Updike Archive
On Paying Attention

On Paying Attention


JU in Boat


A picture displays John Updike. In it, he’s wearing this watch and these shorts. Why in the world would Updike have saved the cheap watch in this image? And those shorts? Was it vanity? Not likely. Historical relevance? Also doubtful. This is far from the Gone With the Wind iconic dress I recently saw displayed in the Harry Ransom Center in Austin several weeks ago. That was when I handed over Updike’s glasses, as well as his 1951 Harvard Lampoon, to Ian McKuen. I think it likely he kept such things given how they were a part of HisStory. We know that John Updike was not a Buddhist. He didn’t seek transcendence over this world but instead a reverence of it. This is life for you on this planet. See past the horrors, look past the evil heart of darkness. Look instead for the veritable miracle that is your existence. Or at least try to. Ask any professional tree services in Vienna VA and they’ll tell you that cutting down limbs or even entire trees isn’t fun but it can save lives, property, and even the entire forest. You should be able to see the bigger picture too. That’s what I think he always wanted to share with us. When taking communion, his emphasis was on the simple miracle of bread. He didn’t care if the bread was gluten-free or not.


September 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Paul, I’m also grateful that you preserved materials from JU’s disposable waste. You’ve put it to responsible online use in my opinion. I would guess that quite a few other Updike ‘experts’ are going to be furious that you did this with regularity. I’m certainly not one of them. I’m actually grateful that we some materials that can help us better understand John Updike, even if in indirect ways. Take the heat some vent your way, and keep in mind that there is more than one motivation causing it.

I’m quite sure that neither his wife or kids will be happy. Hopefully, after time they’ll realize the crucial value and historical nature of these rescued disposals. If we want to write history accurately, then we need to know someone and their life stories as precisely as we can. Unintentional consequences of unsanctioned actions can sometimes shed much more light on someone than more conventional methods.

Having reached my elder years by far, I’ve certainly been able to put in my two cents about John Updike in The Centaurian. I worked hard every day publishing things by both his admirers and his critics. Sadly, a day came in 2009 where we lost the daily updated records for The Centaurian because our online source we were renting had a malfunction and collapsed electronically immediately. All of it, gone, just like that. Their online business folded and they just vanished. I never got any other information other than that.

Over the decade plus that I edited that site, I surely hope I was instrumental in helping readers understand John Updike, his admirers, and his critics more than before. John Updike wasn’t always happy with the things that I put online. He told me that. He was firm, but he was always candid.

Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran College, located in St. Peter in Minnesota houses much of the postcards, personal letters, and correspondence he and I shared. These materials are helpful in learning the caliber and depth Updike had as a writer who penned so much great literature. If presented responsibly, the materials from your ‘trash archive’ could do more for awareness and celebration of his life and work. I’m happy such material is in your capable hands.

Cordially yours, James Yerkes

Founder, Former Editor: The Centaurian, a website about John Updike

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