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January 28, 2009


Irving on Updike, DFW on Updike

John Irvin and John Updike

I'm not a big follower of the late John Updike, but I like this little anecdote that John Irving tells today on Slate about how they used to receive each other's fan mail:

For a period of time—no longer—fans used to confuse the two of us. How could this have happened? Because we were both "John"? It was baffling, but I got numerous fan letters that were meant for him, and he got fan letters that were meant for me, and this gave us the occasion to write to each other—and send the misdirected fan mail to each other. This has stopped; it hasn't happened in five or six years. Maybe this was mail from a single demented village or the same deranged family; maybe it was generational, and they've died out—those idiots who thought I was John Updike and John Updike was me.

The letters would begin "Dear John Irving," and I would read for a while before I realized that the letter-writer was talking about an Updike novel; it was the same for him. I admit that I miss this craziness; it will probably never happen again.

I wonder what it was about a misguided fan letter that tipped John Irving off that it was a letter intended for John Updike. Maybe something like:

Dear John Irving,

I'm a big fan, I've read all your novels and stories and essays. You write exceptionally beautiful and vivid prose about truly unlikeable men, who usually sound like they would be self-involved jerks who can't keep it in their pants if you knew them in real life. But your use of language sure is nice!

Truly yours,
Avid Reader Who Isn't So Hot With Names

Anyway, Irving includes a few other amusing stories. This little essay is probably the most uniformly positive thing I've ever seen written about John Updike.

A less positive reaction came from David Foster Wallace. Here's his essay titled "John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists?", originally published in the New York Observer in 1997, also appearing in Consider the Lobster with the I'm assuming deliberately opaque title, "Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think."

categories: Books, Celebrities
posted by amy at 1:42 PM | #

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Why was John Irving surprised to find that he was often confused with another author who wrote exclusively about middle-aged heterosexual white guys in suburban New England and was named John plus an English last name? It would be like people confusing Georges Braque with Pablo Picasso if Pablo Picasso's named had been Georges Clack.

Posted by: T-Rock at January 29, 2009 4:09 PM

Yeah, Irving protests a bit too much. Their styles are different, but their subject matter is almost identical. If I were John Irving writing this piece, I would have admitted that my novels do have some similarities to Updike's, but at least I was funnier and the ladies liked me better.

Posted by: amy at January 29, 2009 4:17 PM

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