Updike and Engdahl—Fellow Travelers?

About a week back John Updike spoke in Sacramento, Calif., to promote his new novel, The Widows of Eastwick. The Daily Hornet of California State University-Sacramento covered the event, giving it the headline, “Updike slams modern American fiction”:

Updike told the crowd that he finds modern American fiction boring. He said that current writers are not producing books that challenge readers.

“I think there aren’t these books that are deeply meaningful and life-transforming,” Updike said.

Updike explained that there were many factors affecting the lack of out-of-the-box fiction in mainstream publication.

“People don’t read expecting to find this kind of experience anymore,” Updike said. “It just isn’t there. It is a questing time for a reader.”

He said it could be “writers who are failing to write truly transforming or eye-opening material,” but he laid part of the blame on readers.

“As a whole, we are losing the ability to respond to the kind of work in the way that certainly my parents and I did,” Updike said. “I rarely read a book that gets me excited anymore. I used to read lots of them that got me very excited.”

Updike was apparently full of complaints that evening. According to FlatmanCrooked senior editor Kaelan Smith, he also noted the death of the market for short stories. It’s hard to respond to broad-brush statements like these, but I wonder if there’s any point in holding a book-averse media accountable for the problem. I ask only because the city’s major daily, the Sacramento Bee plugged Updike’s appearance as well as one by “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade. The story ends: “An interview with Kinkade will be published in the Bee Monday in the Living Here section.” No interview with Updike. Priorities, priorities….

One thought on “Updike and Engdahl—Fellow Travelers?

  1. I wonder how much of Updike’s distaste of modern American fiction comes from his age? “I rarely read a book that gets me excited anymore,” he says. After all his years on the scene, I imagine that he’s seen a lot of story and book ideas recycled countless times–and that might be especially so in today’s climate, where it seems publishers find a horse–religious mysteries, vampires, etc.–and ride it till it collapses.

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