Much missed by just about everybody….
I joined the throngs of people this week who were surprised and upset by the sudden death of John Updike. Not only because it made me think of my own mortality and how fragile life is, but because he was such a fixture in our publishing life here at Random House, Inc. EVERY year (almost) it seems there would be some offering from him and he has his first collection of short fiction in nine years appearing in June 2009, entitled My Father’s Tears and Other Stories.
In the 18 years I have been at Random House he was frequently requested to appear by libraries, foundations, state and national conventions. The first year I worked here and was just overwhelmed by author requests – several of them for him – I came back from an early lunch and discovered him standing in front of our building (at that time 1501 50th Street). For one insane moment I almost threw myself at his feet, intending to clutch his ankles, and beg him to solve my problems and appear at all those libraries that had requested him. Even after all those years I can still recall the effort it took NOT to do that rash act. Instead a mere “Hello Mr. Updike,” saved the moment. I did speak to him several times over the years, he did make library appearances, and I will continue to keep his address and phone number in my file.
To date, 347 NYT readers from all over the world (Paris, Armenia, Auckland, NZ…) have posted comments in response to the obituary and 99.5% of them were very admiring and sorrowful. The small minority needn’t have bothered to be mean-spirited. I suspect they are aspiring writers suffering from a blockage of their own talents. I will quote one post which seems to sum up the thoughts of most:
1/28, 12:48 p.m. “Mr. Updike probably knew every word in the dictionary and then some. No one wrote a better sentence. I will miss him terribly. I don’t know why but I feel sadder than I ought to. We’re not related or anything. There must be a connection between us. He wrote it, I read it. Hundreds of hours, maybe more. Rest in peace.” — Jim H., Mass.