R.I.P John Updike

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The great writer John Updike has died at the age of 76. I say writer, because Updike was more than a novelist. He was a storyteller, an essayist, a man of letters in a way that is rare in our current age. With Updike’s passing we have one less literary great who was widely known by the public. We have precious few of those.

Without the intention to belittle such writers as Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, Patricia Cornwell or other bestselling authors, Updike was a rarity in that he became famous writing not just popular fiction but difficult, literary fiction. He presented us works meant to do more than provide an enjoyable diversion. He wanted his readers to think about our life and our world, to consider the implications of our choices and the meanings behind our relationships. He wasn’t always great, but he always tried to do more than simply write an entertaining story.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing distasteful about entertaining stories. I am egalitarian in my views of fiction — the more, the merrier. I’d rather see my kids reading comic books than reading nothing at all. But I have great affection for literature and what it adds to our culture. Like all the arts, the best literature can change minds and hearts. Updike undoubtedly changed a few.

He will be missed. I can only hope his passing does not portend the end to an age when literary writers can become, if not household names, then widely known and appreciated. Many other writers deserve the recognition Updike enjoyed.