The Bech books
Among the many post-war writers and intellectuals who were Jewish or came from other immigrant groups, WASPy Updike still wasn’t exactly a minority. Younger than Cheever, more versatile than Yates, Updike carried the flame for a certain old, well-educated guard; he was his era’s great chronicler of the mundane life and times of white people. His character Henry Bech, who Begley points out was influenced by (among others) Bernard Malamud, is a much more likable character; he’s an older, middle-of-the-road writer who you don’t want to like, but end up kinda rooting for anyways. The Bech stories are some of Updike’s funniest, and showed he was able to make fun of his contemporaries without getting too personal, while also — seeing as Updike felt that he and Bech shared a number of similarities — poking fun at himself.
Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
It’s a Boston story that could have been written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. In Updike, Begley tells us that when the author was “falling in love, away from his marriage,” Updike went to the home of the unnamed object of his affection, and she wasn’t there, “so he went instead to Fenway Park and watched his great hero Ted Williams hit a home run in his last ever at-bat.” What came out of that was one of the finest piece of sports writing ever published, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, Updike’s account of the game’s greatest hitter’s final appearance in a uniform. For those who pine for poetry in their sports reporting, Updike wrote both a beautiful piece of literature and one of the finest writings ever on America’s pastime.
Updike’s short stories
You just don’t hear people getting as excited as they should be about Updike’s stories these days — and that may have a lot to do with why he’s so often ignored by this new generation of readers. It’s a shame since Updike, who published short fiction from the early 1950s until his death in 2009, was truly one of America’s finest at the form. Last year’s gorgeous Library of America edition collected everything into two volumes, and it makes a worthy purchase for yourself or an Updike-newbie friend.