Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

Vol 1: Random Notes on Updike's THE CENTAUR


Vol 1: Random Notes on Updike’s THE CENTAUR


            Going by my general reading experience, I believe I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I could read fifty, or perhaps even a hundred, novels in a row and not encounter the word “plangent” even a single time; surprising, therefore, to see Updike use it in three novels in a row:

“The sickly plangent odor filled the titled volume.” - The Centaur
“I spoke with a voice that – slightly plangent and quick – did not seem mine, though it arose within me.”  - Of the Farm
“Piet,” she said plangently.  – Couples

            I have neither the desire nor the ability to comb through all of Updike’s work, but on this evidence it wouldn’t surprise me to see “plangent” pop up quite a few more times.  So what?  What is the significance of this - that writers tend to latch on to favorite words?  I have no idea.  It could well be entirely coincidental and meaningless.  I would like to see what a psychiatrist or a cognitive psychologist would have to say on this subject (surely if there ever existed an author whose life, mind and writing are goldmines for psychiatrists and psychologists it’s John Updike).  I do know, for certain, that great writers in general – not just Updike – have a tendency to repeat words, phrases, and images over and over again. 
            There is another word curiosity in The Centaur.  Early on, in Hummel’s auto repair shop, one of the workers is identified as Archy, a curious spelling of the name as opposed to the much more common Archie.  Further in, when student Judy is badgering Caldwell about the questions on an upcoming quiz, in trying to pronounce Archaeopteryx, she says “Archy what?”  The curiosity of seeing the word “Archy” like this, twice, is unmistakeable – does it have any significance at all?  Surely it cannot be coincidental – the question is, how meaningful or important is it?  My suspicion is that, while it may not be particularly germane to the novel as such, it does hold some kind of clue to the novel writing process as a whole. 
            Allow me if I may to wander off into a somewhat related example.  In the (admittedly advance reading copy) edition of Adam Begley’s bio of Updike that I have, Begley quotes a passage from Updike’s writing that includes the word “scabrous”.  Two pages after quoting the passage Begely uses the word “scabrous” in his own prose.  The reader’s attention cannot fail to be drawn to the word. 
            I’m convinced that repeating patterns of words – I mean this in the most literal sense possible, the actual words that appear on the page – carry great significance in the study of literature, though I don’t know what it is exactly.  I may be a little too old and tired for the depth of investigation required to fully flush this out. 

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