cover image Self-Consciousness


John Updike. Knopf Publishing Group, $35 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57222-2

Updike's memoirit is by no means an autobiography, but rather, as the title brilliantly suggests, a thoughtful communing with past selvesis, as expected, wonderfully written. It is also disarmingly frank about certain aspects of the writer's life. He seems, for instance, to have suffered an unusual number of physical and psychosomatic liabilities: psoriasis (which he attempted to alleviate by soaking himself in Caribbean sun and eventually by living in Ipswich, Mass., where he could sunbathe in the dunes); stuttering, less than chronic but anxiously erratic; and crippling bouts of asthma. Updike writes of them with extraordinary and thoughtful intensity. He recalls also, tenderly, his hometown in Pennsylvania, his parents, and later, at exhaustive length and detail, a coterie of Updikes, seemingly every one who ever lived. He also talks of his politics (he was unfashionably a centrist on Vietnam) and the ways in which God permeates his life. About what one suspects has probably been a very lively sex life he throws out only occasional hintswhile admitting to failures as father and husband. Above all, he emerges as a most profoundly committed writer: ``To be in print was to be saved. And to this moment a day when I have produced nothing printable . . . is a day lost and damned.'' BOMC and QPBC alternates. (Mar . )