Sunday Snippet: John Updike (1932 - 2009)

“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings… Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”

Let me start by saying that I don’t exactly agree with what American novelist John Updike had to say in the quote above. We may or may not have hero kings, per se, but we are certainly not past the age of heroes. There are still some amazing people who do some really amazing things and they should be given the recognition that they deserve.

Even so, Updike does hit on a very important point there. While there may still be some incredible tales to tell about truly spectacular people, the vast majority of your lives can be quite boring. Most of us wake up each morning, brush our teeth, eat some food, go to work, watch some TV, and retire for the evening before starting up the same routine all over again the next day. Life can get awfully stale and tedious at times, it’s true.

And yet, the human species feels compelled to tell stories, because that is largely how we relate not only to one another, but also to the world and universe at large. As such, some of the most treasured people that we have are the people who are great at telling these stories, even if the original subject matter is “basically mundane and dull.” Updike cites the writer, but you could just as easily apply the same line of thinking to musicians, photographers, videographers and so forth.

Perhaps one of the better examples that illustrate John Updike’s point is 90s sitcom Seinfeld, which by its own admission was quite literally a show about nothing. From that show, we gained memorable characters like Newman, the Soup Nazi and Jackie Chiles, all of whom could really be a part of anyone’s real life, albeit depicted on the show in a slightly exaggerated way. It pains me to say it, but the same kind of phenomenon can be seen in contemporary reality TV. How else can you explain the interest in a family of duck hunters?

With over 20 novels to his credit (in addition to children’s books, poetry and short stories), John Updike knew a thing or two about telling a good story. And I imagine they were quite interesting.