Passages: John Updike

It happened this week ... the loss of a giant of American letters.

John Updike died of lung cancer near Boston Tuesday at the age of 76.

A prolific author and book tour veteran for more than half-a-century, John Updike wrote hundreds of short stories and dozens of novels, along with articles, literary criticism, and poems.

When Updike revisited his hometown of Shillingtown, Pennsylvania nine years ago, we went along, and heard him reflect on what he had learned there:

"A kind of respect for middle class, ordinary life, a belief that there was something worth saying about it, that there was struggle and morals to be gained."

All of which inspired Updike to write four novels in thirty years about an auto dealer named Harry Rabbit Angstrom, a middle-class Everyman caught up in the cross-currents of his times:

"He resisted becoming adult and is still resisting it to the end, doesn't take advice or direction very easily. In that sense, I think, he is kind of a typical American."

Divorced and re-married himself in his mid-40's, Updike wrote often (and candidly) about adultery and sex ... and made no apologies for doing so:

"Sex is ecstasy, sex is transcendence ... transcendence of oneself."

And though he was only 68 when we visited him, Updike was already looking ahead to how he would be remembered:

"My attempt has been really to, beyond making a record of contemporary life, which is what you inevitably do, is trying to make beautiful books - books that are in some way beautiful, that are models of how to use the language, models of honest feeling, models of care."

Beautiful books full of honest feeling: Not a bad legacy for Shillington's favorite son.