Last Night With John Irving
I was fourth in line to see one of my favourite writers, John Irving, last night at the IFOA. It was a wonderful event, so I’ll give you a fairly detailed recap. And video should be available soon--I’ll post a link once I have it.
Irving begins by talking a little about his writing process (he’s written every one of his novels backwards--he can only start writing once he has the final sentence) before reading from his new book, Last Night in Twisted River (I’m expecting my copy in the mail any day, and I can’t wait!) After the brief reading, in conversation with Seamus O’Regan Irving discusses the self-referential elements of the book, and the ubiquitous questions about autobiographical content. He explains that he doesn’t write about events from his life, but rather the things he fears the most, and these fears repeat themselves (severed limbs anyone? For more recurring themes, check out the handy chart at Wikipedia.) In the case of his newest protagonist, Danny, all of his worst fears come true. Like several of his previous books, the protagonist is a writer. Like Irving, Danny was mentored by Kurt Vonnegut, and everything Vonnegut says in the novel is a direct quote! For example, on writing, Danny’s told by Vonnegut, “if you think you’re capable of living without writing, do not write.” Irving agrees; he says being a writer “is not a career choice…it’s a terribly stupid career choice, a compulsion, like an eating disorder.” I’m glad he suffers from this disorder.
A master storyteller, Irving goes on to amuse us with anecdotes. He tells us about meeting Charleton Heston at a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood (during the release of the film adaptation of The Cider House Rules). Unable to reconcile the gun-toting, right-wing Republican with an abortion rights activist, no one at the event would speak to him. Not Irving: “c’mon, it’s Moses!” He sat himself down and they chatted guns (Heston had many more guns than Irving). His point is, you just can’t categorize people.
Next, Irving takes questions from the audience. A high-school teacher asks how he feels about his books being taught. He responds that he’s grateful his novels are being introduced to kids in school, but feels bad for the kid who hates him, because he’s been that kid. Faulkner was forced on him when he was too young, and he still can’t read Faulkner (by the way, his strongest influences are Hardy, Melville and Dickens). An audience member asks when his children first read his books (Irving has three sons). He tells us his eldest read The World According to Garp when he was just twelve(!) Irving was nervous about it, but “didn’t want to blow his liberal reputation.” His son was moved and affected, but not disturbed, and recognized immediately that the book was about his father’s fears.
I could go on and on, but I can’t do this maestro justice, so come back and check out the video. And of course, read the new book!
Any other big John Irving fans reading? What is your favourite book?