An Open Letter to John Irving

I was sitting on my lunch break reading “Trying To Save Piggy Sneed”, and for some reason this question popped into my head: “If you were to meet John Irving, what would you say?”. So I wrote this:

Dear Mr. Irving,

You are my favorite author.

Now I’m sure you have heard this many times before in your years of writing, whats one more time from some 24 year old girl in L.A? But let me explain the enormity of this statement.

I rarely, if ever, can claim a favorite ANYTHING. Sure, I can claim favoriteS (plural), but my ever changing tastes coupled with my inability to make decisions makess the task of choosing ONE an impossible task. Some have come close, and live in the favoriteS list (Jhumpa Lahiri, Wally Lamb, David Sedaris, just recently Kurt Vonnegut, to name a few), but no other author’s works have touched me so profoundly and consistently than yours.

When I was 13, my father rented the movie of “The World According to Garp” because he thought I would enjoy. And I did. I enjoyed the characters, the story, found the dark humor exceptionally appealing (and 10 years later remains my humor of choice). Knowing what a bookworm I was, in addition to him loving to educate me on the backstory of most movies he exposed me to, my father informed me that it was based on a book.

“Oh really? I should read it!”

“I don’t know, Alli. It’s pretty…complicated. It jumps around a lot. You may not like it.”

Well, that was pretty much all I needed to hear. As Stephen King once said (and he may have been quoting someone else, I’m not sure), “If anyone tells you NOT to read a book, RUN, dont walk, to your nearest library and find out what they don’t want you to know”.

Now, I dont think that my father was trying to shield me from all the sex and adult ideas that Garp is full of. He simply thought that the book itself, your writing style specifically, would be a little too advanced for me. But of course, there is nothing I like more than proving people wring, especially when it is in regards to my capabilities.

So as I entered 8th grade, in a new school and in a new town where I didn’t know anyone, I devoured “Garp”. I read it during lunch breaks by myself, and even in a few classes when I should have been paying attention to the teacher.

And I loved it more than any book I had read prior, or since. There was nothing up in the air, nothing to speculate. Here was this man’s life, and the people around him, laid out in such a naked, intimate fashion…I felt as if I knew them better than my own family members. You showed (and continue to show in all of your novels), the entirety of a human life, as far as going into 5 pages about someone who only passes through the protaganist’s life only fleetingly. Your writing is 3 dimensional, and occasionally all over the place, but moves with such fluidity, I never even notice. I’m just along for the ride. And for someone whose own brain was (and is) all over the place, i felt as if I’d found a kindred spirit.

Additionally, you showed in painstaking detail how deeply flawed every single human is. At the time of reading “Garp”, I was in the middle of my parent’s ugly and painful divorce, and being shown how flawed they, and adult relationships are. Understanding that as a universal truth was a rather large stepping stone in becoming an adult (even at that young an age).

I’ve since read almost every book you have ever written, and have loved every single one (with the exception of “Hotel New Hampshire” which, I’m sorry to say, struck me as insincere and an almost “Irving parody”. I tried to like it, really I did.). For someone who enjoys reading as much as I , my memory fails me when it comes to recalling certain details of most books I’ve read. But certain scenes, certain descriptions, analogies, jokes from your books stick with me. They come up months and years later, coming to me at the oddest times, churning around in my head. They somehow fit in my fast moving, scattered brain. They seem to make sense in there. They work.

What I find so impressive about your work is that, while many themes show up heavily in most of your books (Austria, wrestling, prostitution, New England…occasionally bears), I never feel like I am reading the same book. You write what you know, and it works.

Over a decade later, Garp remains my favorite book. I have gone through 5 or so copies (some to wear and tear, others to constant moving, some from lending them to people who never gave them back), and I’ve read it at least 30 times, catching something new with almost every read. It’s my comfort food. As as someone who is disappointed in the endings to most books and film, the epilogue is the most perfect, complete ending to a book I have ever read (I’ve been known to say “If the epilogue to “Garp” was a person, I would hug it”). I recommend it to everyone.

So thank you, Mr. Irving, for being such a wonderful writer. For giving me a style of prose that gives me a profound sense of comfort while I’m reading it. For helping me develop my tastes and playing a hand in crafting the type of reader I am today.

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~ by Alli on Tuesday, October 6, 2009.

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