Americans read: John Irving

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John Irving is the author of more than a dozen books, including the National Book Award-winning ‘The World According to Garp.’ Five of his books have been made into films, and Irving wrote ‘My Movie Business’ about the 13 years he spent turning ‘Cider House Rules’ into a viable screenplay -- for which he won an Oscar.

During high school, Irving excelled at wrestling but struggled in his classes with something like undiagnosed dyslexia -- it took him longer to complete his assignments than his classmates. But, he later told the American Academy of Achievement, ‘I knew how to work. I knew how to concentrate, because I had to.’ And that fed his reading:


I read Charles Dickens when I was 14 or 15. It might be hard for many 14, 15-year-olds today to read Dickens. That language seems so old fashioned, if not exactly dated, to us now -- the amount of detail, the sheer complexities of those stories and plots. But those were the novels I read that made me want to write novels. If I had read, frankly, some more modern or post-modern novels at the time, I might have wanted to do something else. I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century novel, of the novel that is plotted, character-driven, and where the passage of time is almost as central to the novel as a major minor character, the passage of time and its effect on the characters in the story. Those old 19th century novels, all of them long, all of them complicated, all of them plotted. Not just Dickens, but especially Dickens, but also George Eliot, Thomas Hardy. And among the Americans, Melville and Hawthorne always meant more to me than Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. I’m not a modern guy.

Irving’s thirteenth novel, ‘Last Night in Twister River,’ will be published by Random House this fall.

-- Carolyn Kellogg