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My Favorite of My Favorites

I don’t think it’s a secret that I really like John Irving’s writing. I’ve been reading his books since I was a teenager and they’ve had as much influence on me as anything, I guess. But why, I ask myself? Well, several things.

Above everything, I love Irving’s sense of whimsy. I love that no matter what he writes, he is always himself–bears, maimed characters, wrestling, neurotic parenting, and all. Irving’s fictional universe, where oddities and the oddballs are the focus, resonates with me deeply. His characters draw out in me a grave empathy.

I appreciate, too, that Irving is a fan of the sweeping nineteenth century novel arc. His books are so satisfying to me because they are vast and contain multitudes. You get to watch his characters age and die and be reborn again in their children. Kind of like life.

Also, I’m always impressed that as a male author, Irving tackles parenthood with such tenderness and honesty. He is a “guy’s writer,” by which I mean he is one of the few literary novelists that men also love to read, but he puts the parent-child relationship front and center always. For me as a mother, well, it gets me every time. Remember the scene where Garp chases down the neighborhood speeders while wielding a spaghetti spoon? Aren’t we all that parent at one point or another? Is there anything more awe-filled and awful than parenting?

And, finally, I admire Irving’s career. There’s so much pressure in publishing these days to be a literary wunderkind, to knock it out of the park, to be a media sensation when all most of us really want to do is keep writing novels. I finally figured out that the only reason I care about best seller lists and good reviews (other than that they’re very nice, thank you) is that it means I get to keep going in this crazy business. It’s nice to see a writer who is just himself.

If you haven’t read an Irving novel lately, or haven’t read his newest, why not go pick one up and see what I’m talking about?

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