< Sarah Haskins >
John Irving

Last night I had the opportunity to see John Irving read at the 92nd Street Y. It was very cool because I consider him to be the greatest living American author. He was a little different than I expected. I think I pictured him more salt-of-the-earth, like one of my Dad's fishing buddies or something. But he actually came across very intellectual. Maybe that was only because he paused a lot when he spoke. He was also really funny. He said he thinks of himself as a humorist and definitely enjoyed getting laughs from the crowd at the funny parts of the book.

He talked about mothers, since it was Mother's Day. He said that his own mother would have liked the private school student on the wrestling team version of himself more than the author version of himself. And when he told her, after The World According to Garp was published, that he could now afford to quit everything else and just be an author, she said "so you're JUST going to write?"

I haven't read the new book yet, but I gather it is all about sexuality and features transgendered, bisexual, gay, and various different types of people. He said later that he wants his books to surprise and take a side. He doesn't mind if people have strong reactions to his books, be they good or bad.

Most of the questions he chose to answer after the reading were about writing and the process of writing. He always writes his ending, complete, before beginning a novel. He talked about 1st vs 3rd person and how he chooses and which is easier for him. He says it is easier for him to write in the 1st person but he will avoid it at all costs. Only when it becomes very persistently clear that the story must be told that way will he do it. He said this is because it makes a book longer and his books are already longer than average. He said he is often asked "what is the worst advice you could give a young author?" To this he answered "the old write what you know advice" is crap and would lead to a very boring world indeed. I think it was Hemingway's advice originally. His favorite advice? From Melville, "Woe to him who seeks to please rather than appall."