CBC asked all of the Canada Reads finalists to answer a kind of holiday gift guide questionnaire. Today was my turn. (Excuse the crazed photo. It’s not CBC’s fault. It’s tough to get a good shot of me. Tell me I don’t always look like this…)
Archive for the ‘John Irving’ Category
A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from one of the literary producers at CBC Radio about coming in to record a segment of their great CBC Book Club Podcast (longtime listener, first time… guest!). So in I went to the CBC Broadcast Centre, slapped on the headphones, and answered a series of questions I’d been sent earlier in the week. It was kind of fun. Anyway, it was produced and posted today. Check it out if you like…
Last Sunday I snuck away from regular family weekend activities to see John Irving at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) here in Toronto. Regular readers of this blog (both of you) may recall that John Irving has been an inspiration to me. The emotional impact of his writing and the laughs along the way make him one of my literary heroes. A Prayer for Owen Meany, quite possibly my all time favourite novel, restored my interest in fiction back in the late 80s, and I’ve never looked back. Needless to say, seeing him in person, along with hundreds of other fans as part of the IFOA, was a thrill.
He talked about this writing process, including his immutable first step of writing the last sentence of his novel first, before anything else. It was fascinating to hear him talk about how it all comes together. He then read from his new novel, Last Night inTwisted River. One thing I’ve learned in the last year, as I’ve read with other authors at a variety of festivals and readings, is that not all authors can read. There is an art to reading well, not to mention a smidgen of theatre. It is a performance of sorts. John Irving had the room spellbound. I can’t imagine anyone listening to him read and then walking by the book table without snagging one on the way out.
Finally, he was interviewed by Seamus O’Regan, one of our TV morning show hosts, before the floor was opened for questions. It was a memorable event for me. I’m about to start Last Night in Twisted River, said to be his most autobiographical novel to date.
After reading almost exclusively nonfiction until I was nearly 30, I switched to fiction around 1988 and haven’t looked back. It was to my great fortune that one of the first novels I picked up, and then could not put down, was John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was a revelation.
I’d been looking for a comic novel, but soon discovered that this was a hybrid. In the same page, I could laugh out loud and then plunge into an emotional abyss. The virtuoso juxtaposition of humour and pathos gave Irving’s words depth and heft. This was no light beach read yet the stretches of melancholy were skillfully and beautifully offset by moments of unalloyed hilarity. I was hooked.
I finished Owen Meany, reluctantly, and then rushed out to purchase every other Irving work I could find. So I moved next to The World According to Garp, which I loved. It had the same offbeat blend of humour and pathos that kept the pages turning well into the wee hours. Then, Hotel New Hampshire. Another great read, though not quite as captivating as Garp and Owen Meany. Then another hit – The Cider House Rules. Loved it.
It seems I’m a sucker for vulnerable, endearing characters on a quest. And can Irving ever write.
But I must confess that the after Cider House Rules, Irving’s next few offerings didn’t quite do it for me. I devoured The Son of the Circus, A Widow for One Year, and The Fourth Hand, but found that they didn’t have the same impact on me as did Garp, Meany, and Cider House. I enjoyed them but wasn’t flattened as I had been by his earlier books. Perhaps I was becoming inured to this master’s writing. No I don’t think so.
Last year, I read his most recent work, Until I Find You, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like I was reading an early Irving novel again. Irving has admitted that this is his most autobiographical novel. Again, his familiar formula, brilliantly executed. A young boy coming of age, on a journey replete with twists and turns, ups and downs, humour and emotional body blows, and all written with extraordinary power and subtlety.
Regrettably, there can be many years between Irving novels, which is a very long time for his fans to wait. But the good news is, his latest novel, Last Night in Twisted River, is due to hit bookstore shelves on October 20th. It’s a date that’s marked in my calendar.
Here’s a recent conversation John Irving had with the editor of the New York Times Book Review, Sam Tanenhaus on the NYTBR weekly podcast.
I first read King Leary, Paul Quarrington‘s 1987 Leacock winning novel, shortly after it was published, and then proceeded to read everything else Quarrington has written before and since. I loved King Leary. Its mix of humour and pathos is masterful. And, it’s about hockey! Sports figures in a number of Quarrington’s earlier works that I also thoroughly enjoyed including Logan in Overtime and perhaps my favourite of his books, Home Game. In fact, I recommended Home Game during my recent interview with Hannah Sung of the CBC Book Club. But Quarrington is no one-trick pony. His fiction ranges from sports, to the early days of the movie business in Civilization, to life in a small town in The Life of Hope, to the story of a drugged out and freaked out rock icon in Whale Music (1989 Governor General’s Award), to the world of Las Vegas magicians in The Spirit Cabinet, to storm chasers in Gavelston. His latest book is The Ravine and is his most autobiographical novel.
Quarrington’s uncanny ability to make you laugh one moment and then break your heart in the next, is a gift that has always kept me turning the pages. His humour is never gratuitous but is fully embodied in the story he’s telling. He creates characters that, while larger than life and sometimes even picaresque, are fully realized and ready to step off the page. There’s a John Irvingesque feel to his writing yet Quarrington is never derivative. He’s an original. I confess that while I have loved all of his novels, I think I enjoyed his earlier offerings most of all.
I have collected first editions of his novels, including his very first, The Service, published by Coach House Press in 1978. A high point of the last year for me, was driving to Grimsby with Paul, having dinner with him, and then sharing the stage with him as we both read from our novels at the wonderful Grimsby Author Series. What a thrill. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Paul dutifully inscribed my first editions of his novel that I lugged in a backpack. Nice.
Paul also writes nonfiction, screenplays, and music. A man of many talents. If you haven’t yet read a Quarrington novel, do yourself a favour and pick one up. Then get ready to read the others…
Here we are signing at the Grimsby Author Series. This photo accompanied an article in Niagara This Week.
Tis the season for new year’s resolutions. For many years, a mainstay of my annual list of resolutions had been “get started writing the novel.” I took that one off my list in 2006 as I tweaked and fiddled with what was essentially a completed manuscript for TBLP. But here we are on the eve of 2009 and I’m finding myself resurrecting “get started writing the novel” for this year’s list.
So here, in no particular order, are a few new year’s resolution I’ll be trying to keep:
Write the sequel to TBLP. I’m nearly done the rather detailed outline for the sequel to TBLP so it will soon be time to start the writing. I’m excited yet filled with trepidation at the prospect. I’m not sure how long it will take, but I’m on it!
Add more meaningful content to this blog rather than just littering it with every minor new development in the life of TBLP (I may find it interesting that libraries are ordering TBLP but I’m hard-pressed to expect anyone else to find it compelling reading!). So, with this in mind:
- I intend to blog about some of the writers who have inspired me including Robertson Davies, Stephen Fry, Paul Quarrington, John Irving and Mordecai Richler, among others.
- I’ll blog a little about how I approach the task of writing. I’m always interested in the how writers actually tackle the act of writing. And I really mean the more practical aspects of it. Do they write in the morning? Do they write in long or short time spans? Do they write in the kitchen? How do they start? Etc. etc. I’m still feeling my way on this but I think I’ve learned a couple of things from writing TBLP.
- I may also offer some observations on the broader topic of writing in general, and humour writing in particular. This will likely veer into questions of technique rather than just dealing with the more practical issues like laptop versus pen and pad, kitchen versus home office, etc., noted above.
Continue to do whatever I can to promote TBLP. Since the Leacock shock in the spring, I’ve been quite busy with readings and speaking gigs at various writers festivals. It’s been a new but very fulfilling and enjoyable experience for me. And, I think that book sales are higher because of those events. Even though M&S published TBLP in September, I think there are still appearances and talks and readings that I can do keep the name of the novel out there.
Spend more meaningful time with my wife and two sons, despite returning to a heavier evening and weekend writing schedule. We’re a very busy family. But being a busy family doesn’t mean we can’t be busy together. It takes planning and patience, but nothing is more important.
Make 2009 a strong year professionally (i.e. my day job!). I derive great satisfaction from my work as a PR professional. I work with some wonderful people, clients and colleagues alike. We have a great PR firm in Toronto and Ottawa and we’re doing some very interesting and innovative work for our clients. I want that to continue and grow even more.
So here’s to a wonderful and memorable 2008 and a happy and healthy 2009.