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Friday, August 19, 2005

 

The World According to Me

I'm a re-reader. I can't explain it. I just am.

If I like a book, I will read it again and again. According to some people, (cough-cough *wife* cough-cough) this keeps me from discovering new books that I might like just as much. To me, though, re-reading a book is like visiting an old friend who you really like. Unlike old friends, though, books you've loved never develop a drinking problem and call you up at three in the morning to cry at you for an hour.

I have read Richard Hooker's book M*A*S*H probably ten times. I've read Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo about four times. I'm up to at least twice on the great bulk of James Ellroy's stuff. God help me, I've notched about five go-rounds on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's not to mention the trade paperback collections of comic books I own, which require much less commitment and can be re-read in an afternoon. I'm not saying this because I'm proud of it or anything. I mean, it's not as if I'd been twice through Ulysses or Beowulf. I'm just saying that there are books and authors I latch on to and, since they can only write a finite number books in one lifetime, I run out of new material to read. The exception to this is John Grisham, who apparently can pull a book fully formed out of his asshole every eight months or so. Too bad I'd rather gargle hot tar than sit down and read him.

The author I have read and re-read more than any other is John Irving. I own very nearly everything the man has ever written--"nearly" because a friend of mine told me last night that she has some story he apparently wrote on a cocktail napkin of which they published five copies or something, so my notion of completism has been devastated--and I've read and re-read all of them to death. Hell, I've even been two times through The Fourth Hand, and I hated it. Both times.

I don't think Irving is perfect or anything. The Berry family in Hotel New Hampshire had their quirkiness ironed on their shirts; he has a weird thing about cops getting involved with the people whose cases they work on and...damn. I can't come up with a third thing I don't like about his stuff at the moment. Interesting.

I love his sense of humor. I love the characters he creates. I love the sense I get when I read his books that he's not going to leave me hanging about even minor characters I've come to care about; he's going to tell me exactly what ends up happening to them. I love the themes he writes about. I love how many of his characters are motivated by a sense of fear. I love his stuff.

The World According to Garp is my favorite novel of all time. There's so much about Garp to not like. He cheats on his wife. He's resentful of his more successful mother. He makes stupid decisions based on anger. But every time I read this book, I feel for this character. I'm devastated by every loss he suffers. I want things to work out for him.

Last night, I got to go to a reading that Irving did of his newest novel, Until I Find You. It was so fucking cool. He did a short reading, which was great. It's interesting to hear how an author reads what they've written, the words they emphasize, the tone with which they speak their characters' words.

And I got to ask him a question. To be a complete geek, that was just awesome. I talked to John Irving. He looked me in the eyes. He answered my question. It's like we're best friends. In fact, I'm going to find out where he lives and go there so we can continue our conversation. And then he'll write a book just for me.

Okay, yeah, that's going a bit far. But (sort of, in a way, quasi-) meeting one of one's heroes is a great experience. I highly recommend it. Unless your hero is dead, in which case that's grave-robbing and you should think twice.

Comments:
Yeah, I got to ask him one too. (Hey, I had to technorati Irving to see if anybody else had written up the reading.)

I'm still sort of reeling from having been in the presence of greatness.
 
A Prayer For Owen Meany was one of my all time favorite books.

Have you ever read Boy's Life by Robert McCammon? You may like that.
 
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