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Irving reads from unpublished work

By : Rachel Coker

Celebrated author John Irving greets fans in the Anderson Centerís Reception Room after a reading Sept. 18 at the Osterhout Concert Theater. Irving is the author of The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules and other best-selling novels.

John Irving begins most of his novels by writing the last sentence, he told a crowd of more than a thousand Sept. 18 at the Osterhout Concert Theater on campus.

Irving spoke as the inaugural John Gardner Reader. Gardner, a novelist, poet and critic who died 25 years ago, made vital contributions to Binghamton’s Creative Writing Program. Gardner and Irving were friends and colleagues at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Irving read from the first chapter of his next book, which will be his 12th novel. He also took questions from members of the audience and spoke with fans during a reception afterward.

“To me, the only thing better than reading John Irving is John Irving reading,” said Associate Professor Bob Micklus, undergraduate director in the English Department. Micklus, who helped organize the reading, is teaching a course on Irving and Gardner this semester.

Irving said he spends more time revising his books than writing them, often completing a draft in as little as a year or 18 months.

Asked about the autobiographical nature of some of his work, he said that he needs distance from people and events before he can write about them. Irving, 65, considers his last novel his most autobiographical to date.

Irving, who counts Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and George Eliot among his favorite writers, said he’s reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Hardy.

Irving’s not an especially big fan of American literature, with the exception of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. He saved his harshest criticism for Ernest Hemingway, saying: “If you want to do sentences that short, why not write ad copy?”
When an audience member asked Irving why so many of his characters experience heartache or meet tragic ends, Irving said he considers it the novelist’s job to make readers care about characters and then have bad things happen to them.

“What if Lear had a bunch of happy daughters?” Irving asked. “What if Hamlet’s father didn’t die? There’s a story that’d put you to sleep.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08