Our bookseller Len got the chance to ask one of his favorite authors five questions. Of course he couldn't stop at just five...
John Irving is the bestselling author of The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp, and most recently Avenue of Mysteries.
Avenue of MysteriesJohn Irving
In One PersonJohn Irving
Last Night in Twisted RiverJohn Irving
Until I Find YouJohn Irving
The Fourth Hand John Irving
My Movie BusinessJohn Irving
A Widow for One Year John Irving
Trying to Save Piggy SneedJohn Irving
The Imaginary GirlfriendJohn Irving
A Son of the CircusJohn Irving
A Prayer for Owen MeanyJohn Irving
The Cider House RulesJohn Irving
The Hotel New HampshireJohn Irving
The World According to GarpJohn Irving
The 158-Pound MarriageJohn Irving
The Water-Method ManJohn Irving
Setting Free the Bears John Irving

1. Do you think men don't read fiction any more?

I never said men don't read fiction anymore. I've said, many times, that women have always read more fiction (and better fiction) than men read. I'm not talking about college students; at that age, I observe that the interest in literary fiction seems to be shared pretty equally between men and women. But women, as they grow older, continue to live more in their imaginations than most men do. Women are the ones I see reading good fiction; men mostly read nonfiction or bad novels. I can't tell you why. I just see this all the time—to the degree that when I do see a grown man reading good fiction, I have to restrain myself from hugging him in surprise and gratitude. Women readers are supporting quality fiction. I'm not alone in this observation. Ask Ian McEwan.

2. Was Juan Diego addressing what people thought of your novel Son of the Circus ?

Juan Diego is not addressing what people "thought" of my novel Son of the Circus. That novel is the model for Juan Diego's A Story Set in Motion by the Virgin Mary (which is a chapter title in Son of the Circus). The many comparisons between my writing and Juan Diego's are largely playful, throughout. Of all my novels, what people have "thought" (and said) is too various and contradictory to describe! Like most writers, what Juan Diego remembers people thinking or saying about his novels is selective and of the moment (and highly subject to change).

3. Is Clark French based on a devoted reader of yours?

No. Clark French is not "based on" any single person I know—neither a reader nor a former student. Clark has several qualities (and faults) I have picked from a considerable number of my fellow writers and my former students, and many more qualities (and faults) I have invented. Graham Greene once called his fictional characters "amalgams." That's a good way to say where characters come from—namely, from everywhere.

4. Why did you decide to set so much of it in Mexico?

The dump workers who do the picking and the sorting in Mexico are children. In 1970, the dumps burned everything that would burn. The performing acrobats in most Mexican circuses (as in Indian circuses) are children. Many circuses in Mexico (and in India) don't use safely nets. The Jesuits are a presence in Mexico; the Catholic Church has been very successful there. Transgender women are more accepted in Mexico than gay men. Many Mexicans, if they can, come to the U.S.. Those are just some of the reasons—not to mention that this is a novel about a religious mystery (an actual and unexplained "miracle") and the mysteries of the title are religious, because the title comes from an actual street in Mexico City. Avenida de los misterios is the street leading to the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe (herself an important figure in the novel), and there is another, albeit smaller Guadalupe church in Manila, the city where Juan Diego will die; the Philippines, of course, reminds him constantly of Mexico.

5. What is your writing routine?

My writing routine is long and slow. My novels often wait (almost fully formed) for eight to ten years before I begin to write them; I begin with endings (last sentences first, followed by last paragraphs) and work my way back in the story to where it should begin, which I get last. I write by hand, which further and deliberately slows the process down.

6. Do you have a personal favorite book?

This question is unclear. Do you mean "a personal favorite book" among my novels, or do you mean "a personal favorite book" among all books? Any one of my last nine novels (beginning with The Cider House Rules) is better made, better constructed, more carefully and purposely built, than any one of my first five. Why? Because I didn't become a self-supporting, full-time writer until I was writing my sixth novel. But if you mean "favorite book of all time," there are four candidates for my No. 1, not necessarily in order. Dickens, Great Expectations. Melville, Moby-Dick. Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge. Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.

7. A lot of people compare you to Dickens; what is your favorite book of his?

Great Expectations or David Copperfield. The former is a novel about a great misunderstanding—namely, who Pip's benefactor is, and why. The latter is a demonstration of its own wonderful first sentence—concerning whether or not Copperfield will turn out to be the hero of his own life.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 11:15am