Monday, June 18, 2012

My John Irving Story

I once wrote John Irving a letter. 

Young John Irving

Since he's one of my favorite novelists, I told him how much I've enjoyed his writing, then pointed out that three recurring themes in his books feature the unlikely combination of three passions I've had in my life: wrestling, German, and sex.  As I explained in my letter: I was a wrestler in high school, I have a Master's in German, and sex... well maybe my interest in that is not so unusual.  

I was impressed and flattered when he actually answered my letter, and said something like, "Well, if we ever met in a gym or a bar I'm sure we would have a lot to talk about!"  I don't know if he wrote that himself or a had an assistant do it, but it still made me feel warm and fuzzy that a talented famous person such as him paid some attention to me (or pretended to.) 

Old John Irving


So this weekend I was listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and John Irving was their celebrity guest.  (I happened to be driving around running errands at the time, but during Irving's segment I had to sit in a parking lot in my car until it was over. Another celebrity guest on the show was Carl Hiaassen, another favorite author of mine. I happen to currently be in the middle of books by each writer, so that was a weird coincidence.)

When Peter Sagal, the host of WWDTM, interviewed Irving, he pointed out that on his Wikipedia page, there is a chart of all the themes in Irving's novels.  The themes were: New England, sex workers, wrestling, Vienna, bears, deadly accidents, absent parents, and writers.  

In the WWTDM interview, Irving calls these "superficial details," but I can't tell if he's being facetious or not.  He had a very dry sense of humor and a morose presence on the show.  

This chart is awesome, and shows that it's not just wrestling, German, and sex that occupies Irving's brain.  Although German is not listed, Vienna is, which is where I think most of his German comes from.  And although "sex workers" is a theme, one can't deny there's a whole lot of sex and sexual issues in his books.  In fact, another entire column in this table that I cropped out (for space) is one titled Sexual Variations, which lists such things as: adultery, swinging, menage a trois, asexuality, rape, pedophilia, transsexualism, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, buggery, cross-dressing, and "older woman/younger man."

It's nice to know that others have noticed some of the same themes that I have in Irving's books.  But it appears that I have underestimated my favorite novelist.  He's about much more than just German, wresting, and sex.  (Note to self: Never EVER do a Google image search with those three words again.)


Emma said...

My husband and I are both huge fans of John Irving. A Prayer for Owen Meany may just be my favorite book ever!

Tim said...

A Prayer for Owen Meany is my favorite of his, too, as well as one of my favorite books overall. My sister also likes that one best. It seems in general to be the most popular of his novels. Maybe because of the awesome ending that ties everything together?

Thanks for reading!