More Thoughts on John Irving

Category : authors

As we know, I recently completed Irving’s newest novel, In One Person. I had acquired it for a book club at work, which I had never previously participated, but this title seemed to be a good place to start. Because I love John Irving.

While my company is obviously comprised of people of differing genders, ages, etc, the discussion group for In One Person was solely young females. And as we discussed the novel, we all said the same thing—Irving was someone we knew plenty about, having read read his works since high school.

Is there something about him that my generation is drawn to? He’s been publishing for decades, but I find it interesting that the only people at this month’s group were exactly like me—bookish women around the same age, having read Irving for at least the past decade. We knew his style. We knew his subjects (boarding school; wrestling; sexuality). And we treated Irving like an old, familiar friend, admiring the book while also teasing it, like we had some sort of divine right to do so.

But when we all read him in high school, these themes were unheard of: That someone would so openly discuss touchy subjects, and in such a literary fashion. I’m sure we all read Judy Blume. Or sneaked off with women’s magazines. And those were okay, but they weren’t John Irving; we immediately admired him, and would do so for years to come.

For me, he was part of my introduction to “real writing.” John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut are still of my favorite authors, because I discovered them at an impressionable age. Here is someone different, who knows how to write, and provides material we’ve never seen. And of course, after a while you recognize Irving’s repeating themes. But that didn’t stop us from reading it.

And even if we sit around the table and tease his next book for taking place in New Hampshire and having a questionable mother/son relationship, we will still be emotionally attached to it. Because nothing is going to change the minds of our inner 15-year-olds, and he’s become a huge part of who we are.

I guess it’s not just me.

Film discussion: Sylvia

Category : authors, movies

In a completely random find on Netflix, I stumbled upon the film Sylvia, based upon the relationship between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. How could I resist renting this?

I was actually a little wary about it. It seemed like it would a B-list movie, considering it was released in 2003 and I never heard of it. (I was in college then. As a writing major. You think it would have been mentioned.) But once I started watching it, it really wasn’t so bad.

I really loved the beginning, when Sylvia and Ted meet. It’s wonderful and romantic, and Sylvia is portrayed as a person, not just a woman with a disease. And Daniel Craig, the guy who plays Ted Hughes, was fantastic. He and his group of poet buddies. He pulled off the poet thing well, without it being a cheesy stereotype. And I loved the friends. Why don’t I have a brilliant group that recites poetry at one another?

I may sound coldhearted about this, but the movie started to lose me when Sylvia’s downfall begun. And it doesn’t really explore why she became paranoid and depressed. Her history is hinted at—she mentions to Ted that she tried to kill herself before—and her mother nearly threatens him to take care of her. So I really didn’t get why, all of a sudden, they’re disagreeing over everything and fighting. For something that is based upon their lives together, I expected it to be more… personal?

It’s really difficult to tell a story about someone’s depression without it sounding stereotypical and cheesy. And it’s even harder when everyone knows how it ends. But I would have really liked to see more of Sylvia and Ted’s love; it kind of jumped from courtship to discomfort. I really don’t know anything about Ted Hughes at all, and the film didn’t help me much. (and one of these days, I will get around to reading his poetry.)

It wasn’t bad overall, but for being two hours it leaves me hoping for something more.

John Irving Reception

Category : authors, events

Last week, S&S hosted an in-house reception to welcome John Irving to the company. As I mentioned before, he was recently acquired and signed to publish two upcoming novels.

The event took place after work—which I’m usually hesitant about, considering my long trip home—but I couldn’t miss out on the fun. I arrived before he did, so we hung around for a while waiting for Irving and his publisher to appear. And when they did, they received an impressive applause.

John Irving stood in the middle of the room to talk with us about his new book, which means he stood directly in front of me the entire time. I mean, directly. If I had swung my arm out, it would have hit him in the face. (Not that I would have, of course.)

The reception was a good time. He hung around to talk with us, shook hands, and listened to everyone praise him (wonder how many times he heard the phrase, “I’ve been a life-long fan?”). But he was cool about it. I mustered up the courage to chat with him, eventually asking if he wouldn’t mind signing a book I just happened to have in my purse. “Not at all!” he replied.

I’ve been an Irving fan for years, so I’m surprised I held it together as well as I did.
Definitely worth the late arrival home, if you ask me.

Joys of Author Events

Category : authors, events

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for an author event—especially when it’s followed by a book signing. And it’s funny; despite how many times I’ve stood in these lines, I still get flustered when approaching the table. Writers are my celebrities. It’s a rare occasion that I miss them.

I have 40-some-odd books that now bear a signature. It helps to work in the industry, for authors occasionally come into the office for signings, but a lot of them I’ve ventured out to bookstores to wait in line like everyone else. I’m possessive over every one of my signed books, but here are a few of my favorites:

Andre Dubus III: House of Sand and Fog

This was my first signing, when I was in college. He was really nice, asking everyone what they were going to school for, and was impressed I was a writing major. Thus the inscription, Here’s to your and your writing! I’ll be first in line at your book signing!

Laurie Halse Anderson: Speak

This was actually the second time I met Anderson, and I made sure to mention it. The signing was at work and I brought along a book not published by us, hence the inscription, Who will forever be bold and brave.

Judith Viorst: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I actually missed this event, but made it just in time for the signing. This was my favorite book ever as a child, so you can imagine my glee.

Brandon Mull: World Without Heroes

I’m not sure whether You’re my hero pertains to the title, or the fact I worked on this book. Or both. But I like it.

Frank McCourt: Angela’s Ashes

I was a little disappointed that he was just signing, not personalizing, so I didn’t get to brag that my name is in the title. But I sometimes forget that I have this one, and it makes me happy every time I see it sitting on my “signed books” shelf.

The Day I Met Scott Westerfeld

Category : authors, events

It was during New York ComicCon 2009—when I wasn’t there—that I decided I simply had to attend 2010. And when I learned that Scott Westerfeld was going to be there, that immediately justified any money I had spent on registration.

ComicCon was awesome. Which I’ve mentioned before. But anyway.

Westerfeld’s panel was on Sunday, and it was really the only reason I went on Sunday (it’s kind of a long trek to Manhattan). And I knew he was signing books in autograph alley beforehand, so I stalked the area until I saw him at the table.

And because I’m a huge dork, I sat back and waited because I was so nervous.

I get like that. I’m all prepared at author signings, waiting in line and rehearsing dialogue in my head, and when I hold out the book for a signature I manage to squeak out a, “hi.” Way to go, Angela.

I was still first in line for Scott; I boldly approached the counter and introduced myself. I do work on his books, after all, so my introduction was meant to be “professional” rather than “silly fan girl.” I may have pretended to be the former, but was totally acting like the latter. Especially since I asked for this:

I know I blathered on about something after that, but I can’t recall anything (remember, we’re still in “silly fan girl” mode). But I happened to have my first-print hardcover edition of Leviathan in my purse (right, like that wasn’t planned) which he graciously signed it for me.

(In case you can’t read it, it says “Thanks for all the reprints.” That’s right.)

Was it worth the 2-hour train ride into Manhattan for this? You bet. This photograph may also be displayed on my office door. What do you expect? I do work on his books, after all. It’s work-related.