Thursday, 21 April 2005

Last night, I did something unusual, at least for me.

Honestly, I am not one to go to book or poetry readings or art houses or anything like that. Now, I have nothing against those kinds of things and places, but all else being equal I'd just assume go to a movie theater and see what Hollywood has to throw at me, or maybe watch a great movie on DVD that no one else I know has seen. Or maybe just jump on a motorcycle or 4 wheeler and cruise around and feel the wind.

But I really do like books, and I especially enjoy books by John Irving.

About 14 months ago, a few local people started putting together a new writing/author/books/written word festival, which they called Wordstock. Last night was the opening night, and I went with a friend (who also would not normally be caught dead at a book reading) to Keller Auditorium to see and hear John Irving, a great American novelist. I wondered what he would have to say, and what he might read or do.

I first encountered John Irving's stories in a theater when I saw The World According to Garp on film. I thought it was great, and it was one of those first movies early in my adult life that led me to actually read the book it was derived from, knowing even before cracking the cover that the book was almost certainly even better than the film.

My favorite John Irving novel is called A Prayer for Owen Meany, and it's unique in that it's written in the first person. If you appreciate a great storyteller who can paint the world in your mind and help you stand right in the middle of it, you should read John Irving.

His presentation was terrific. He first read from two of his works - the first reading was a first draft while the second was a polished, finished piece from his next novel, one which will be published soon. The first-draft piece was a funny story, and had the crowd laughing out loud. It was a true story, and one that will never be published, Irving said. The second reading was a rewritten, polished and final except from the opening of his new book. Both were terrific and fascinating to hear, in large part because I had never read them before, and in one case because I won't ever get to read the funny story that he wrote for a purpose other than publication. It was a lot like hearing a secret, and knowing something that most of the rest of the world will never experience.

Irving then answered questions from the audience. I was glad to discover through his answers that he's a no-crap, doesn't-mess-around kind of guy. As a bonus, I finally experienced someone whose answers to posed questions are even longer than mine (I'm lucky to have close friends that put up with my long windedness). Several esoteric questions were asked by people in the audience that had both me and my friend rolling our eyes ("What are your favorite words?" - Huh??). He deftly and politely responded to these questions with the most meaningful, indirect, free-thought non-answers, which (despite the fact that he actually has no favorite words) take you deep into his mind and provide a glimpse at how he thinks and writes, and why.

John Irving has always been one of my behind-the scenes heros, someone I have never met, but a seemingly quality man who writes thoughtful, meaningful books that I read and believe - books that make me wonder how an author could possibly know and write so much about me and my thoughts. That's what makes him a great author; When Irving writes, we don't just read the words, we feel them and see the world they describe.

Anyhow, this is all pretty deep for me. Suffice it to say that one night, I went to a book reading, which is something I'd not normally do. I went because the man who was reading was someone who's made an indirect but strong impression on my life on several occasions. I went because I wanted to hear his words in his own voice, and to see if the way I've read his words in the past was in any way similar to how he would speak and read them.

Oh and one more thing about John Irving. When he works he writes 8 or 9 hours a day, he's taught writing and English, has written several great novels, and he's dyslexic. Even without knowing that, the sheer volume and quality of his writing is amazing. But when you add dyslexia to the equation, it's so much more than just amazing.

I got to see one of my real-life heros. And I wasn't disappointed.

Wordstock. I may have to go again next year.

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Thursday, 21 April 2005 00:09:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Saturday, 23 April 2005 15:24:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I'm so happy you went. I looked over those events, I looked over the volunteer info, I thought about doing something literary since it's right here. I'm just glad now that I know someone who went. Now make me go next time!
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