Monday, January 26, 2009

The End of Magical Thinking

I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard a story about the trial of someone who caused a big commuter train wreck by parking his SUV on the railroad tracks in a purported suicide attempt.  The reporter mentioned that one of the survivors of that crash went on to die in an even larger commuter train wreck about a year later.  

It struck me that here was proof that the "logic" that if you survive something like that train crash once, you are safe from train wrecks in the future--a little piece of magical thinking I live my life by--is completely flawed.  

It reminded me of a scene in the movie version of John Irving's novel The World According to Garp, where a small plane hits the house that Garp and his wife are looking to buy, and Garp  says they should take the house, because it's "pre-disastered"--now nothing bad can possibly happen here!

Calling things "pre-disastered" has become a family joke, and I can still relate to Garp's attitude. 

The World According to Garp, John Irving's third novel, was a cultural phenomenon.  I was maybe 12 or 13 when the book was published, and I still remember the red, blue, and green foil covers of the mass-market paperback edition all over the book racks at my local drugstore.  It was one of the first grown-up novels I ever read, part of my introduction to serious fiction.  I was struck by the character of Garp, related to his fear of death, and loved the weirdness of the novel.  And even though John Irving and I have grown apart a little, stylistically, over the years, I still feel I owe him for shaping my reading life.

Do you remember the first books that bridged children's books and grown-up books for you?  What was your introduction to grown-up fiction?


litlove said...

Pre-disastered is a wonderful, wonderful term. I haven't read The World According to Garp, but that lone word makes me want to! My crossover book (beyond Agatha Christie, which in a way I don't count) was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - I was completely captivated.

I still think the odds of disaster hitting twice are SO tiny that you can hang on to your magical thinking. It has a very rational basis!

Sarah said...

I'll have to start using "pre-disastered" although I haven't read any John Irving and don't immediately plan to.

My first adult reads that I can remember vividly were Jane Eyre which I love to this day and The Diary of a Young Girl, which made me realize not all stories end happily and broke my heart!

Iliana said...

"pre-disastered" is great. I've only read one John Irving book, A Prayer for Owen Meany which I just love.

Intro to grown up fiction? Hmm, that's a good question. I know I was wandering around the adult section when I was in sixth grade or so and probably the most serious book I read at that time was The Diary of Anne Frank as I had also recently started keeping a journal.

Lisa said...

I love the idea of something being "predisastered." To Kill a Mockingbird was the book that opened the world of adult reading for me. I'll never forget the first time I read that one. I was 14.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--I know, I love "pre-disastered"! I read tons of Agatha Christie at a pretty young age, too, and didn't really count that either. I loved Rebecca, too, but didn't read it until I was an older teen.

Sarah--I read Anne Frank's diary, too, at a pretty young age, and so identified with her! What a shattering reading experience!

Iliana--I enjoyed A Prayer for Owen Meany as well! I also was very affected by reading Anne Frank's diary, probably also around that same age. I'm so impressed that you started keeping a journal then. I'm still trying to talk myself into keeping a journal today :)

Lisa--I loved To Kill A Mockingbird--I think I read it in high school, and then we saw the movie, which was also amazing. I read it again as an adult, and really loved it--I was just as moved by it as I had been the first time. It's definitely a book I'm dying to share with my kids.

Matt said...

I have never heard of the book but "pre-disastered" notion sounds very intriguing.

Dickens fiction on children, i.e. Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver twist, which were retold, were my bridging gap to adult fiction.

BookWormz said...

first - john irving is one of my all-time favorite authors. He's seriously amazing. I think he has a really unique talent for making the absurd sound plausible! :)

This is going to sound strange, but my bridge into adult reading was Stephen King... No, I am not a twisted wierdo - in fact, if you check out my blog, I tend to use too many smiley faces and am in general a very happy person. Strange combo, huh? :)

Gentle Reader said...

Matt--I loved Dickens as a kid, too. Especially A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Now I have Our Mutual Friend on my shelf, and plan to read it some time soon :)

Bookwormz--I think Stephen King is a great bridge to adult reading. I think he is an amazing storyteller--and I'm a happy, smiley-face using person, too :)

Bybee said...

I think The World According To Garp came out when I was a sophomore or junior in high school, and I was also attracted to the red foil cover. It was so weird, but I loved it. I credit Irving for getting me into reading Anne Tyler the next year. The hero of her newest novel at that time, Morgan's Passing, was described as Garp-like. He really wasn't. Just quirky. But I fell in author-love.

Dorothy W. said...

I really don't remember what helped me bridge from children's to adult literature, but I do remember trying some authors like Dickens and not faring so well, so they may have helped me along, even if I didn't get everything I was reading!

Gentle Reader said...

Bybee--I felt the same way--Garp was so weird, but I loved it. Sounds like we had a similar experience :)

Dorothy--I know when I first read Dickens I wasn't getting everything I was reading, either, but that's part of the childhood-adulthood reading bridge, I think--trying those adult books and finding something in them, but not entirely getting them!