The Mother of All Reading Slumps

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Originally published by William Morrow, 1989

Edition shown: Harper Prism, 2012

ISBN: 9780062204226

I haven’t been able to read or write all month and it’s John Irving’s fault. He and his damn Owen Meany. 


Moments after finishing A Prayer for Owen Meany, I put out a Facebook SOS, a desperate plea for a debriefing partner. I was drowning in a whirlpool of awe, writer’s envy, and questions: OMG–HOW? What just happened? In my distress, I nearly succumbed to an urge to lash out with multiple question marks AND exclamation points. 


My Facebook friends doled out lots of sympathy (and a couple good recommendations about which Irving book to read next) but no real help. They understood I was wonderstruck but mistook my cry for help as a breathless endorsement of the book. Well, here’s my definitive statement: read it at your own risk–especially if you’re an aspiring writer. 


John Irving packs a wallop and works a miracle in A Prayer for Owen Meany. It’s a veritable tome (600+ pages), but every one of them is utterly compelling. It starts with one of the most perfect opening lines of literature: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” The brilliance continues right to the very last line. Did I cry at the end. Did I cry? I sobbed. It was a mess. 


It’s one of those books…

It’s one of those books that makes you wonder how the author did it. You’re left pondering the mind that concocts such a far-fetched tale and the talent that pulls it off with apparent ease.


It’s one of those books that proclaims: This, people, is how to craft a story! 


It’s one of those books that leaves me feeling like a pretender.


Sulking in the corner…

And so, I’ve spent the month of May unable to face another book lest it fall short of the glory and unwilling to confront my own flaccid manuscript. I’ve been stuck for weeks in this biblio-limbo-land.


I have a to-be-read list that will take a lifetime to finish as it is. I can’t afford these reading slumps! I have reading and writing goals. I am supposed to be reviewing galleys for my blog and supporting my writer-friends’ new works. 


Writing my way out of the funk

I spent a few hours journalling this morning. I sat in my beach chair at Cotton Tree, the Pacific crashing metres from my feet. With everything around me–air, sea, sand–sparkling, I wrote pages and pages by hand until I felt better. I’ve made peace with John Irving and his damned Owen Meany.


Irving is a phenomenal talent, and it is appropriate to be awed by his work. A Prayer for Owen Meany is the work of a man, a man with natural talent and years of experience as a writer, who had access to some of the world’s best writing craft tutorage at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. Kurt Vonnegut was a lecturer at the time. 


But it wasn’t just raw talent and prestigious training that birthed A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was the essence of John Irving–the decoction of his tastes, his upbringing, his gender, the people he knew, the era in which he was born, his experiences, his social shaping, his reading and more. His essence is unique to him. No one but John Irving could have written A Prayer for Own Meany.  The book’s setting, the era, the politics, even some of the family dynamics reflected the author’s life.


Here’s the thing: every writer has his or her own absolutely unique essence, and with practice and persistence that essence will flavour and tint his or her writing. 


I might not have an abundance of raw talent or top-shelf training, but I do have an essence uniquely my own, and I have yet-to-be formed stories inside me that only I can tell.  You do too, and it’s worth celebrating. And it’s worth finding the stories that let your essence and mine shine.


I think I’m ready to face my WIP–and crack my first book of the month.


Over to You:

Got a book that set you into a reading/writing slump? Let me know–so I can avoid it for the next six months or so! Please leave a comment.


7 Thoughts

  1. I’m reading Pamela Rushby’s The Ratcatcher’s Daughter. It is compelling and some of the stuff from that era well just doesn’t make sense to me. But, I keep reading the story. I get in writing funks to. It all depends what’s going on in your own life as well.


    1. Hi Rebecca, You’re right–a lot of it does come down to what’s going on in your life. Still, it’s frustrating not being able to lock in to reading or writing. Thanks for commenting! –Ali


    1. So glad to hear from another who loves the book, Kim. Have you listened to the audio? It’s fabulous. I’m trying to track down a special copy of it for my favourites shelf. I had a second-hand paperback edition, but I think this one deserves a beautiful hardback. Thanks for visiting!


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