Joshua Braff



6/1/17   THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP: TAKE YOUR SUNGLASSES OFF INSIDE AND TELL PEOPLE WHOM YOU REALLY ENJOY READING.   In one of my very first classes in the M.F.A. program at St. Mary’s College, a mix of poets, novelists and short story folk like me were asked to share the names of some of our favorite authors. The names Thomas Pynchon, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver flew around the room until it was my turn to introduce my literary self to my new friends. “I like John Irving,” was what I said.

When I looked up, the Pynchon guy was whispering and smile-giggling. Others agreed. The hush was unexpected. J. Irving was a bad answer. I remember clearing my throat and saying, “… and DeLillo … of course … Joyce.”

This was my first lit school lesson: Keep it to yourself if Irving is for you. A guilty pleasure if you will. Like Stephen King. According to my literary colleagues, “good fiction” needed to be dense. Like Faulkner dense. But there were two characters named Quentin and one was a girl. That’s confusing. Confusion is a part of understanding literature. It is? Oh, yes.

The second lesson was the following: if you truly want to learn to write well, you’d best toss your television onto your lawn or give the literary finger to authors who wrote big books that became films and were embraced by the mediocre masses. Oh, come on. The Dead Zone rocked. And what about The World According to Garp? You can’t pooh-pooh Garp.

For all I achieve in fiction, I thank John Irving and Stephen King. These authors are maestros of craft. Their characters live and breathe before, during and after the story ends. I recall a relationship, a torrid love affair with two of Irving’s female characters in The Cider House Rules. I wholeheartedly absorbed the notion of texture in landscape and the power of character fragility.

My guess is there are M.F.A. students sitting in class right now, burying the fact that they’ve read 12 vampire novels in the past two years. Be truthful, is my advice. Take your sunglasses off inside and tell those people whom you really enjoy reading. And if they smile-giggle and a hush comes over the room, don’t do what I did and lie to your classmates. Be proud of the books you’ve absorbed. Revel in your guilty pleasures.

  • You’re right. John Irving is indeed a maestro, and as a fellow writer, I feel comfortable reading all kinds of books in multiple genres. Good writing isn’t confined to “literary” fiction, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying what you read.

About Joshua Braff

Joshua Braff

I grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, and went to Columbia High School. I graduated from NYU in ’91 with a BS in Education. In 1995 I entered St. Mary’s College of California. There I received an MFA in creative writing/fiction. I published three short stories during this time in national literary journals before I wrote a first novel called Digging Suburbia. I was never able to sell it but acquired my first literary agent with the book. I wrote The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green after my son turned 6 months old. The book would have three publishing offers right after I finished it two years later. I started writing Peep Show after hearing a story about a man who was an orthodox Jew, living in Long Island, who commuted to Times Square to run peep houses. The book turned out to be a complex ride about familial relationships and the tangles that disenchantment and history and self-absorption can cause. I live in California with my wife of almost 20 years and my two children, Henry and Ella. I love the game of baseball and played until I turned 40. I also love acrylic/oil painting in the Color Field genre. I’m most inspired by the painters, Barnett Newman, Dan Christensen, Kenneth Noland and Mark Rothko. I also play the guitar and drums.


  • An ALA Notable Book
  • Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers (2004)
  • Top 10 Booklist 1st Novels List