John Irving's Best Books

shelved under Books by... and Fiction

John Irving's had an interesting career. His first few books were good... but a little odd. And then he wrote the three masterpieces below — each of which are worthy of being read at least twice. And then? Every book since has been no better than just "ok". Bottom line, if you haven't read the books below, do so.


The World According to Garp

by John Irving

David Thalberg from New York says:

For many years, when asked, I would say that "...Garp" was my favorite book. Why? The storytelling. The characters and character development. The use of words. Maybe I just love John Irving. One memory from the book still comes into conversation many years after I read the book, especially when I go to the beach with my kids: "The Under Toad" From "...Garp": "It was Walt's fourth summer at Dog's Head Harbor, Duncan remembered, when Garp and Helen and Duncan observed Walt watching the sea. He stood ankle-deep in the foam from the surf and peered into the waves, without taking a step, for the longest time. The family went down to the water's edge to have a word with him. "What are you doing, Walt?" Helen asked. "I'm trying to see the Under Toad." Walt said "The what?" said Garp. "The Under Toad," Walt said. "I'm trying to see it. How big is it?" And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad."


The Cider House Rules

by John Irving

Jessi W. from Michigan says:

Despite the somewhat controversial subject (abortion vs. adoption), this book shows the deep love and affection people can have for one another, and the lengths they will go to prove that love. It's a charming story that everyone should read. I've read all of Irving's books after reading "...Owen Meany" in high school and falling in love with it, but I think "The Cider House Rules" is my favorite. P.S. I've been know to quote "Goodnight my Princes of Maine, my Kings of New England" — to which I usually get strange looks!

This book also appears on Peter Steinberg's Favorite Novels


A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

Judy from Norwalk, CA says:

This was the first of Irving's books I ever read and it made me fall in love. I'm in love with the characters in the book and with John Irving himself. Many years later, I'm still in love with him and although I've read almost all of his books since that time, Owen Meany is still my first love. That being said, I think I'll grab my copy and read it again.


Ok, now that you've read the list, if you're an Irving fan you're probably asking why "The Hotel New Hampshire" is missing. "The Hotel New Hampshire" is good.

It's very good.

But it's just... odd enough to fall short of being one of Irving's VERY best works.