From: John Irving, The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir, Ballantine Books: New York (2002; copyright 1996), pages 28-34:
I can't read Proust, or Henry James; reading Conrad almost kills me... [Gunter] Grass, Garcia Marquez, and Robertson Davie are my three favorite authors; when you consider that they are all comoic novelists, for whom the 19th-century tradition of storytelling--of narrative momentum and developed characters--remains the model of the form, I suppose you could say that I haven't ventured very far from Dickens.
With one exception: Graham Greene. Greene was the first contemporary novelist I was assigned to read at Exeter; it would probably have provoked him to know that I read him not in an English class but in the Reverend Frederick Buechner's extremely popular course on Religion and Literature. [Buechner was a Presbyterian clergyman, a professor, and an author.] I took every course Fred Buechner taught at Exeter, not becuse he was the school minister but because he was the academy's only published novelist--and a good one. (I wouldn't realize how good until, longer after Exeter, I read Buechner's quartet of Bebb novels--Lion Country, Open Heart, Love Feast, and Treasure Hunt.)
We were a negative lot of students at Exeter, when it came to religion. We were more cynical than young people today; we were even more cynical than most of us have since become--that is to say that my generation strikes me as less cynical today than we were. (Is that possible?) Anyway, we didn't like Freddy Buechner for his sermons in Phillips Church or in our morming chapel, although his sermons were better than anyone else's sermons I've ever heard or read--before or since. It was his eloquence about literature that moved us; and his enthusiasm for Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, which engendered my enthusiasm for all (or almost all) of Greene, was unstoppable...
[page 33] As Greene was always keen to observe: coincidence is everywhere. Greene's niece, Louise Dennys, is my Canadian publisher. The man who introduced me to Greene, the Reverend Frederick Buechner--no longer the school minister at Exeter--is my old friend and neighbor in Vermont. (Small world.) And it is only mildly astonishing to me that by the time I left Exeter I had already read most of the writers who would matter to me in my life as a writer...