The novels of John Irving commonly melded darker shades of comedy, tragedy, infidelity and familial dysfunction, enacted by casts of fascinatingly eccentric misfits. His breakthrough, The World According to Garp (1978), came relatively early on, but Irving maintained its vibrant sales with later offerings like The Hotel New Hampshire (1981), The Cider House Rules (1985), and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) - many of which were made into successful feature films. Critical response was decidedly mixed on a number of his books, with the common complaint being that they were overly wordy and/or awkwardly structured. Regardless, readers gravitated in large numbers to Irving, savoring his unusual characters and storylines, and correspondingly offbeat humor. Irving stated that the things he read and imagined as a boy proved formative and were what led him to choose writing as his vocation. His subject matter was frequently provocative, with offbeat sexuality and the need for sexual tolerance being two themes that recurred in his work. Irving's female characters tended to be more resilient and gifted than often found in novels of similar subject and style, and the sport of wrestling, which played an important part in Irving's life for many years, also made regular appearances. With one of the longest lists of consecutive bestsellers for any author and more than 12 million books sold in 35 languages, Irving's importance in the history of American literature could not be underestimated.