My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have a confession to make: I have never seen the movie The Prince of Tides. I have also not read a single novel by Pat Conroy, a southern author who is prevalent in every book store I walk into in my three-state radius.
That is going to change now. After reading his love letter to books, and to the people who led him to those books, I want to see how his reading has been the breeding ground for the books he has produced.
Unfortunately, the book does not have an index of books he discusses, and I'm probably going to work on one, because after you read how they impacted him, you're going to want to read them too. I found a list of "influential writers" on his official website, but I don't feel it is reflective of what is mentioned in the book. You see, it is clear in My Reading Life that he had a horrific encounter with Alice Walker, but one of her books is listed, while James Dickey is not. An entire chapter is devoted to the influence of Dickey on Conroy, and he claims he reads him every damn day. So in protest of that incomplete list, stay tuned.
I'm not usually a fan of flowery, sentimental writing, which Conroy himself admits is his biggest flaw (but one he can't or won't kick). I despise it in descriptions of relationships or nature, but for some reason, on the topic of books and reading, I just can't get enough. I sat and read this book on a single Sunday afternoon, with two cups of coffee. I have slips of paper marking a lot of different bits that I will list below, and I apologize in advance that I find myself responding to this book in a sentimental way.
"[My mother] read so many books that she was famous among the librarians in every town she entered."
"To my mother, a library was a palace of desire masquerading in a wilderness of books."
The entire chapter on Gone With the Wind is spectacular. I plan to revisit it when I read that book for the first time next year, in the context of my Around the USA reading group. A perspective from a living southern author will be useful for that reading experience.
"South Carolina is a state of contained, unshared intimacies. It is a state of crosscurrents, passwords, secret handshakes, but it rewards the lifelong curiosity of both natives and strangers alike."
"Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself."
"I let the story possess me, take me prisoner, feed me with the endless abundance of its honeycombed depths." (referring to Tolkien)
"Writers of the world, if you've got a story, I want to hear it. I promise it will follow me to my last breath. My soul will dance with pleasure, and it'll change the quality of all my waking hours. You will hearten me and brace me up for the hard days as they enter my life on the prowl. I reach for a story to save my own life."
"When I pick up a book, the prayer that rises out of me is that it changes me utterly... TUrn me into something else... Tell me everything I must know. Hold nothing back."
"I believe... that I have not only outread my own generation of writers but outread them in such a way that whole secret libraries separate us."
"I have built a city from the books I've read... I can walk the pleasure-giving streets of that illuminated, sleepless city anytime the compulsion strikes me, day or night." [I would quote Chapter 15 - "The City" in its entirety if I didn't feel that violated the reading experience, oh yeah, and copyright.]
"I have read books to make me savvy and uncommon, and to provide me some moments of sheer divinity where I can approach the interior borderlines of ecstasy itself."