My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Publisher: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
Published: November 2, 2010
Hardcover, 352 pages
The audio version was simultaneously released and is read by Pat Conroy–what a treat that will be!

Please note that this post is based on a bound manuscript requested from the publisher and not the final published book.  Also beware that I am a huge Pat Conroy fan and think the man can do no wrong.  🙂

Pat Conroy fans will be delighted by and left wanting more after finishing My Reading Life.  This book is also a terrific gift idea for those who love literature and book culture in general.  It is a celebration of books, a memoir of one man’s life-long reading of novels and poetry, as well as some literary criticism and literary history. 

Mr. Conroy beings this memoir of his reading life where it all began: with his Mother who was a passionate and voracious reader.  She infused her love of literature into her son at a young age and this love is something that mother and son shared throughout her life.  Chapter Two naturally segues into praise, appreciation, and a discussion of the impact of Gone with the Wind.  Other chapters are dedicated to and revolve around either a particular person, place, or writer.  Along the way Mr. Conroy reveals many details about his life: people he’s met along the way (some brief, some developing into life-long friendships), places he’s been, as well as how & why his ideas and themes were formed.

I appreciate Mr. Conroy’s writing even more after reading this book and have a much greater understanding for his subject matter as well. Here’s a look at the book’s table of contents to wet your appetite:
  • Chapter One: The Lily–his mother
  • Chapter Two: Gone with the Wind–read it!
  • Chapter Three: The Teacher–about Gene Norris, Conroy’s high school English teacher and life-long mentor and friend
  • Chapter Four: Charles Dickens and Daufuskie Island–a short chapter about the community on Daufuskie island and their staging of A Christmas Carol
  • Chapter Five: The Librarian–Miss Hunter, the librarian at Beaufort High School who didn’t want students in her library
  • Chapter Six: The Old New York Book Shop–Conroy’s relationship with Atlanta bookstore owner Cliff Graubart and the books, people, and fellow writers that walked in and out of the shop
  • Chapter Seven: The Book Rep–Norman Berg teaches Conroy about the book business from a different angle
  • Chapter Eight: My First Writers’ Conference–funny chapter about a brief meeting with Alice Walker and missing out on Adrienne Rich’s poetry workshop; the complicated early days of the feminist movement
  • Chapter Nine: On Being a Military Brat–the pros and cons of being a military brat and the need for some recognition from military fathers for the sacrifice and service of their children
  • Chapter Ten: A Southerner in Paris–Conroy does more than just finish writing The Lords of Discipline in the City of Light
  • Chapter Eleven: A Love Letter to Thomas Wolfe–the spirit of Wolfe blazed into Conroy’s consciousness in 1961 and still burns there religious fervor
  • Chapter Twelve: The Count–a tribute to Leo Tolstoy
  • Chapter Thirteen: My Teacher, James Dickey–hero worship at its finest
  • Chapter Fourteen: Why I Write–why he does it and what he wants as a reader
  • Chapter Fifteen: The City–the city in inside, created by a lifetime of reading
If you’re a Pat Conroy fan this book will be a treat.  If you haven’t read any Pat Conroy but love books about books, add this one to your list.  I now have a list of books recommended by Mr. Conroy and a renewed itch to re-read his novels. 
Mr. Conroy’s writing desk

I became a fan of Pat Conroy in the early 1980s.  The 1982 hit movie An Officer and a Gentleman is what led me to discover Pat Conroy via David Keith’s performance in the movie adaptation of his novel The Lords of Discipline.  

What?  Let me explain.

I fell in love with An Officer and a Gentleman.  I saw it several times in the theater and talked about it so much that my cousin Daniel made a VHS recording of it for me when it premiered on cable.  I wore that VHS out and my kind friends watched it over and over and over.  That VHS copy moved with me from Illinois to North Carolina to Nebraska to Nevada to North Carolina (again) and finally back to Illinois where it eventually went to VHS heaven.  I knew the movie by heart, to the point that when it aired in Germany once when I was visiting my aunt I could tell–even with my basic grasp of the language–that the translation was horrible.  Richard Gere was okay, but I really liked David Keith.  So when The Lords of Discipline movie, in which Mr. Keith starred, came out in 1983 I went to see it right away.  I was 17.

I didn’t know about Pat Conroy before seeing the movie, but when I discovered that the movie was based on a novel, I bought the book as soon as possible.  The Lords of Discipline lead me to The Great Santini both the book and the movie (I joined the Marines anyway in 1983) and I’ve been a fan ever since.

I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Conroy at a house party in Charlotte, NC when I lived there in the late 1990s.  My memory is fuzzy, but I believe he was in town to help with a fundraiser for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library system.  He packed one of the town’s arenas and had the audience eating out of his hands.  This was probably shortly after Beach Music (1995) came out.  There was either a pre- or post-event party at somebody’s house, someone who was a mover and a shaker in the Charlotte literary scene and who had a big enough house to accommodate the eager library supporters who were invited (being a broke graduate student at the time, I was a tag-a-long). 

Even after talking with what seemed like hundreds of people, Mr. Conroy took the time to hear me tell of my love for his stories, particularly for The Great Santini, a book which helped me deal with my own complicated love for my own complicated father.  Mr. Conroy seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and talked with me in a way that seemed decidedly “uncanned” for someone who–let’s face it–probably has had the same conversation dozens of times with strangers at such events over the years.  Mr. Conroy’s ability to remain present and connected turned him from being a favorite author to a writer-hero for me.
Conroy writes in Chapter One of My Reading Life, “I take it as an article of faith that the novels I’ve loved will live inside me forever.”  I have that faith, too.  I know his novels will live inside me forever.  And just as I grow and change, they’ve taught me new things when I’ve revisited them over the years.

Visit Pat Conroy’s website here for a list of his books as well as upcoming events.

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