The strengths and weakness of Conroy's novels--both his beguiling narrative voice and his often overly emotional language--are present in this slim paean to the books and book people that have shaped his life. Conroy attributes his love of literature to his mother, who nurtured his passion for reading and at the same time educated herself by studying his school books. "I tremble with gratitude as I honor her name," he writes. Conroy's favorite novel was Gone with the Wind, which his mother read to him when he was five years old, and it made a novelist of him, he asserts. Conroy pays tribute to the men who were substitute father figures and mentors, among them a legendary book rep who chastised him for his "overcaffeinated prose." Breakneck contrasts exist throughout: on the one hand, Conroy sketches concisely the venom of Southern white bigotry; on the other hand, he allows humor to bubble up through dialogue, and riffs the English language. While some readers will not progress beyond the fustian prose, Conroy's legion of fans will doubtlessly bond with the author as he earnestly explores the role of books in providing him with inspiration and solace. (Nov. 2)
"Timely as well as timeless ... Elegant, evocative, and elegaic."
"The 15 essays in My Reading Life should delight curious readers ... [Conroy] is fun to read and debate."
"Pat Conroy doesn't just love books, he devours them. He doesn't just visit libraries and bookstores, he inhabits them. He doesn't enjoy language, he revels in it ... [My Reading Life] is a rich, unabashedly self-critical and moving tribute to a writer's passion ... Like Stephen King did in his remarkable On Writing, Conroy reminds us of his considerable talents for telling a story and arranging words."
"In this marvelous blueprint for how to engage with all things literary, the goal is not only to get wet, but to fall deeply and madly in over our heads. With its heady mix of memoir, advice and out-and-out lust for the written word, My Reading Life asks how we could possibly settle for anything less."
"[Conroy's] fans will savor these 15 essays on the books and people that helped shape his long writing career ... They lend themselves to being taken up separately, at leisure, and savored like a rich dessert."
—The Charlotte Observer
"My Reading Life extols the glories of books [and] offers heartfelt thanks to those who encouraged a passion that led [Conroy] to writing."
—The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
"In My Reading Life, we not only learn about many of Conroy's pivotal reading experiences, we see how he came together as a writer, and are entertained by a host of stories about unlikely heroes."
"Conroy's legion of fans will doubtlessly bond with the author as he earnestly explores the role of books in providing him with inspiration and solace."
"What a delightful little book ... with a punch far sturdier than its compact size might suggest ... Try to resist rereading it!"
PRAISE FOR PAT CONROY:
"Pat Conroy's writing contains a virtue now rare in most contemporary fiction: passion."
"Reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel."
Novelist Conroy (The Prince of Tides) is first and foremost a storyteller, but the foundation of his storytelling ability is his love of reading. Here, he tells the story of how reading shaped his life and made him who he is today. His memoir is partially a love letter to those who introduced him to life-changing works. While books about the power of reading abound, Conroy's stands apart because he simply tells a good story, one of a Southern boy whose mind was molded by mentors and great authors, and whose life was transformed accordingly. Economical prose is, Conroy admits, not prevalent in his work. His writing is lush, hyperbolic, and supremely Southern; to anyone not acquainted with the style, it can seem bombastic, but when he overreaches with language, he does it purposefully. VERDICT Readers who enjoy Conroy's work, Southern literature, contemporary memoirs, or books about reading will like this personable and accessible book, which will surely get a boost from good word of mouth and would make a good book club pick.—Audrey Snowden, Cleveland P.L.
The bestselling author offers scattered remembrances and ruminations about favorite books, writers and inspirations.
Conroy (South of Broad, 2009, etc.) begins with what seems like a plan—a more or less chronological journey forward from his early reading days. He follows it for a few chapters before abandoning it, embarking on a narrative about influential individual writers (James Dickey, Thomas Wolfe), favorite books (Gone with the Wind;Look Homeward, Angel;War and Peace), formative experiences (traveling around with a caustic book rep, living in Paris) and a few free-standing meditations (the penultimate chapter, "Why I Write"). Along the way, he both canonizes and crucifies. Among his saints are his mother, who loved reading and showed her son the lovely life of a bookworm; his high-school English teacher, Gene Norris, who challenged Conroy, excited him about an intellectual life, took him to visit Wolfe's home and remained a lifelong friend; and an eccentric, nonreading Atlanta bookseller. Among those the author lashes are some notables at a long-ago writers' conference: William H. Gass, who was vicious in a workshop and had "a grand intellect, but a shoddy heart"; Alice Walker, who signed a book but wouldn't speak to him; and Adrienne Rich, who repelled all men, Conroy included, from a public reading. No Conroy book would be complete without a few dark visits from his abusive Marine Corps father, "The Great Santini," who arrives in several chapters, fists flying most brutally. All Conroy's gifts, excesses, successes, failures and folderol both adorn and diminish his text. He is capable of something pure and perfect ("I read for fire"), something hackneyed ("Once you have readWar and Peace, you will never be the same") and something truly affecting (passages on the death of his beloved high-school English teacher), and the dialogue veers from brisk and natural to patently crafted and self-serving.
From time's bookshelf, Conroy selects some arresting volumes and some dusty duds better left alone.