My Reading Life

My Reading Life

by Pat Conroy

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Overview

Bestselling author Pat Conroy acknowledges the books that have shaped him and celebrates the profound effect reading has had on his life.

Pat Conroy, the beloved American storyteller, is a voracious reader. Starting as a childhood passion that bloomed into a life-long companion, reading has been Conroy’s portal to the world, both to the farthest corners of the globe and to the deepest chambers of the human soul. His interests range widely, from Milton to Tolkien, Philip Roth to Thucydides, encompassing poetry, history, philosophy, and any mesmerizing tale of his native South. He has for years kept notebooks in which he records words and expressions, over time creating a vast reservoir of playful turns of phrase, dazzling flashes of description, and snippets of delightful sound, all just for his love of language. But for Conroy reading is not simply a pleasure to be enjoyed in off-hours or a source of inspiration for his own writing. It would hardly be an exaggeration to claim that reading has saved his life, and if not his life then surely his sanity.
 
In My Reading Life, Conroy revisits a life of reading through an array of wonderful and often surprising anecdotes: sharing the pleasures of the local library’s vast cache with his mother when he was a boy, recounting his decades-long relationship with the English teacher who pointed him onto the path of letters, and describing a profoundly influential period he spent  in Paris, as well as reflecting on other pivotal people, places, and experiences. His story is a moving and personal one, girded by wisdom and an undeniable honesty. Anyone who not only enjoys the pleasures of reading but also believes in the power of books to shape a life will find here the greatest defense of that credo.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385533577
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/02/2010
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 194,465
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Pat Conroy (1945–2016) was the author of The Boo, The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life, My Losing Season, South of Broad, My Reading Life, and The Death of Santini.

Hometown:

San Francisco and South Carolina

Date of Birth:

October 26, 1945

Place of Birth:

Atlanta, Georgia

Education:

B.A.,The Citadel, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Lily

Between the ages of six and nine, I was a native son of the marine bases of Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune in the eastern coastal regions of North Carolina. My father flew in squadrons of slant-winged Corsairs, which I still think of as the most beautiful warplanes that ever took to the sky. For a year Dad flew with the great Boston hitter and left fielder Ted Williams, and family lore has it that my mother and Mrs. Williams used to bathe my sister and me along with Ted Williams's daughter. That still remains the most distinguished moment of my commonplace career as an athlete. I followed Ted Williams's pursuit of greatness, reveling in my father's insider knowledge that "Ted [has] the best reflexes of any marine pilot who ever flew Corsairs." I read every book about baseball in the library of each base and town we entered, hoping for any information about "the Kid" or "the Splendid Splinter." When the movie of The Great Santini came out starring Robert Duvall, Ted Williams told a sportswriter that he'd once flown with Santini. My whole writing career was affirmed with that single, transcendent moment.

The forests around Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune were vast to the imagination of a boy. Once I climbed an oak tree as high as I could go in Camp Lejeune, then watched a battalion of marines with their weapons locked and loaded slip in wordless silence beneath me as they approached enemy territory. When I built a bridge near "B" building in Cherry Point, I invited the comely Kathleen McCadden to witness my first crossing. I had painted my face like a Lumbee Indian and wielded a Cherokee tomahawk I had fashioned to earn a silver arrow point as a Cub Scout. My bridge collapsed in a heap around me and I fell into the middle of a shallow creek as poor Kathleen screamed with laughter on the bank. Though a failed bridge maker, I showed more skill in the task of the tomahawk and I felled Kathleen with a wild toss that deflected off her shoulder blade. My mother handled the whipping that night, so further discipline by my father proved unnecessary. For the rest of my life, I would read books on Native Americans and I once coached an Indian baseball team on the Near North Side of Omaha, Nebraska, after my freshman year at The Citadel. Pretty Kathleen McCadden never spoke to me again, and her father always looked as if he wanted to beat me. I was seven years old.

Yet an intellectual life often forms in the strangest, most infertile of conditions. The deep forests of those isolated bases became the kingdom that I took ownership of as a child. I followed the minnow-laced streams as they made their cutting way toward the Trent River. Each time in the woods, I brought my nature-obsessed mother a series of captured animals, from snapping turtles to copperheads. Mom would study their scales or fur or plumage as I brought home everything from baby herons to squirrels for her patient inspection. After she looked over the day's catch, she would shower me with praise, then send me back into the woods to return my captives where I'd discovered them. She told me she thought I could become a world-class naturalist, or even the director of the San Diego Zoo.

At the library she began to check out books that gave me a working knowledge of those creatures that my inquisitive, overprotective dog and I had found while wandering the woods. When Chippie jumped between me and an eastern diamondback rattler and took a strike on the muzzle before she broke the snake's back, my mother decided that I'd do my most important work in the game preserves of Africa with the scent of lions inflaming Chippie's extraordinary sense of smell. By the time I had finished fifth grade, I knew the name of almost every mammal in Africa. I even brought her a baby fox once and had a coral snake in a pickle jar. She answered me with trips to the library, where I found a whole section labeled "Africa," the books oversized and swimming with photographs of creatures with their claws extended and their fangs bared. Elephants moved across parched savannas and hippopotamuses bellowed in the Nile River; crocodiles sunned themselves on riverbanks where herds of zebra came to drink their fill. Books permitted me to embark on dangerous voyages to a world of painted faces of mandrills and leopards scanning the veldt from the high branches of a baobab tree. There was nothing my mother could not bring me from a library. When I met a young marine in the woods one day hunting butterflies with a net and a killing jar, my mother checked out a book that took me far into the world of lepidoptera, with hairstreaks, sulphurs, and fritillaries placed in solemn rows.

Whatever prize I brought out of the woods, my mother could match with a book from the library. She read so many books that she was famous among the librarians in every town she entered. Since she did not attend college, she looked to librarians as her magic carpet into a serious intellectual life. Books contained powerful amulets that could lead to paths of certain wisdom. Novels taught her everything she needed to know about the mysteries and uncertainties of being human. She was sure that if she could find the right book, it would reveal what was necessary for her to become a woman of substance and parts. She outread a whole generation of officers' wives but still wilted in embarrassment when asked about her college degree. I was a teenager when I heard Mom claim that she had just finished her first year at Agnes Scott when she dropped out to marry my father. By the time I graduated from The Citadel, my mother was saying that she had matriculated with honors from Agnes Scott, with a degree in English. Though I feared the possibility of her exposure, I thought that the lie was harmless enough. Her vast reading provided all the armor she needed to camouflage her lack of education. At formal teas, she talked of Pasternak and Dostoyevsky. She subscribed to the Saturday Review, then passed it on to my sister Carol and me after she had read it from cover to cover. After Mom fell in love with John Ciardi, I checked out his translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy. She spoke about the circles of Hell for the rest of her life. Even if Dante daunted and intimidated her, she cherished Eudora Welty and Edith Wharton and knew her way around the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Whenever she opened a new book, she could escape the exhausting life of a mother of seven and enter into cloistered realms forbidden to a woman born among the mean fields of Georgia.

Peg Conroy used reading as a text of liberation, a way out of the sourceless labyrinth that devoured poor Southern girls like herself. She directed me to every book I ever read until I graduated from the eighth grade at Blessed Sacrament School in Alexandria, Virginia. When I won the Martin T. Quinn Scholarship for Academic Achievement, Mom thought she had produced a genius in the rough.

In high school, my mother surrendered my education up to the English teachers who would lead me blindfolded toward the astonishments that literature had to offer. In Belmont, North Carolina, Sister Mary Ann of the Order of the Sacred Heart taught a small but serious class in that Book of Common Prayer that makes up the bulk of a fourteen-year-old American's introduction to the great writers of the world. It took me six months to fathom the mystery that my mother was copying out my homework assignments in an act of mimicry that made me pity her in some ways but admire her indefatigable trek toward self-improvement in others. It was a year my father made dangerous for me, and there was a strange correlation between his brutality and my reaching puberty that was then incomprehensible to me. It infuriated him when he found my mother and me discussing an Edgar Allan Poe short story or Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." He found me showing off and vain. It marked the year my blue eyes began to burn with hatred whenever he entered a room. Though I tried, I could not control that loathing no matter what strategies I used. He would take me by the throat in that tiny house on Kees Road, lift me off my feet, strangle me and beat my head against the wall. When later I was living by myself in Atlanta in 1979, my father came to visit me after an extended visit with all his children. He recounted a story that my brother Jim had told him, and said, "Jesus, my kids can make shit up. Jim claimed that his first memory of you was me beating your brains out against some wall. Isn't that hilarious?"

"I can show you the wall," I said.

On the day Sister Mary Ann handed out copies of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, I understood at last that I was coming face-to-face with the greatest writer who ever lived. The strangeness of Elizabethan dialogue stymied me at first, but I was taking turns reading it with my mother, and noted her own puzzlement as we encountered a diction and elaborate phrasing that was unfamiliar to us. When Orsino opens the play with his famous declaration, "If music be the food of love, play on," we were fine, but both of us were stopped in midsentence by a word unknown to us--"surfeiting."

"Look it up, Pat," Mom said. "If we don't know a word, we can't understand the sentence."

I looked up the word and said, "You eat too much. You get too full."

"Like the radio, if they play a song too much, you get sick of it. It happened to me with 'Tennessee Waltz,'" she said.

The next stoppage of our kitchen performance took place when the servant Curio asked the duke if he would go hunting the "hart."

"Maybe it's a misprint," Mom said. "What does it mean?"

"In England it's a deer. A red deer," I said, consulting the dictionary.

"Okay, the duke says that music is the food of love," she said. "I got it. It's a pun. A pun! The duke is in love, so he's going to be hunting the human heart of a young woman."

I've never been a great admirer of the pun, so I didn't quite catch my mother's drift because there lives a strange literalist inside me who swats away at puns as though routing a swarm of flies. It's hard to take pleasure in something you don't understand and in my own psyche, a "hart" could never pass for a "heart." But looking back at the play I haven't read for fifty years, it strikes me now that my mother was correct in her assessment of the Shakespearean world. For the rest of my high school and college career, she read every short story, poem, play, and novel that I read. I would bring notebooks home from The Citadel, and Mom would devour those of each literature course I took. Only after her death did I realize that my mother entered The Citadel the same day I did. She made sure that her education was identical to mine. She knew Milton's Paradise Lost a whole lot better than I did.

In my junior year, she developed a schoolgirl crush on Col. James Harrison, who taught American literature. He filled his lectures with a refined erudition, a passion for good writing, and a complete dedication to the task of turning his cadets into well-spoken and clear-thinking young men. But Mom fell head over heels for the lovely man the day Colonel Harrison read the Whitman poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." With the softest of voices, he read to his class the poet's moving elegy on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Halfway through his recitation, he confessed to us that he always wept whenever he read that particular poem. He apologized to the class for his lack of professionalism. He wiped his glasses and, with tears streaming down his face, he dismissed the class and headed toward his office. The grandson of a Confederate officer had been moved to tears by a poem commemorating the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. For me that day will last forever. I had no idea that poetry could bring a grown man to his knees until Colonel Harrison proved it. It ratified a theory of mine that great writing could sneak up on you, master of a thousand disguises: prodigal kinsman, messenger boy, class clown, commander of artillery, altar boy, lace maker, exiled king, peacemaker, or moon goddess. I had witnessed with my own eyes that a poem made a colonel cry. Though it was not part of a lesson plan, it imparted a truth that left me spellbound. Great words, arranged with cunning and artistry, could change the perceived world for some readers. From the beginning I've searched out those writers unafraid to stir up the emotions, who entrust me with their darkest passions, their most indestructible yearnings, and their most soul-killing doubts. I trust the great novelists to teach me how to live, how to feel, how to love and hate. I trust them to show me the dangers I will encounter on the road as I stagger on my own troubled passage through a complicated life of books that try to teach me how to die.

I take it as an article of faith that the novels I’ve loved will live inside me forever. Let me call on the spirit of Anna Karenina as she steps out onto the train tracks of Moscow in the last minute of her glorious and implacable life. Let me beckon Madame Bovary to issue me a cursory note of warning whenever I get suicidal or despairing as I live out a life too sad by half. If I close my eyes I can conjure up a whole country of the dead who will live for all time because writers turned them into living flesh and blood. There is Jay Gatsby floating face downward in his swimming pool or Tom Robinson’s  bullet- riddled body cut down in his Alabama prison yard in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Hector can still impart lessons about honor as he rides out to face Achilles on the plains of Troy. At any time, night or day, I can conjure up the fatal love of Romeo for the raven- haired Juliet. The insufferable Casaubon dies in Middlemarch and Robert Jordan awaits his death in the mountains of Spain in For Whom the Bell Tolls. In Look Homeward, Angel, the death of Ben Gant can still make me weep, as can the death of Thomas Wolfe’s  stone- carving father in Of Time and the River. On the isle of Crete I bought Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis and still see the immortal scene when the author’s father took him to a devastated garden to witness the swinging bodies of Greek patriots hanging from the branches of fruit trees. In a scene that has haunted me since I first read it, the father lifted his son off the Cretan earth and made the boy kiss the bottom of the dead men’s feet. Though nearly gagging, the young Kazantzakis kisses dirt from the lifeless feet as the father tells him that’s what courage tastes like, that’s what free­dom tastes like.

When Isabel Archer falls in love with Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady, I still want to signal her to the dangers inherent in this fatal choice of a husband, one whose cunning took on an attractive finish but lacked depth. She has chosen a man whose character was not only undistinguished, but also salable to the highest bidder.
To my mother, a library was a palace of desire masquer­ading in a wilderness of books. In the downtown library of Orlando, Florida, Mom pointed out a solid embank­ment of books. In serious battalions the volumes stood in strict formations,  straight- backed and squared away. They looked like unsmiling volunteers shined and ready for dress parade. “What furniture, what furniture!” she cried, admir­ing those books looking out on a street lined with palms and hibiscus.

I was eleven years old that year, and my brother Jim was an infant. Mom walked her brood of six children along the banks of Lake Eola on the way home to Livingston Street. My uncle Russ would leave his dentist’s office at five, pick up the books my mother had checked out for her­self and her kids, and hand- deliver them on his way home to North Hyer Street. On this particular day, Mom stopped with her incurious children near an artist putting the fin­ishing touches on a landscape illuminating one corner of the park surrounding the lake. She gazed at the painting with a joyful intensity as the artist painted a snow- white lily on a footprint- shaped pad as a final, insouciant touch. Mom squealed with pleasure and the bargaining began. From the beginning, the Florida artist Jack W. Lawrence was putty in my comely mother’s hands. Flirtation was less of an art form with her than it was a means to an end, or a way of life. Jack demanded fifty dollars for his masterwork and after much charming repartee between artist and customer, he let it go for ten.

That painting hangs in my writing room today. I am staring at the singular lily nesting like a dove in that ethe­real place where my mother purchased her first work of art in 1956 in a backwater city dimpled with lakes. The next week, she checked out large art books from the library and spread them out for Carol and me and read out names seething with musicality and strangeness. A library could show you everything if you knew where to look. Jack W. Lawrence led my mother, who led her children to Giotto, the shepherd, to Michelangelo of the Sistine Chapel, to Raphael and his exquisite Madonnas. Years later, I took Mom to the Vatican Library and a tour of the Sistine Cha­pel; then we visited the tomb of Raphael at the Pantheon. As we spoke of Raphael, she remembered the book she checked out on the Renaissance in that Florida library. We remembered our chance encounter with Mr. Lawrence and our awed eyewitness to that fi nal, emblematic lily.

My mother hungered for art, for illumination, for some path to lead her to a shining way to call her own. She lit sig­nal fires in the hills for her son to feel and follow. I tremble with gratitude as I honor her name.

Reading Group Guide

1.

Conroy believes that no other single novel shaped his view of the South more than his early reading of Gone with the Wind. What does he like about that book, and what echoes of it do you see in his work?  Can you think of a fictional character that might have influence your behavior or your world view as Scarlet O’Hara shaped Conroy’s mother’s view of herself and the world around her?

2. In “The Teacher,” Conroy writes that Mr. Norris’s life was “rich in the guidance of children not his own.” What do you make of this observation? Why might Conroy emphasize the importance of non-familial ties?

3. In “The Librarian,” Conroy’s teaching colleague Miss Hunter opposes school integration, a cause that is close to his heart. He writes, “She and I would clash often over her treatment of my black students.” How is Conroy’s compassion for his black students echoed in the essay’s final scene? Do you think Miss Hunter was deserving of Conroy’s kindness?

4. In the last section of “The Old New York Book Shop,” Conroy mourns the closing of a store that played a significant role in his life, finding it “sad beyond commentary.” Considering the rise of e-readers and online retailers, do you think bookstores are necessary, or dispensable? Do bookstores have an effect on your reading habits? Has Conroy’s evocation of the Old New York Book Shop altered your opinion about bookstores?

5. In his chapter on Paris, Conroy writes about his vivid experiences in that particular city, and the ways in which he was profoundly influenced by his surroundings. He learned so much not only about others, but also about himself - his own temperament and spirit. Have you ever had a similar connection to a place? In what ways did it shape you, and what did you learn about yourself as a result?

6. Conroy writes, "Here's what I love: when a great writer turns me into a Jew from Chicago, a lesbian out of South Carolina, or a black woman moving into a subway entrance in Harlem. Turn me into something else, writers of the world." What book has most transformed you into one of its characters? Was this character markedly similar to or completely different from you? How, in your opinion, did the author achieve this?  

7. War and Peace is a touchstone book for Conroy. He has read it multiple times throughout his life, and each reading revealed new aspects to him and provided new interpretations he had not considered before. Is there a book that you have returned to and found new meaning in on a second (or third, etc.) read? What is it about that particular book that draws you back to it?

8. Throughout the book, Conroy mentions instances in which books provided a means for talking about and coming to terms with difficult aspects of his own life. For example, when discussing Look Homeward, Angel with his mother, he found that "the book made areas accessible to us that has carried the impediment of taboo before. We began to talk more freely about my father's violence and how that family secret had extracted a price from us." What do you think about this notion that books have the power to strengthen our relationships with others, that they can have a measurable positive impact on our lives? Can all books achieve this, or only specific kinds? Has a book ever changed your life in that way? 

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My Reading Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
I thought this would be an interesting little read and I was not disappointed. I was lucky enough to secure a bound manuscript copy from the publisher. Using a variety of books he has read, over his lifetime, Conroy lets us explore his life with him. We meet his very abusive father whom he learns to love; his mother, who feels second class because of her lack of education and therefore reads everything she can get her hands on, including his reading lists, who yearns for an education and imparts this very love of knowledge to him as they read many of the books together; his poetess sister; his teacher who mentored him, the antithesis of his father, a surrogate parent who was the inspiration of his dream to write; his close friend who owns a marvelous bookstore that he explores often and where he begins to become a collector; an eccentric teacher with an odd "medicinal" need for a bit of liquor who really doesn't belong in a library mentoring kids or in a classroom, her personality is so opposite one that encourages learning through the wonderful doors that books can open; many famous authors, among them Alice Walker who is rude to him because she doesn't like Southern white men and Thomas Wolfe, whom he credits for his writing career plus so many others that have walked with him through his life via his literary universe. We are travelers with him down the road as he searches for his real purpose. Conroy was a lonely young boy, moving from place to place, year after year, as an army brat. I tagged along through his memories as he grew up as a proper Southerner, without the customary prejudices inherent in those times, in fact, he seemed almost colorblind. Since the world was not, he suffered for his openness and all embracing spirit even being fired from a teaching job because he showed an appreciation and affection for students that were non-white. Because of his father's military service, he moved around a lot and did not have strong roots to any one place; I learned that he was often alone and, at times, sad to the point of depression with thoughts of suicide. His marriage is a failure. From his background, he learned to expect and need order and organization. He became a creature of strong habits. His anecdotes are honest and straightforward. Most of them will delight you. They are often humorous even when they are descriptions of dangerous escapades. It is an open and objective appraisal of the events and the people that populated his life. Like Conroy, I wondered what kind of man he would have been if his background had been different. Many of his stories use themes of his past. His sojourn in Paris is a high spot in his life. From witnessing an explosion and fire there, seeing the victim burning and attempting to save him, he finally sees a shape and purpose to his life. He discovers that his passion is just that.he is "a man on fire". He needs to express himself. First he tried to be a poet but was unsuccessful and his career ultimately took off when he became a writer of prose, of novels and now this lovely, little tale of how he grew up through the pages of various books and the friendships of some marvelous, although somewhat unusual, outside of the box, people. Although, at times it was a bit slow and repetitive with anecdotes that moved back and forth in time, out of sequence, i enjoyed it. It is a warmhearted, honest appraisal of his life experiences. Just a discussion of the books and authors
llamamia More than 1 year ago
Pat Conroy could write about the telephone directory and create a mesmerizing story. My Reading Life is both confession and illumination on Conroy's existence and passions. While this book contains snippets of Conroy's life as consummate reader, he bares his soul on many levels. Writing appears to be a means of catharsis for him. He gives credit to major influences in his life from his mother to teachers, authors to book sellers. In the chapter on Paris, his wonderful sense of humor shines through when he describes Parisians. "When they fix you in their imperious stares, it is as if they are studying you from the raised periscopes of submarines right before they blow you out of the water." And his damaged self is revealed once again in the chapter on being a military brat. (I highly recommend another book on this subject, "The Yokota Officer's Club" by Sarah Bird.) My Reading Life helps explain how Conroy has become the fabulous writer he is today. Filled with keen observations and total memory recall, his anecdotes are always entertaining. Pat Conroy is without a doubt my favorite living author. Fans will not be disappointed.
SusieReads More than 1 year ago
Mr. Conroy loves words. He loves their flow, their tumble and play. And he isn't afraid to use them. I learned this when I first start reading his fiction with its exultant, flowery phrases, with its parallels to his own life. This nonfiction book tells me why he writes as he does. Although titled My Reading Life, this book is also about his writing life and his life in general. The fifteen chapters each address a different person or book or time that ultimately shaped who he is and how he writes. "I grew up a word-haunted boy. I felt words inside me and stored them wondrous as pearls. I mouthed them and fingered them and rolled them around my tongue. My mother filled my bedtime hour with poetry that rang like Sanctus bells as she praised the ineffable loveliness of the English language with her Georgia-scented voice. I found that hive of words beautiful beyond all conveyance." I was horrified and embarrassed as a woman to learn how badly he was treated at a writers' conference in the early days of militant feminism, how one famous author whose work I have greatly admired dismissed him out-of-hand because he was a Southern white boy. I loved the glimpses into other authors' lives, how their writings and their personalities could be at such odds. I hated some of the descriptions of his life in Paris, of the horse butchers, of the "fifty Algerian men bidding on the very young girl in the window." "There was an auctioneer in front of the window chiding the men for their cheapness, and the noise rose in pitch as the bidding grew feverish. The girl was very young, fragile, and she was not smiling." How can someone see that and not want to do something to help the girl? How can anyone wonder about the girl's thoughts but stay a passive observer? I am one of those readers who doesn't want all the sentences I read to be lean, even though there can be beauty in their sparseness. I like the sentences that carry me off, let me smell and see and feel. Pat Conroy can write these sentences. "I long for that special moment when I take off into the pure oxygen-rich sky of a sentence that streaks off into a night where I cannot follow, where I lose control, where the language seizes me and shakes me in such a way that I feel like both its victim and its copilot." The next time I read Conroy's fiction, I will appreciate it all the more for understanding a bit of the man who wrote it. The quotes were taken from a pre-publication bound manuscript and may change in the published edition. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy.
Anna_Louise More than 1 year ago
Pat Conroy has a way with his words that bring life into books. This book is that way and a must read for any bibliophile.
Smiler69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What I liked about this book: - it made me really want to read [34878::Gone with the Wind]. Or maybe get the audio version. Or at least watch the movie again. - The chapter about Paris, because interesting things are always bound to happen in Paris.- It made me really want to read [995::War and Peace]. Which is nothing new, but still.What I didn't like about this book:- Why say something in a few sentences when you can say it using ten thousand words instead? - His emotional and mental distress must have been catching, because it was making me more upset than I already was. - I quite admire [[hemingwayernest::Ernest Hemingway]] for the directness and simplicity of his language.- Pat Conroy on [[wolfethomas::Thomas Wolfe]]: "His art is completely overdone and yet I find it incomparably beautiful." - It put me off reading Thomas Wolfe, and sort of put me off reading more Pat Conroy too for that matter.
jrpalin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Conroy reflects on authors and others who have shaped him as a writer. His high school English teacher, him mother, Tolstoy, and Thomas Wolfe played a huge role in his development. The book is an example of great story telling and his discussion of important literature might motivate readers to consider a classic or two.
paulsignorelli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pat Conroy's "My Reading Life" interweaves ruminations on authors and books that have deeply influenced him--"Gone With the Wind," Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Wolfe, and many others--and in the process also draws us into what they offer. Furthermore, he crafts splendid portraits of those around him who have, through books or by serving as the inspiration for characters in his own work, made him the writer that he is.Nowhere does he more clearly touch those of us involved in workplace learning and performance, however, than in his essay "The Teacher." Recalling how he first met high school English teacher Gene Norris in 1961, Conroy holds before us the person we all need to be: the one who recognizes the potential in his learners, who remains a lifelong source of encouragement to the student Conroy was and obviously still remains, and who continues to serve as a mentor and a friend as he was struggling with leukemia. Norris, even in his final days, encouraged Conroy the student to "Tell me a story." All of us should be lucky enough to have that sort of trainer-teacher-learner in our lives and, more importantly, remember to emulate them.Equally compelling, for entirely different reasons, is Conroy¿s "Why I Write." Whether it is because he touches the basic insecurities all of us--teachers, trainers, learners, and writers--have when he writes "I have been mortally afraid of the judgment of other writers and critics since I first lifted my proud but insecure head above the South Caroline marsh grass all those years ago" (p. 303) or because he leads us through our struggles by confirming that "Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear" (p. 304)--a challenge all of us face when we attempt to translate difficult concepts into terms our learns can grasp and absorb--Conroy nearly leaps off the pages of "My Writing Life" to encourage us to join him on his learning journey.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pat Conroy has always been one of my favorite authors - I've read everything he ever wrote, and am now determined to re-read all of them again. But nothing he has ever written comes close to being the literary masterpiece this one is IMHO. It's the memoir every bibliophile dreams and lusts after---wishing we could close our eyes and pretend that this was the literary legacy of our past, wishing we could put words together and come up with the luscious, gorgeous, delicious images and thoughts that he does.When I read books, particularly those I've committed to review for the publisher (as I did with this one) I read with pencil in hand to jot down particularly memorable passages, to make note of special ideas, so I can formulate a somewhat coherent description of what I thought of the book, and not leave out anything important. Had I used this technique with this book I would have simply had to copy the entire thing. Here is just one example of what is so memorable:"I cheer when a writer stops me in my tracks, forces me to go back and read a sentence again and again, and I find myself thunderstruck, grateful the way readers always are when a writer takes the time to put them on the floor. That's what a good book does---it puts readers on their knees. It makes you want to believe in a world you just read about--the one that will make you feel different about the world you thought you lived in, the world that will never be the same." pg. 329-330.I especially like the fact that he doesn't just concentrate on books however. He spends a great deal of time and effort introducing us to those people who gave him the lifetime gift of books and reading - his mother, his English teacher, a librarian, a bookstore owner, his students. The book is not just a memoir of his reading life - it's a tribute to all those people who molded that life.This beautiful volume has put him firmly in the ranks of those who hold sway over the reading lives of the rest of us.
mthelibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's a love letter to his mother for putting books in his hands, to a fabulous teacher that greatly impacted Conroy throughout his life, to Thomas Wolfe and others. It's a delight for book lovers and those interested in how one author connects his reading life with his writing life.
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mr. Conroy loves words. He loves their flow, their tumble and play. And he isn't afraid to use them. I learned this when I first start reading his fiction with its exultant, flowery phrases, with its parallels to his own life. This nonfiction book tells me why he writes as he does.Although titled My Reading Life, this book is also about his writing life and his life in general. The fifteen chapters each address a different person or book or time that ultimately shaped who he is and how he writes.I grew up a word-haunted boy. I felt words inside me and stored them wondrous as pearls. I mouthed them and fingered them and rolled them around my tongue. My mother filled my bedtime hour with poetry that rang like Sanctus bells as she praised the ineffable loveliness of the English language with her Georgia-scented voice. I found that hive of words beautiful beyond all conveyance.I was horrified and embarrassed as a woman to learn how badly he was treated at a writers' conference in the early days of militant feminism, how one famous author whose work I have greatly admired dismissed him out-of-hand because he was a Southern white boy. I loved the glimpses into other authors' lives, how their writings and their personalities could be at such odds.I hated some of the descriptions of his life in Paris, of the horse butchers, of the ¿fifty Algerian men bidding on the very young girl in the window.¿There was an auctioneer in front of the window chiding the men for their cheapness, and the noise rose in pitch as the bidding grew feverish. The girl was very young, fragile, and she was not smiling.How can someone see that and not want to do something to help the girl? How can anyone wonder about the girl's thoughts but stay a passive observer?I am one of those readers who doesn't want all the sentences I read to be lean, even though there can be beauty in their sparseness. I like the sentences that carry me off, let me smell and see and feel. Pat Conroy can write these sentences.I long for that special moment when I take off into the pure oxygen-rich sky of a sentence that streaks off into a night where I cannot follow, where I lose control, where the language seizes me and shakes me in such a way that I feel like both its victim and its copilot.The next time I read Conroy's fiction, I will appreciate it all the more for understanding a bit of the man who wrote it.The quotes were taken from a pre-publication bound manuscript and may change in the published edition. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pat Conroy fans, this one is for you. Longtime readers of Conroy's fiction have often wondered why so many years pass between new books, how much truth is really contained in his novels, how his family reacts about seeing themselves in his novels, and whether Conroy's abuse at the hands of his father has had a long term impact on his head. In My Reading Life, Conroy answers all of those questions - and many more. According to Conroy, reading saved his life. Books were his escape from the harsh realities of growing up in a family headed by the kind of brute his father was. They kept him sane by showing him what was possible. The first reader in his life was his mother, a woman who very literally educated herself with books from the public library topped off by her son's schoolbooks. She did the reading - and the study assignments - because she wanted to master what she had been forced to miss as a young woman The first time Mrs. Conroy read Gone to the Wind to Pat, he was only five years old. She read it to him so many times (yearly) that it became an intimate part of their mother-son relationship and Conroy credits the experience with making him the novelist he is today. "I became a novelist because of Gone with the Wind, or more precisely, my mother raised me up to be a `Southern' novelist, with a strong emphasis on the word `Southern,' because Gone with the Wind set my mother's imagination ablaze when she was a young girl in Atlanta, and it was the one fire of her bruised, fragmented youth that never went out." Conroy's mother was his first influence, but she would not be the only mentor in his life. Pat, knowing that he did not want to become a man that even remotely resembled the man his father was, searched for an alternative role model. To his great relief, he finally found that man in a Beaufort High School classroom. English teacher Gene Norris would become such a positive force in Pat Conroy's life that their relationship would last for decades. "Though Gene couldn't have survived a fistfight with any of the marines I had met, I knew I was in the presence of the exceptional and scrupulous man I'd been searching for my whole life. The certainty of his gentleness was like a clear shot of sunshine to me. I had met a great man, at last." Gene Norris would encourage and challenge Pat Conroy in ways that would make him a better writer - and, more importantly, a better man - than he might have been if the two had never crossed paths. My Reading Life is filled with Pat Conroy's memories. It is a clearly marked roadmap of the life path taken by one of America's most beloved writers. It is both personal and frank in its approach, and it will certainly please those readers already familiar with Conroy's novels and nonfiction work. And readers for whom My Reading Life is their first exposure to Pat Conroy, will almost certainly want to see what they have been missing for the past few decades. Personally I will remember My Reading Life best because of all the wonderful, bookish quotes it encompasses. This is one of my favorites: "Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touchthem as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next ten years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart." Yes. Rated at: 5.0
LeHack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book yesterday and finished it this morning since I fell asleep reading it last night with 10 pages to go. I was sorry to reach the end as the journey through the book was delightful.I have always enjoyed Conroy's books and will probably enjoy them more now since I know more about the author. I felt bad when he related his childhood as a military brat with his brutish father. We have his mother to thank for instilling in him a love of books, reading and words. We can also thank his former teacher for whom he had many kind words and a lasting friendship. I know most of us can count on one hand the outstanding teachers we had in our lives, but one always stands out above others. Excellent read. Highly recommend.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While there is no doubt that Pat Conroy can write, his latest title, My Reading Life, assures fans that he is also well read. More of a long essay then anything else, MRL recounts some of Conroy's favorite Novels (Gone with the Wind and War and Peace), some of his favorite authors (Tobias Wolfe and James Dickey) and some other antidotes he could someway relate to reading, or at the very least, books. The result is a mix of storytelling and criticism that is punched up with dictionary dependent vocabulary and striking descriptive phrases, but lacks a compelling narrative thread and in some places depth. So it felt like a longer read then it's actual page count. I'd recommend it for fans of the Pat Conroy Cookbook, others may be disappointed.
judithrs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Conroy recounts stories of his favorite books and people who influenced his reading. I think the stories of his family in friends found in his cookbook or better, but I enjoyed these. He is not snobbish about about his reading. Gone with the Wind is included along with Shakespeare and Tolstoy. He also has a beautiful description of how important the Mass was to him. His love of words and reading permate the book.
lycomayflower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to settle into My Reading Life--I often felt that I was missing key facts about Conroy's life that would have made his remembrances make more sense, and the repetition of certain facts from one chapter to another made me think the material had not made a full transition from a collection of essays to a book (which might have been fine if the book were presented as a collection of essays; it is not). I was also a bit put off by Conroy's often unkind stories about writers he's met. I don't mean to suggest that he ought to have fibbed or shied away from truths, but those anecdotes left me feeling unsettled--as if I'd listened to malicious gossip for the sake of it. But in the second half of the book, Conroy speaks more about books and less about people, and then I was happy to hear what he had to say. Ultimately well worth the read, and others may not have the same bugaboos I do and therefore will find My Reading Life enjoyable from beginning to end. I'll also say that this book itself is a beautiful physical thing--a delightful size with lovely two-tone printing and exquisite illustrations.
SigmundFraud on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you like to read about books you will enjoy this book which is very well written and always interesting.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first learned of this book on Tina's (tututhefirst) thread and then again from Stasia.You might want to reference both Tina and Mary's (bell7) excellent reviews for a more indepth analysis.Tina, Stasia and Mary were right! It is a wonderful book, one to be relished for the beauty and the power of words. A book about books, Pat Conroy writes not only of the major works that have impacted on his life, but also the people who lead him to a life of learning.Highly recommended.
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"In a reading life, one thing leads to another in a circle of accident and chance."Taking a quote from the final chapter in Conroy's book was the closest I could come to describing the book itself. I suppose it's most accurate to call this a book of vignettes, all tied to the reading, writing, and most of all life of Pat Conroy, all three of which are closely related for him as he makes clear in this collection.I came to this book having never read Conroy's fiction, or in fact any other book he's ever written. I found an author interview in a magazine that intrigued me, so I put the book on my list to read. I picked it up ready to rush through - enjoy, of course, but read quickly - because it was due back at the library soonest, and I love books about books. But Conroy wouldn't let me rush. I read quickly, yes, but because I had chunks of time here and there and I put aside my other reading to make time for this, because each part of his story wanted me to give my full attention. Every sentence wanted to be considered. One essay made me cry, another made me laugh, and I had to wait before I read the next so that I could separate them out and give each its due. Conroy made me want to pick up [War and Peace] to read right now, and maybe to add [Military Brats] to my list of books to check out from the library. He made me want to read at least one of his novels to see if I like his fiction as well as his nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse of his love for literature, for story, and for language.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Each day of my life begins with a poem that will unloose the avalanche of words inside me, that secret ore that, once published, will sit before me disguised as the earth's jewelry." (p 329) I believe each reader has his own story about the books that have been important in his life. This book is Pat Conroy's story and as a writer of several successful novels and memoirs he has created a beautiful paean to those books that influenced his life and writing. And with the books his memoir includes the people who recommended them and encouraged him who are featured beginning with his mother. The most poignant story for me was that of Gene, his high school English teacher, whose encouragement and inspiration lasted beyond high school as they became lifelong friends. Conroy's reading was wide and deep with an emphasis on some of the best authors and many of my own favorites. His love of libraries and book shops is something that this reader could identify with and, although I have not traveled to Paris his chapter on the importance of that city for him was perhaps even more interesting as a result. His love of poetry has become his own catalyst for unleashing the words that his love of reading has provided as a storehouse for his own writing. After many years of that writing this memoir is the result -- a lyrical delight from beginning to end and evidence of a love of reading and words that reminded me why I too love books.
datrappert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Though called "My Reading Life", this book is more about Conroy than about the books he has read. While he does single out a few works that affected him deeply - "Gone with the Wind" through his mother's love of it, "War and Peace", which he calls the greatest novel ever written, and finally, "Look Homeward, Angel" where he fell in love with the work of Thomas Wolfe, whose influence on Conroy's own writing has been immense. To me, as someone who thoroughly enjoyed "The Prince of Tides" and "The Great Santini", I gained a much deeper understanding of not just why but how Conroy came to write these autobiographical books.It would be quite possible to be annoyed with Conroy at points during this series of essays. His focus on himself is laser-like. He is immensely proud of what he has achieved and wants to tell us what he finds important about writing and to defend his own everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to narrative and to language itself. And, by the end of this wonderful book, he has succeeded, because just like his novels, it takes us on an emotional journey that leaves us exhausted, but happy to have made the trip, though it is filled with almost unbearable emotion and at more than one point it will cause tears to flow. For me, the most emotional part of the book was Conroy's elegy to his English teacher at Beaufort (SC) High School, Gene Norris, who encouraged Conroy to become a writer. They spent an immense amount of time together, including the time Norris took Conroy on a pilgrimage of sorts to Asheville where Conroy visits Wolfe's old home. But the most moving part of the story is about the time Conroy spent with Norris many years later as his beloved teacher lay dying of leukemia. There are other great stories as well, of Paris, of Atlanta, of a used book store, of a writers conference, and of the island off the South Carolina coast where Conroy taught for a year, the subject of his non-fiction book, "The Water is Wide", which was made into a great movie, "Conrack", with Jon Voight playing the teacher.Throughout these stories, as he does in his novels, Conroy just overwhelms you with his passion. Passion for great people like Gene Norris, and for great but flawed ones like James Dickey. And always a passion for books. Near the end of this one, Conroy says that when he picks up a book, "I want everything, and nothing less, the full measure of a writer's heart." That is what Conroy puts into his own work, and in the end, you just have to surrender to him.
genejo1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book by Author Pat Conroy, describing impact of books and all things literary in his life. Great storyteller, and he's funny!
bookwoman247 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My Reading Life is the memoir of author Pat Conroy. However, it's so much more than a memoir. It;s a love song to all the books, authors, and people who have inspired him and influenced his writing.While this did, at times, seem a bit too overwritten and rapturous, I didn't mind at all because I was caught up along with him, soaring with the joy of language, and the written word. I was struck anew by the power of books; how they seemed to provide an anchor for the author who had a fairly rootless and abusive childhood, and how, through writing, he seems to have been able to release some of the demons that haunt him.I actually deliberately slowed down my reading in order to savor every bit, every word, every phoneme of this book. Rarely does a book cause me to do this, which is evidence of just how much I loved it!
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty enjoyable little trip down Pat Conroy's memory lane, to look at all of the literature, people and places that sparked him to be not only an author, but a deeply feeling man who reveled in great (and not so great) writing. The book is comprised of a collection of essays, some of which work better than others. But he sure did evoke a wild passion in certain novels, authors and friendships. I almost felt like running out to get War and Peace! This is recommended for those who just LOVE the act of reading, sharing about what you read, learning about what you read and growing (however one does that individually) from the process. Some essays will resonate more than others, but I'm pretty sure there will be some each reader will love.
Carolee888 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
OK, why did I give this book a three? Because I didn¿t have 1/2 and 3/4 stars to use. I loved all his other books. I did like this book but I don't feel that it is one of his best. I couldn't give it 4 stars (really liked it) because a lot of it I had read before in his other books. One thing that I will admit, I kept comparing it to Stephen King's 'On Writing' which was at least 50% on reading. I came away from the book with a long list of books that I wanted to read.I enjoyed his stories about his mother and her love for reading but could not take any more stories about his father.My favorite chapters were: 1) The Lily 2) The Old New York Book Shop 3) A Southerner in Paris 4) The Count and 5) My Teacher James Dickey.What do I think would have made this book better? Shortening it and leaving his father out. To read more about his father is depressing. More stories about other people and less about what is good writing.
msf59 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sure, there are references to a large number of books in this memoir but what really stands out for me, are the people that have influenced Conroy¿s ¿reading life¿. First, there is his long suffering mother, who introduced him early on to the insular world of books, creating a shield against loneliness and an abusive father. Then there is Mr. Norris, his first English teacher, who becomes his guide through the literary and cultural landscape. There are also librarians, sales reps, book-shop owners and fellow writers, all contributing to this young man¿s development.Now back to the books themselves. I wish there would have been more titles explored in detail but the few he does showcase, are awe-inspiring. His thoughts on Gone With the Wind and War and Peace are wonderful, adding a steely jab at me, (inadvertently of course) for my incredible negligence in not reading either one. That will be remedied, I assure you.This is an engaging book, filled with clever and witty prose. I have only read [The Prince of Tides] but I have been inspired to go back and read all of his work.¿Here is what I want from a book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence: I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer`s heart.¿ Nicely put, Mr. Conroy.