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Pat Conroy, Oldsmobiles & Coming of Age

It’s hard to say with precision why I love Pat Conroy so much.
He himself admits, he is not a literary giant.
I may even pan writers today that have the same kind of pulpy, page turning novel.

But Conroy feels nostalgic to me, in a way that no other contemporary writer does. His name surfaces time washed images of Oldsmobiles, guess jeans, bad haircuts. Family vacations.

Like I can remember watching the movie The Great Santini–the entire family–and cringing as the father bounced the basketball off the back of his son’s head taunting him to keep playing, to win. How old was I? Old enough that it was a probably a rare occasion for my parents to go to a movie with their teenage daughters.

Or maybe I have glorified the Prince of Tides as a book that showed up when all four of us were actually reading similar things in our family. Because we all read it. And argued about it. And agreed, disagreed. Understood each other–maybe–all the bit better because of it.

So we read more Conroy. Went back and read Lords of Discipline and Water is Wide.
Moved forward and read Beach Music. I think I was the lone man out in 2009 when he released South of Broad. I could tell by my sister’s tone of voice that perhaps the magic was gone. Conroy was a good shared past.

Admittedly, I had to wikipedia when this all was. Because I know my sister and I were in high school years or making the turn to college. In my mind, we feel young. There were cigarettes and boys in convertibles and too much make up and…well there weren’t just books. (But my mother reads my blog so let’s just leave it at that.) But somehow, I sense this was at the start of becoming an adult.

It’s for this reason that Pat Conroy’s place in the family memory is profound.
He showed us all what a skilled storyteller could do for an audience of all ages.

Or perhaps we were grateful. Because he opened our eyes to the first time what a family could look like when it wasn’t a pretty darn solid, loving and funny Midwestern family. It was an abusive father, a military family transience, loneliness. It’s rare for a 17 year old to feel fortunate with their family. Was I sensible to know it then? Nah, doubt it.

Well, I digress.

The point is that for those of us who love to read (who love love love to read) Pat Conroy’s new non-fiction book, My Reading Life is an *INSANE* pleasure.

I want to buy 50 copies and send it to everyone that has always loved to read in a way that is impossible to describe.

No need now to try–because Conroy does it so well.

His writing, as always, is effortless. His passion is manifest. His memories sprinkled with literature. He shares a memory of his mother reading Gone with the Wind every year to his siblings. He recalls a high school librarian who had no love of books; an abusive, critical agent who insisted he read Lord of the Rings; a famous bookshop owner in Atlanta.

Pat Conroy’s life story is about devouring books and creating them in an effort ‘to save himself’.

“This book demonstrates again and again that there is no passion more rewarding than reading itself, that it remans the best way to dream and to feel the sheer carnal joy of being fully and openly alive.”

It’s a simple premise and while it does get repetitive in parts, it feels highlighter worthy (yes! yes! in the margins) for those of us with a deep passion for reading.

“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 the writer’s heart. I want a novel so poetic that I do not have to turn to the standby anthologies of poetry to satisfy that itch for music, for perfection and for economy of phrasing, for exactness of tone. Then, too, I want a book so filled with story and character that I read page after page without thinking of food and drink, because a writer has possessed me, crazed me with an unappeasable thirst to know what happens next.”

“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. Make me Muslim, heretic, hermaphrodite. Put me into a crusader’s army, a cardinal’s vestments. Let me feel the pygmy’s heartbeat, the queen’s breast, the torturer’s pleasure, the Nile’s taste or the Nomad’s thirst. Tell me everything I must know. Hold nothing back.”

Indulge yourself.

Of if not, just give Conroy a nod when you cross that bridge or climb that hill and whisper to yourself: “Lowenstein”.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Judy #

    I am a huge fan of Pat Conroy’s as well. I will run, not walk, to the bookstore to get his latest. You reminded me that my family, too, read several of His books together — brought back good memories. Thanks.

    January 28, 2011
    • If it brought back memories…you will love this storytelling. Every book, title in his life has some person or story tied to it. He honestly has to be one of the best read authors on the planet. His mother was his inspiration. No college degree–but a resounding intellectual who read absolutely everything and taught her children to love books.

      January 28, 2011
  2. Oh Katy, My Katy. So well said and beautifully written. I was a teen when I picked up Pat Conroy, and was under the same spell. I found the characters of South Broad 2 dimensional, and I bailed half way through, but THIS sounds like a book I can get behind. Especially now that I went FULL DIGITAL with my Kindle. Who knew!? “Lowenstein….”

    January 28, 2011
    • As long as your point is not: “I was much younger then you then, and still am”. You’ll love it I think.

      January 28, 2011
  3. Jo Anne Jones #

    I,too, love Pat Conroy. Prince of Tides is my very favorite, and there are scenes in that book that I can’t get out of my mind. I just gave my 15 year old grandson, Lords of Discipline, to read. I’m leaving on a 12 hour flight tomorrow. I’ll download My Reading Life tonight onto my Kindle. Thanks for letting us know….

    January 28, 2011
    • The Kindle at $9 is even MORE insane goodness. Plus you get all the highlight love. Enjoy and come on back and comment.

      January 28, 2011
  4. Nadia #

    Ah Katy, you’ve hit on my first love in the writing world. I too have such vivid and inspiring memories of all the books he’s written and Eve and I were both so bitterly disappointed with his previous one South of Broad that we thought he’d lost his touch (since when do teenagers speak in those voices he created??). So I’m thrilled to know this is a must read. Thanks for sharing. As always love your on point reviews!

    January 29, 2011
    • It’s been so fun to see how many siblings remember reading this book together. I can see your family reading this…and now with K&E in South Carolina…it’s part of the family story!

      February 1, 2011
  5. Jim Olesen #

    The chapter, “The Book Rep,” telling of P. Conroy’s trips and conversations with the literary agent-salesman, Norman Berg, was extremely touching while the sentences about Thomas Wolfe, “He’s not writing, idiots,” I wanted to scream at them all. “Thomas Wolfe’s not writing. Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? He’s praying…” seems true, and about which no more need be said.

    January 29, 2011
  6. The biggest aha of the book was that chapter. I have never read Thomas Wolfe. In fact, a lot of the fiction that Conroy worships, I don’t know first hand. Which is why the book was an added delight….

    February 1, 2011
  7. I do not disagree with this blog post.

    October 21, 2011
  8. Hi Katy! Is the photo with this post Pat Conroy’s parents?

    November 4, 2011
  9. This might be this blogs greatest blog I have ever seen!!

    November 6, 2011
  10. I do not disagree with this article!!

    November 6, 2011
  11. Jim Cantrell #

    Conroy, is the sole reason that I love books today. He is probably responsible for my continuing my education. He made me want to be a writer- although, that one has yet to come to fruition… but I am not dead yet. Thank you, Pat for giving me a love affair with letters and great stories!

    October 13, 2012
  12. Brian Salamanca #

    family vacations needs to be in a warm, peaceful place with lots of places to enjoy and spend some time.:

    Most recently released short article straight from our very own blog site
    <img src=" “>

    January 13, 2013

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