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