I have finished My Reading Life, so loving inscribed to me by my close personal friend Pat Conroy, and I pronounce it worth purchasing, because it is a book you will want to read more than once, just as all Pat's books are worth reading more than once.
Everything Pat writes is so darn beautiful that I don't know how he does it. I think he's a poet at heart and the poetry comes out in his prose. This is a man who exults in the loveliness of language. He is also extraordinarily well read and his knowledge of literature shows. I don't know how he manages to write or do anything else when he claims he reads 200 pages per day. I can barely keep up with the dogs and maybe read 50 pages per day, and I read quite a bit faster than most people I know. Ah well. At least I read. I am sad for people who don't read because they aren't interested, don't feel the joy of reading, didn't learn to read well, or are too overwhelmed by day to day life to make reading part of their routine. I guess I could get in more than my 50 pages if I gave up sleep and movies, but I get damn tired from all the documents I have to fill out in order to conduct my life as a dumped first wife, and I learn so much from movies, especially documentaries, and enjoy their technical aspects. And then there are le French films: Oo la la!
Anyhoo, the first surprise I found in this book is that Pat grew up with his southern mother reading Gone With The Wind to him, and he still loves it. His mother would talk about family members who were just like Melanie Wilkes and other characters. What a fun way to look at a book. And I don't buy that loving this book makes someone a racist anymore than I think the N word should be removed from Huckleberry Finn, and I'll be happy to expound on my opinion regarding Huck on another day.
I would call My Reading Life a literacy autobiography. We learn about many of the books and authors Pat loves (big time fan of Thomas Wolfe, huge -- he imitated Wolfe in his own early writing, harangued people about his love of Wolfe to the point that some people wanted to strangle the person who had introduced him to Wolfe), and he presents wonderful reminiscences of his high school English teacher and other people who have played an important role in his reading and writing life. He also engages in a little interesting story telling about encounters with women who didn't want anything to do with a Southern man, or any man -- we're talkin' Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich here. Interesting anecdotes, but Pat is never not interesting. The man has a great ability to fascinate the reader, to pull us in whether he's employing the incredible violence in The Prince of Tides or recounting a tale from his own life.
Pat also reveals that he thinks plot is ALL and if you don't have a story, then you don't got nothin'. I learned that characters drive the plot. If I turn into a Patite, perhaps I will figure out how to write a best-selling novel. I have six chapters, six damn chapters, and I don't know what to do next. But Lord I love those first six. I'm stuck and I don't believe in writer's block. I just don't know what to do. But Pat knows and he's done it over and over with every book.
I am fascinated by the abusive childhoods Pat and I shared, the difficulties we have experienced with our lives as adults, and our sometimes nearly debilitating depression, for we also seem to share the same sense of humor. I think some of the most amusing people have had absolutely miserable lives. More than one person has said to me, You are the funniest person I have ever met. And Pat is one of the funniest people I have ever met. Some psychologist needs to explain to me how humor can come out of great pain. Is it a coping mechanism or are we funny because we're so damn brilliant? Tee hee. At least Pat is, and I hope I have my moments.
I would venture so far as to say that reading and writing have saved my life.
Pat says his mother raised him to be a southern writer, with the emphasis on southern, but Pat is by no means confined to the south. He is a writer for all the world.
Here's hoping you will read and love My Reading Life. So sorry you won't get the loving, adoring, beautiful inscription in your book that Pat wrote in mine, but don't lose heart. You can read the book and love it and just go ahead and feel a little bit jealous that Pat and I are carrying on quite an affair -- he doesn't know about it, but I do and that's all that matters.
Infinities of love to you and Pat,