I have just completed a studied reading of Pat Conroy’s book My Reading Life, and I find myself in need of friends to talk with about it. I am not yet sure of all I want to say about the book, but for now, I need to express this:
I very much loved Conroy’s earlier work: The Water is Wide, The Prince of Tides. I found myself less infatuated with those books that followed, and part of that reaction, I think, was that after meeting him personally/professionally a few times, I was not comfortable around the man. I found him a bit too much (in terms of his public persona)
But after reading this book, I find there was much more to the man than I found evident on the surface. We do often miss the undercurrents and the deeper intentions and motivations of a person because we are blinded and put-off immediately by what is on the surface. (I have trusted first impressions my whole life, and while mostly those have proven accurate, I do recognize and admit that we sometimes need to take a second look.) I only wish I had in this case. I am now certain Conroy and I could have spent hours long into the days and nights discussing mutually shared opinions and insights about books and writing. We might could have been grand friends. And that is my loss.
But, lesson noted and learned.
So, here’s some of what I found on the pages of My Reading Life:
* a beauty and passion in his language when discussing books and the people who helped bring him to books and writing,
* an overwhelming desire to learn--no, to gobble-up--all the good books of the world and to be like those writers. (No matter that I disagree with some of his favorite writers and books, I share this same passion).
* I found him to be self-honest in a way that surprised me—aware of his public impressions on people. He recognized and admitted his faults as a human being, as well as his particular writing short-comings. (And shouldn’t we all be so aware?)
* I found him completely in love with and devoted to those people who had mentored and helped him along the way and of the same opinion as I about the dangerous elitism some writers develop, their selfishness, their desire to compete, rather than support, to shut out, put down, or reject those that come after them.
I was aware that Conroy had helped many other writers along the way get their starts. And I always felt good about that aspect of him, but to hear him validate my own observations of how rare that is was of particular comfort to me. I do not imagine this elitism, nor create it in my mind. It is real. It does exist. Sadly.
*There is a certain under-tone to this book of Conroy’s that left me feeling a bit sad, yet comforted--sort of like the gloaming part of the day (my favorite time), when we know the day is ending lacking all we hoped to accomplish, yet still, there is the satisfaction of knowing that it was filled with what we could manage, and we are at peace with that and with the coming of the night, there is the promise of another day. I detected in this book, what I believe is, a complete but accepted regret in the man that he could not read all the wonderful literature in our world…there was simply no way…and that made him sad, yet he was so in love with what he had read, and that comforted him. He collected books the way I do…saving them, perhaps on the verge of hoarding them for fear that one day there might not be any to read. Books were his friends, his companions, his comfort, his joy, his security in a world where he often felt so alone. I sensed that most likely this was one of his greatest regrets on leaving this world: that he would not and could not read them all.
I love that about him.
So for now, I just need to say that I have found delight and comfort in this book. And I truly am grateful for having discovered the man beneath the public persona. I am sad I didn’t know the man beyond those few brief first impressions, sorry that I did not try to peer through that outer armor, and I am determined to go back and read or reread with a clearer eye and more open heart what I once rejected of his later writings.
I’m certain I will be typing up pages of quotes from this book and will probably share those with some of you at some point or write about them in an essay or something. It’s what I do with what I read. It’s what I do when I am so moved, so touched.
And finally, to Pat Conroy: I hope you’ve found a never-ending library in heaven.