I've just finished typing up my highlighted passages from Pat Conroy's book My Reading Life. I have not doubt that I will return to read again and again some of these words, to be inspired, comforted, and encouraged by them.
I don't want to share too much of the book. But I want to share a few lines with you now before I leave Conroy and move on to completing a project of my own that is calling. I truly just hope that those of you who love books and/or writing will be encouraged from my post to read the book.
First: a week or so ago, I trolled Facebook in the wee hours and came across a photograph of a beautiful lacquered vase that had lines of gold criss-crossing the body of the vessel. I read that the vase was an example of the "Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold-laced lacquer to illuminate the breakage.” I found the piece breathtaking.
Later when I returned to Conroy's book, I came across this passage: "kintsugi is the Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold-laced lacquer to illuminate the breakage.” ..not attempt to hide the breakage... though I have always known that pain was a ham-fisted player in my novels, I didn’t understand that I had used the radiant lacquers of the language to mark the wounds and fissures I had forced upon my characters. …I never knew I practiced the subtle art of kintsugi until Thomas Meyer let me in on the secret. "
And yes. Isn't that just what many of us writers dream of doing--illuminate the breakage? Turn the pain into something beautiful and breathtaking?
Second: As I completed the notes from the book, I came upon this...stayed with it, even shed a tear over it.
" I’ve always wanted to write a letter to the boy I once was, lost and dismayed in the plainsong of a childhood he found all but unbearable. But I soon discovered that I’ve been writing voluptuous hymns to that boy my whole life, because somewhere along the line—in the midst of breakdowns, disorder, and a malignant attraction to mayhem that’s a home place for the beaten child—I fell in love with that kid. I saw the many disguises that boy used to ward off solitude, hallucination, madness itself. I believe that the reading of great books saved his life. "
That's all for now. Sandy
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.
A Visit to ‘The Friendliest City in South Carolina’
by Sandy Richardson
This week, I traveled to beautiful Anderson, SC, to talk about writing and books with the Foothills Writers Guild at the local library. Approximately thirty-something attendees showed up, an interested and interactive crowd, which I loved. I told a few stories, made a few points about writers, and then we branched off into conversations about heritage, childhood memories, and a number of other things…all very informative and possible story-starters for later works. We can find stories everywhere—that’s for certain.
One of the biggest thrills for me was listening to three readings from Southern Sass’s latest release: Wild, Wonderful ‘n Wacky, South Cackalacky. Jay Wright, ex-president of the guild, read from “The Tonsillectomy” written by David McInnis, Sr. Jay has a natural, story-reading voice and brought that little-boy character right off the page and into the room with us.
After the audience wiped tears of laughter from their cheeks, Ryan Crawford entranced them with an excerpt from his story, “Earmouths,” a story, that for me, blends the everyday with the decidedly esoteric in words that hypnotize the senses. I definitely heard several “oohs and ahhs” as Ryan closed his story referencing the death of his father with these lines, “…I’ll look out to a star sometimes and think about how far away it is, and I know he’d already ripped past long ago, his stretched palm having smacked the side of it as he passed by—the viscosity of time—my eyes just now catching that stirred up flame.”
Following Ryan, was Mary McAlister, Vice President of the Guild, who read from author Peg Bell’s story, “Swamp Biscuits.” Mary’s pacing and inflection sounded so much like the author’s, I had to remind myself that Peg was not present. Mary knew just the right words to stress, to linger on, to clip short. A true story-teller, for certain. Peg, a dear friend of mine, would have surely been awed.
I got to play school-teacher again with my handouts and more stories after the readings. (A teacher never really retires.) But for me, going to an author talk and coming home with nothing is akin to going shopping and not buying a darn thing. Disappointing. Unremarkable. And while the handouts repeated some well-worn advice for writers, I made sure to include new and valuable direction for those who want to pursue writing as more than a hobby. I hope they’ll explore some of those options.
It was a fine evening, for certain.
The next morning, Jay introduced me to Judith McDowell, owner of McDowell’s Emporium, and Travis, obviously the person-in-the-know about books they sell. Quaint and delightful, the Emporium sells both new and used books in the heart of Anderson. I autographed copies of Wild, Wonderful ‘n Wacky, South Cackalacky, and then Judith and I shared some book-talk about old loves like the Miss Read Series of English tales, and Anne of Green Gables, and Conversations with Amber (because both Judith and I are cat people).
We also talked of Anderson’s fine group of writers and photographers. Judith’s shop carries and promotes the work of local authors…oh, how I envy that. (Currently, my hometown doesn’t have a single independent bookstore.) I left the Emporium with a new pocket-sized journal and an armload of books, including The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, Beach House Reunion by Mary Alice Monroe, and My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. Obviously, my reading tastes are varied, including, for ‘fun’ the scores of psychological thrillers I devour every year. I could have browsed the shelves and rooms of the Emporium all day, taken home a trailer-load of reading material, and even some fascinating old b&w photos the shop sells. (I soooo wanted to delve into those boxes set out on the tables, but there wasn’t time.) Those old photos can provide wonderful story sparks. But my checkbook demanded I save something for another visit.
And another visit I sincerely do hope to make. After all, who can resist a trip to the South Carolina’s “Friendliest City.”
A huge ‘Thank You’ to the Foothills Writers Guild for a wonderful two days.
Celebrate the Unexpected in Your Writing