My Reading Life
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Bestselling author Pat Conroy acknowledges the books that have shaped him and celebrates the profound effect reading has had on his life.
Pat Conroy, the beloved American storyteller, is a voracious reader. Starting as a childhood passion that bloomed into a life-long companion, reading has been Conroy’s portal to the world, both to the farthest corners of the globe and to the deepest chambers of the human soul. His interests range widely, from Milton to Tolkien, Philip Roth to Thucydides, encompassing poetry, history, philosophy, and any mesmerizing tale of his native South. He has for years kept notebooks in which he records words and expressions, over time creating a vast reservoir of playful turns of phrase, dazzling flashes of description, and snippets of delightful sound, all just for his love of language. But for Conroy reading is not simply a pleasure to be enjoyed in off-hours or a source of inspiration for his own writing. It would hardly be an exaggeration to claim that reading has saved his life, and if not his life then surely his sanity.
In My Reading Life, Conroy revisits a life of reading through an array of wonderful and often surprising anecdotes: sharing the pleasures of the local library’s vast cache with his mother when he was a boy, recounting his decades-long relationship with the English teacher who pointed him onto the path of letters, and describing a profoundly influential period he spent in Paris, as well as reflecting on other pivotal people, places, and experiences. His story is a moving and personal one, girded by wisdom and an undeniable honesty. Anyone who not only enjoys the pleasures of reading but also believes in the power of books to shape a life will find here the greatest defense of that credo.
Eileen Hunter for years, she recently roared back to me with her bizarre peculiarity intact. My genuine fondness for Eileen trumps my irritation at the thorny relationship she brought to the librarian’s craft. I can forgive almost any crime if a great story is left in its wake. Shortly after I began teaching in Beaufort I tried to read The Complete Works of Charles Dickens. Then I received a handwritten note from Miss Hunter asking if I could meet her in the library after school. When I took a
journal keepers in my sister’s poetry circle. In the early days, Cliff treated me with all the suspicion of a trapdoor spider. From his early reaction to me, I could tell that Cliff considered the innate courtesies of Southerners a minor form of madness. He was also part of that innumerable tribe of outsiders who found Southerners stupid. On my third visit, as I was paying him for a small stack of books, I said, “You never say hi to me when I come into your store.” “Hi,” he said, unamused.
forty years, we’ve supported each other and served as each other’s head cheerleader, and she has represented a charming, centering force in my life. Many of the writers Barbara and I met that night with the Carters we invited to our first party on Briarcliff Road. Cliff was the first guest to arrive. He surprised me by handing me a white pastry box wrapped in string. “I brought you some cake.” “Why?” “Because that’s the way you do it in New York.” Looking at the Atlanta skyline from my front
of a long line and an inefficient team of coffee servers. Finally an attendant handed me my nine cups of coffee in a cardboard box loaded with packets of cream, Sweet’n Low, napkins, and spoons, and I began the slow, awkward balancing act back to the main hall. The coffee cups in the thin box were lidless; hot coffee began spilling onto my wrists; and I almost tripped on an Oriental rug. A strange sound came from the lecture hall, both ominous and unsettling, but I couldn’t lift my eyes from the
with all-white teachers, but the world was changing at a bewildering pace around us, and we needed to make ourselves knowledgeable and informed as we ripened into students who would one day offer leadership to the communities we lived in. His eloquence was so understated that it was almost unnoticeable. He displayed a complete assurance in the composure and ease he brought to the art of teaching. At the end of the first day, I was impressed with the man; by the end of the first week, I was in