Posts Tagged ‘Gone With the Wind’

Let us all give thanks to Peg Conroy. The mother of Southern writer Pat Conroy gave him the gift of reading as a child, a love for books and words and writing.

He pays tribute to her in the first chapter —  and really throughout — his new memoir, My Reading Life, recalling how she introduced him to Gone With the Wind when he was five and living in Atlanta, and took him and his siblings to the downtown Orlando library the year he was 10 and his military pilot father (“The Great Santini’’) was overseas. The Conroys lived in Orlando near their Harper family relatives.

  “To my mother,’’ he writes, “a library was a palace of desire masquerading in a wilderness of books.’’ He credits her and Margaret Mitchell’s epic for his becoming a Southern novelist.

 Readers of Conroy’s novels, including The Prince of Tides and Beach Music, are already familiar with their autobiographical underpinnings and Conroy’s word-drunk prose.  He mines much of the same territory here, but specifically relates how the books he read, and the teachers and mentors who recommended them, shaped his life as a writer.  The resulting stories are eloquent and entertaining, at times humorous, always heartfelt.

   “I take it as an article of faith that the novels I’ve loved will live inside me forever,’’ he proclaims, and goes on to expound on Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby, the works of Thomas Wolfe and James Dickey, the poetry he reads daily. He writes to explain his own life; he reads to lose himself in the lives of others. “I find myself happiest in the middle of a book in which I forget that I am reading.’’

  People often talk about “gift books’’ for the holidays, thinking of those handsome tomes that look so lovely on the coffee-table. Well and good, but Conroy’s small book, with its celebratory stories of books and book people, reminds us that reading is the real gift. 

Open Book: I received an advance readers copy of Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life (Nan Talese/Doubleday) as part of a web promotion.  If you ever get a chance to hear Conroy spin his stories in person, count yourself lucky.  Talking to Pat about books and writing, and listening to him speak at various literary events over the years, are among the highlights of my journalism career.

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