Whew! Zion’s Book Club is back from its summer break and jumped right into a controversial choice by novelist Pat Conroy called “My Reading Life”. A few readers had read one or more of his novels such as “Prince of Tides” and “The Great Santini”, both of which had been made into movies. “My Reading Life”, however, is not a novel. Rather, it is a series of essays in which Mr. Conroy explores how reading has affected his life and even saved it.
It is very obvious from the first sentence of the initial essay that Mr. Conroy is passionate about words and ideas, and he waxes poetic at great length about their influence on his life. Many of his novels are admittedly fictionalized accounts drawn from his relationships with his mother, who fostered his love of language, and his military father, who abused his family and young Pat in particular. He found escape and release from the abuse in the libraries and bookstores of his youth and was fortunate to be inspired by a high school English teacher, Gene Norris, who became a substitute father in many respects (although it was difficult for Zion’s readers to imagine a teacher having such interaction with a student outside school hours in today’s world). Through his introduction to great works of literature such as “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, and “Gone With The Wind”, Conroy began to sense a world beyond his boundaries and vowed to explore every winding pathway down which these novels led him.
His mother, a woman of her time denied the ability to spread her wings, read everything he was assigned, and their discussions fueled his intellectual growth. In many ways, she lived vicariously through Pat and his growth spurred her own. Conroy’s descriptions of her, his father, and the people he encountered as he gradually determined that writing was his salvation and life’s work are well drawn with great detail. His descriptions of the important books in his life can inspire a reader to add that book to his or her own bucket list of tomes. Although nomadic due to his father’s military service, Pat spent most of his life south of the Mason Dixon line and considers himself a child of the American South. That flavor is salted throughout the pages of his novels and the essays of this book. His loyalty to those things and people about which he is passionate shines from each sentence. As he states at the beginning of the book, he writes to explain his life to himself, and good writing is the hardest type of thinking.
That said, many ofZion’s readers would not consider this book good writing. They feel that Mr. Conroy carried his love of words to exponential levels making the book extremely wordy, boring, and hard to read. In all fairness, the book should probably be read as individual essays, meaning the reader peruses one chapter and then lays the book aside to come back to the next essay at a later date. Perhaps reading them back to back gives a larger dose of Pat Conroy’s angst and musings than can be readily consumed and considered. Some readers, however, found portions of the book very interesting and peppered with memorable, even comedic, characters. Many readers intend to give “Gone With The Wind” another look on the strength of Conroy’s insights. Not so works by James Dickey and Thomas Wolfe. Four readers gave “MyReadingLife” one thumb up; two remained neutral, and four readers gave it one thumb down. Still, as oneZionreader observed, readers and writers are in a dance but not always dancing the same steps. That difference and variety spices the reading life of our members and makesZion’s Book Club discussions a lively and satisfying exchange of ideas.
(We thank our blogger Cindy Bushey for this insightful synopsis of our discussion.)