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My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
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My Reading Life (2010)

by Pat Conroy

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6696414,333 (3.9)187
  1. 20
    The Pleasure of Reading by Antonia Fraser (bell7)
    bell7: Another celebration of reading and writing, The Pleasure of Reading takes essays from fourteen different writers, who focus specifically on their reading and list their favorite books.
  2. 10
    Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman (_Zoe_)
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Now here is a book about reading that does what it oughta. Conroy has erased that disappointed feeling I had after reading Howard's End is on the Landing. Conroy "grew up a word-haunted boy". He tells us how his mother instilled a love of reading and learning in him by bringing home books from the library to educate herself; how, even though he attended 11 different schools in 12 years, he managed to connect with some special teachers who made lasting impressions on his reading life (and more). He explains what certain books and authors have meant to him personally and as a writer. Finally, he left me with an urge to read something new with the turn of nearly every page.
November 2011 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Oct 10, 2017 |
Writers who learn their craft from a devoted and rigorous reading life are the best. Not the ones who read for assignments in an MFA program, or the ones who read from lists in “how-to write your first novel” manuals, or the ones who read to keep up with their market. But the ones who are compelled to pick up a pen and paper in response to the siren call emanating from their favorites books and authors. The ones who learn accidentally, consuming page after page until they’ve been infused with the creative marrow. The autodidact Jack London immediately comes to mind, a young man who devoured everything he could put his hand on in his quest.

Until Pat Conroy’s [My Reading Life], I wouldn’t have known he had a similar path to the writing life. Cursed with a cold, abusive father, his young life was redeemed by a curious and introspective mother. Together they on a personal education through literature. Of it, he says,”

“From the beginning, I’ve searched out those writers unafraid to stir up the emotions, who entrust me with their darkest passions, their most indestructible yearnings, and their most soul-killing doubts. I trust the great novelists to teach me how to live, how to feel, how to love and hate. I trust them to show me the dangers I will encounter on the road as I stagger on my own troubled passage through a complicated life of books that try to teach me how to die.”

From Margaret Mitchell to Dickens to Thomas Wolfe to James Dickey, Conroy describes his love of reading and how it informed his own writing career. It was a pleasure to see authors who have fallen out of favor, or onto reader’s far backlists, in today’s point and click world. Wolfe, for example, with his overflowing prose, doesn’t get much more than a sour look anymore. But Conroy loved him for his willingness to wear the creative spirit on his sleeve. And Conroy’s exegesis of Mitchell’s [Gone with the Wind] will make you forget about Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

Interestingly, something about the way he developed his writing sensibilities also gave him a suspicious eye toward other writers. Maybe this was a function of coming to the craft from a sincere love of words and stories – a calling rather than a profession:

“The world of writers was a snake hole, a circle of hell – a rat’s nest and a whirlpool and a dilemma – not just a world. … I’ve spent most of my life avoiding the companionship of writers. The tribe is contentious, the breed dangerous.”

His own college mentor, Dickey, he described as vindictive and combative. But his best example was Alice Walker, whom he met at his first writer’s conference. He handed over his copy of her book to sign, telling her how much he had enjoyed it. She signed it and walked away from him, refusing to utter a word. Later, a friend told him that she had “a thing about Southern white men.”

[My Reading Life] can be a guidepost for the readers among us, a sort of book club on paper, chaired by the most passionate of readers. But it’s also invaluable as a writing companion. Conroy graciously endeavors to define what it means to write, to answer the call. More than one time, he suggests that his stories are his way of making sense of his life.

“I am always trying to interpret the relationship between writing and life, between experience and art. Once I thought writing was a simple act, a matter of cataloging the most sacred items of God, the naming of things of darkness. But that definition was never good enough. It is not enough to name and catalog. … The writer must reach back deeply into memory, into those frightening unmarked streets, must walk until exhausted, eyes open, bearing gifts, mind blazing with the dignity of language, blood burning, images beginning to form like jade in the bloodstream. Until he turns that corner, reaches that street, arrives at that moment of pure divine inspiration, of ineffable chance, when there is an explosion – and he see the burning man – then he can begin to write. The burning man is always alive.”

Perhaps Conroy saw his calling as a flaming imperative because his education, his reading, did more than help him explain his life – it saved his soul. Show me a writer like that because reading his work is more than a pastime, it’s a soul-filling need.

Bottom Line: A beautiful guidebook for readers and writers. Conroy is not just someone you want to read – he’s someone you want to know.

5 bones!!!!!
An all-time favorite. ( )
1 vote blackdogbooks | Feb 23, 2017 |
Over the years I've read a few of Pat Conroy's book. I didn't really fall in love with him until I listened to My Losing Season. That book practically brought me to my knees. I don't know what it was about the book, but I had such grief when I was done. Since I LOVE to read, I thought I would enjoy this book. I found I enjoyed parts of it and other parts I wanted to skip forward on the CDs.

The first thing I didn't enjoy was Mr. Conroy reading the book. He has a lazy way with words which made it, at times, hard to understand him. As the book progressed I kept thinking how this was titled My Reading Life yet he talked so much about his writing and seemed to lose track of what he was talking about and would go off on a subject.

What I did enjoy was learning how reading and other people shaped his writing life. I laughed out loud and cried when he talked about his high school literature teacher. It saddened me that I would never meet him. I enjoyed the way his Mother consumed books and the need for knowledge. I marveled at the life Mr Conroy has lived and wonder how someone can fit that much into one life.

Do I wish I had listened to this book, not sure, especially since it came after a 13 books series I've been listening to for the past 4 months. No matter what I thought of this book, Mr. Conroy will always have a special place in my heart and I have learned a great deal from him for my writing. Several authors may have affected his life and his way of writing, Mr. Conroy has affected mine. ( )
  MHanover10 | Jul 10, 2016 |

I fell in love with this book about books – it wasn’t perfect, but it came as close as I’ve found to explaining a deep love of all that is books and reading, shooting at it from different directions. Pat Conroy may be wordy, but he writes beautifully and clearly loves books, shaping his life around them. And he does it in nifty ways – influences on him people-wise, place wise, life wise, and books themselves.

In order it starts with his childhood, and what a fascinating perspective that was for a booklover. His southern upbringing would clearly influence what kind of writer he’d later become, but I had no idea how much credit was owed to his mother, someone he devotes several chapters and points to. She was fascinated with reading books of all sizes and genres, making it clear to the children how important the literary world was, how enriching. Hard not to be hooked when he’s starting by gushing about his mother and her love of books.

“Since she did not attend college, she looked to librarians as her magic carpet into a serious intellectual life. Books contained powerful amulets that could lead to paths of certain wisdom. Novels taught her everything she needed to know about the mysteries and uncertainties of being human."

The second chapter is entirely devoted to that epic book, Gone with The Wind, showing how it was his mother's favorite and how she modeled her life from it. It was such an important, revered book in their house that his mother encouraged him, if he should become a published writer, to use the voice of the south. Maybe the longest book review I have read on it, ending with it intertwined with his life and future. I’ve rarely seen someone credit so much influence to one book.

The third chapter, longer than the others, shows the other person in his life who helped form him, an important teacher who would pick him up from home month for trips, who took kids for their driving license tests, who stood before the school board to save his job from encouraging "The Catcher in the Rye!" His stories were potent reminders of how important a role teachers can play, and I loved every word of it. Heartfelt and intimate, the teacher became a beloved character that I was fascinated by as Conroy covers his life and influence. A hero of books.

Charles Dickens and Daufuskie Island was short and sweet, speaking of a play he participated in with an undernourished group of black children. It’s interesting because it shows the limited of mentality of schools and how he came to be removed as a potential helper to the children and delivering literature/love of reading to them. Such a shame.

The Librarian is no wonderful story of a typical librarian in the way we typically view them – authors and readers hold charming memories of people want to help foster a love of reading. This woman was the opposite. Anyway, he believed racism cost him the job of trying to be a teacher to the children, which I’m sure has happened to a lot of people. The politics with the librarian and misconceptions was hard to stop reading about, as unpleasant as the reality is.

‘The Old New York Book Shop’ was a fascinating chapter. From the magic of the bookstore with how it positioned itself into his life, to the developing friendship with the owner, to the stories of the quirky, relative customers. The stories were a lot of fun, while holding insightful validity.

It cuts views and answers a question I had – was his family threatened by models of them being in his books? Did they find the written dysfunction insulting? Apparently with the book The Great Santini, it not only helped shatter his marriage as he lost himself in writing it, but permanently cut his grandmother out of his life and drew threats from other relatives. Reactions from his father weren’t pretty either.

“My mother's voice and my father's fists are two bookends of my childhood, and they form the basis of my art.”

The rest of the book covers everything from traveling in Paris to help his writing and the people he encounters there with cultural difference (interesting), his experiences with his book rep and promotion (another viewpoint that was cool to read about with books), his experience at his first writing conference with its beneficial – and disappointing – results, his admiration for Thomas Wolfe, another teacher he respected in college life, his adoration with words, and just about everything else you can think of.

It’s hard to figure my favorite section, but I have to keep returning to the magic of that Old New York Book Shop and the bookseller there. He spent years in the walls of that place with colorful stories and adventures. Conroy tells about the bookseller and his life and all the changes with it, the future parties held there, other author experiences as it grew, and it’s eventual (sad and nostalgic) closure.

On the negative side, some of its wordy and this book is part memoir (that itself is okay). Sometimes there’s a little rambling, but his love of words is evident and I absolutely loved and cherish this book. Great stuff for anyone who wants to dive into another book lover’s mind and see how they were affected by stories and the layered experiences of reading.

Highly recommended!

“Even today, I hunt for the fabulous books that will change me utterly. I find myself happiest in the middle of a book which I forget that I am reading, but am instead immersed in a made-up life lived at the highest pitch.”
( )
  ErinPaperbackstash | Jun 14, 2016 |
I love to read authors' autobiographical books, especially when they details the books that were influential in their lives. I can already tell that I am going to love this book for its rich depth in that detail. I find it interesting that the entire second chapter is about Gone with the Wind. What Pat says about it reminds me of my own journey with that book and movie (as well as my mom's journey). I think it is interesting that he devoted an entire chapter to it, as I have been afraid that the book is going to go on the "banned" books list due to its portrayal of the horrid system and treatment of slaves (pre and post slavery). However, anyone who has read the book knows that Mitchell is not advocating the system, and in fact seems to be pointing out that the system needed to end, and simply tells the story from one vantage point of the transitions of its ending, as well as its everlasting effect.

This book was very interesting and I loved the southern voice / opinions. And I thought I was well read! ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
This book is dedicated to my lost daughter, Susannah Ansley Conroy. Know this: I love you with my heart and always will. Your return to my life would be one of the happiest moments I could imagine.
First words
Between the ages of six and nine, I was a native son of the marine bases of Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune in the eastern coastal regions of North Carolina.
Quotations
If there is more important work than teaching, I hope to learn about it before I die.
My mother's voice and my father's fists are the two book-ends of my childhood, and they form the basis of my art.
A novelist must wrestle with all mysteries and strangeness of life itself, and anyone who does not wish to accept that grand, bone-chilling commission should write book reviews, editorials, or health-insurance policies instead.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385533578, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:44 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Bestselling author Pat Conroy acknowledges the books that have shaped him and celebrates the profound effect reading has had on his life.

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