Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Reading Life

Two weeks ago, my friend Carol send me several emails listing quotes from Pat Conroy's book, My Reading Life.  Each time one of her emails came through, I couldn't wait to read it.  Two of my favorite quotes that she sent were:
  •      Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.
  •      From the time I could talk, I took an immense pleasure in running down words, shagging them like fly balls in some spacious field. 
      I knew I had to have the book, the lines Carol was sending me were just too brilliant to ignore!  I had to read more!  I love when the authors we've come to enjoy spend time explaining, dissecting, reflecting, and exploring their early lives as readers and writers.  I've always had a strong regard for people who can capture in words the journey of falling in love with either reading or writing... Ralph Fletcher, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Anna Quindlen, Eudora Welty, Gary Paulsen.  And, Pat Conroy.
     Pat Conroy's collection of 15 essays is beautifully written.  Each essay gives us a glimpse of his love of reading and, more importantly, how he became the teller of tales he is today.  The book is peppered with the titles he remembers fondly.  He shares the words that shaped his love of language.  He shares stories of people whose influence made a lasting impression, both good and bad, on his life.  He shares why he is who he is today. 
     This excerpt is a perfect example of the careful crafting of Conroy's:  I had witnessed with my own eyes that a poem could make a Colonel cry.  Though it was not part of a lesson plan, it imparted a truth that left me spellbound. Great words, arranged with cunning and artistry, could change the perceived world for some readers.  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. (pp 10-11)
     I am so happy that Carol send me some her favorite lines from the book.  As I read, I'm collecting my own.  Pat Conroy has done a brilliant job of capturing his journey, which is vastly different from my own... but as I read, I'm reminded of Mildred Hache, our small town librarian, who let me spend hours perusing the wooden shelves in our small town library.  I'm reminded of Downie Bishop, my third grade teacher who read us The Boxcar Children.  I'm reminded of my father, a biblical scholar, who read stories from the bible with sincerity and passion.  I'm reminded of the hours my mom would spend telling stories, usually over a game of Canasta or Racko.  I'm reminded of Mildred Henrie, my second grade teacher whose voice I can still hear sharing stories, she had a delightful laugh and her eyes twinkled when she noticed I discovering a new word! 
     And, that's the real beauty of this book... it causes you, the reader, to want to think more deeply at your own journey as a reader and writer.  I just may have a little notebook writing to do!


      1. I've been hearing about this book for quite some time, but your passion for this book really shines through. You have inspired me to get this book asap, and find phrases I love as well.

      2. Thanks for sharing this book. I have enjoyed his other works, so I now have a new title to add to my pile.

        I am also looking forward to seeing you at the Dublin Lit Confernce.

      3. "Writing is the only way to explain my own life to myself." What a powerful quote. I suppose it is one of the things I like about blogging. It is a great way to make sense of the world as we know it at that time.

        I suppose reading is the way we "grow our life" beyond on our thinking. Thanks for this post. I think I may have to find a copy of this book.

      4. I'm reading it right now, definitely interesting from a reading and writing perspective. I've been tweeting my favorite quotes so far. :)