Over the course of my life, I think I’ve read thousands of books. No official count though. Some have been good, some have been not so good. Some were quickly forgotten, some have made quite an impression. Pat Conroy wrote several great books in his lifetime, including Beach Music, and The Prince of Tides. He passed away earlier this year, and left the world with a great body of work. My Reading Life is a long list of books that meant something to him. It was so interesting reading through the list of some of his favorite books, and it also made me want to read Gone With the Wind (which I just picked up at the library).
Conroy grew up the son of a decorated Marine fighter pilot (this upbringing was the basis of one of his most popular books – The Great Santini). This hero was celebrated seemingly throughout the military, and at every base they lived at during his service. Behind closed doors, at home however, his father was an abusive drunk, something his mom tried so hard to keep secret from the outside world. He was one of 7 children, and the family of 9 traveled all over the south during his father’s time in the service.
The transient life of a military family can be hard, and he describes this well. He never really had “roots”, or a permanent home, but felt so connected to every library he visited. Whatever chaos raged in his life, he and his mother always connected through books. He clings to these books, each one in the book he describes lovingly, and talks about when and where he first read them. He also describes what the books, the words themselves, meant to him.
He describes his Mom as very brave, and strong, despite the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of his father. She was the one who took him to the library, inspiring his love of reading and writing. They both loved Gone With the Wind, and he has a way of describing the book in a way that I don’t think anyone else I’ve ever read has. He talks quite a bit about a teacher he had in high school. This teacher he kept in touch with for many years. Gene Norris was an English teacher who inspired understanding – not only of the books he prescribed in class, but of so much of the changes taking place in the 1960s.
He also talks quite a bit about his favorite librarian. Not one in a libriary he frequented, or visited as a child. This is a librarian that worked in a school he taught in. She was more concerned with preserving the books and protecting them than she was with encouraging students to read them. Their interactions that he recounts are hilarious – he loved to get a rise out of her. For someone who has lived in the south for most of his life, and though my daughter was born in the south, I’ve never really connected to – or understood – the spirit of the south. He does that in this book, and in his writing. He was an important southern voice, representing only the good parts of the old south.
I loved reading this book, and hope that one day I can remember my favorite books as fondly as he does here.