Oh Pat Conroy. I do love you.
On the days in which the weather allowed for it, the boys and I have been taking walks with Pat Conroy. Well….. I’m the only one with the earbuds, so I suppose I have been taking walks with Pat Conroy. It’s been awhile since I’ve read him and when I found this collection of essays in audio and read by the man himself at the library, I jumped at it. Almost before he had made his way into the second paragraph I was wondering what had taken me so long.
In high school a teacher handed me a copy of The Lords of Discipline. I didn’t so much read that book as I, as Conroy himself might say, devoured it. I fell in love with the passionate intensity of his language. The way he told a story was unlike anything I had ever seen and I was hooked. In short order I read The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides and The Water is Wide. Reading Pat Conroy was electrifying. His stories made me want to write a story of my own. What I knew of his Southern childhood made me feel like I could.
Then, I went to college. Among the English majors, citing Pat Conroy as one of your favorite writers was a bit like admitting that you sleep with a stuffed elephant. It just wasn’t done. It was fine to show an interest in Southern fiction, but for heaven’s sake read Flannery O’ Conner or Robert Penn Warren. So, I let him go. I have read neither Beach Music or South of Broad. My Reading Life reminded me that I need to get on that. Pronto.
Reading Pat Conroy makes me happy. Well, if you’ve read his books you know that’s something of a stretch. His stories don’t so much make me feel any one thing as that they make me feel. They also make me proud to call the South home.
And because I can’t resist, here are a few excerpts from the book.
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.
I grew up a word haunted boy. I felt words inside me and stored them wondrous as pearls. I mouthed them and fingered them and rolled them around on my tongue. My mother filled my bedtime hour with poetry that rang like Sanctus bells as she praised the ineffable loveliness of the English language with her Georgia-scented voice. I found that hive of words beautiful beyond all conveyance. They clung to me and blistered my skin and made me happy to be alive in the land of crape myrtle, spot-tailed bass and eastern diamond backs. The precise naming of things served as my entryway into art. The whole world could be sounded out. I could arrange the whole world into a tear sheet of music composed of words as pretty as flutes or the tail feathers of peacocks. From my earliest days, I felt compelled to form a unique relationship with the English language. I used words to fashion a world that made sense to me.