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My Reading Life

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My Reading Life

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...
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...
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    8 - 12

  • 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.

    BONUS: This ebook edition includes an excerpt from Pat Conroy's The Death of Santini.

  • Chapter One

    The Lily

    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. My father flew in squadrons of slant-winged Corsairs, which I still think of as the most beautiful warplanes that ever took to the sky. For a year Dad flew with the great Boston hitter and left fielder Ted Williams, and family lore has it that my mother and Mrs. Williams used to bathe my sister and me along with Ted Williams's daughter. That still remains the most distinguished moment of my commonplace career as an athlete. I followed Ted Williams's pursuit of greatness, reveling in my father's insider knowledge that "Ted [has] the best reflexes of any marine pilot who ever flew Corsairs." I read every book about baseball in the library of each base and town we entered, hoping for any information about "the Kid" or "the Splendid Splinter." When the movie of The Great Santini came out starring Robert Duvall, Ted Williams told a sportswriter that he'd once flown with Santini. My whole writing career was affirmed with that single, transcendent moment.

    The forests around Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune were vast to the imagination of a boy. Once I climbed an oak tree as high as I could go in Camp Lejeune, then watched a battalion of marines with their weapons locked and loaded slip in wordless silence beneath me as they approached enemy territory. When I built a bridge near "B" building in Cherry Point, I invited the comely Kathleen McCadden to witness my first crossing. I had painted my face like a Lumbee Indian and wielded a Cherokee tomahawk I had fashioned to earn a silver arrow point as a Cub Scout. My bridge collapsed in a heap around me and I fell into the middle of a shallow creek as poor Kathleen screamed with laughter on the bank. Though a failed bridge maker, I showed more skill in the task of the tomahawk and I felled Kathleen with a wild toss that deflected off her shoulder blade. My mother handled the whipping that night, so further discipline by my father proved unnecessary. For the rest of my life, I would read books on Native Americans and I once coached an Indian baseball team on the Near North Side of Omaha, Nebraska, after my freshman year at The Citadel. Pretty Kathleen McCadden never spoke to me again, and her father always looked as if he wanted to beat me. I was seven years old.

    Yet an intellectual life often forms in the strangest, most infertile of conditions. The deep forests of those isolated bases became the kingdom that I took ownership of as a child. I followed the minnow-laced streams as they made their cutting way toward the Trent River. Each time in the woods, I brought my nature-obsessed mother a series of captured animals, from snapping turtles to copperheads. Mom would study their scales or fur or plumage as I brought home everything from baby herons to squirrels for her patient inspection. After she looked over the day's catch, she would shower me with praise, then send me back into the woods to return my captives where I'd discovered them. She told me she thought I could become a world-class naturalist, or even the director of the San Diego Zoo.

    At the library she began to check out books that gave me a working knowledge of those creatures that my inquisitive, overprotective dog and I had found while wandering the woods. When Chippie jumped between me and an eastern diamondback rattler and took a strike on the muzzle before she broke the snake's back, my mother decided that I'd do my most important work in the game preserves of Africa with the scent of lions inflaming Chippie's extraordinary sense of smell. By the time I had finished fifth grade, I...

About the Author-
  • PAT CONROY is the bestselling author of nine previous books: The Boo, The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, My Losing Season, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, and South of Broad. Several of his books have been made into successful films. He lives in Fripp Island, South Carolina.

  • Boston Globe

    "Timely as well as timeless. . . . Elegant, evocative, and elegaic."

  • USA Today "The 15 essays in My Reading Life should delight curious readers.... [Conroy] is fun to read and debate."
  • Associated Press "Pat Conroy doesn't just love books, he devours them. He doesn't just visit libraries and bookstores, he inhabits them. He doesn't enjoy language, he revels in it. . . . [My Reading Life] is a rich, unabashedly self-critical and moving tribute to a writer's passion. . . . Like Stephen King did in his remarkable On Writing, Conroy reminds us of his considerable talents for telling a story and arranging words."
  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution "In this marvelous blueprint for how to engage with all things literary, the goal is not only to get wet, but to fall deeply and madly in over our heads. With its heady mix of memoir, advice and out-and-out lust for the written word, My Reading Life asks how we could possibly settle for anything less."
  • The Charlotte Observer "[Conroy's] fans will savor these 15 essays on the books and people that helped shape his long writing career. . . . They lend themselves to being taken up separately, at leisure, and savored like a rich dessert."
  • The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) "My Reading Life extols the glories of books [and] offers heartfelt thanks to those who encouraged a passion that led [Conroy] to writing."
  • Asheville Citizen-Times "In My Reading Life, we not only learn about many of Conroy's pivotal reading experiences, we see how he came together as a writer, and are entertained by a host of stories about unlikely heroes."
  • Publishers Weekly "Conroy's legion of fans will doubtlessly bond with the author as he earnestly explores the role of books in providing him with inspiration and solace."
  • Booklist "What a delightful little book . . . with a punch far sturdier than its compact size might suggest. . . . Try to resist rereading it!"
  • Denver Post "Pat Conroy's writing contains a virtue now rare in most contemporary fiction: passion."
  • Houston Chronicle "Reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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