For as long as I can remember I have been a fan of the writing of Pat Conroy. The first book of his I read was The Lords of Discipline and it was as if I had found a kindred spirit who wrote books about things with which I could identify. I was hooked and I have stayed hooked through all of his novels up through South of Broad.
Through the years I have met people who dismissed Conroy as a lesser writer. They called him a word player, an extremist, and someone who liked to listen to his own grandeur. I argued they were wrong and that Conroy wrote the most beautiful passages possible. He wove stories that lived inside of us and made us better just for the reading experience.
Then I picked up My Reading Life. In this book Conroy writes about the authors who have influenced him and the books that have inspired him. He also mentions a few close personal friends who encouraged him through some of his dark times. There is no plot on which to hang his observations; these are just loose disjointed thoughts about who he considers to be great.
Reading these ramblings the scales fell from my eyes and I, for the first time, found Pat Conroy to be verbose and filled with a sense of grandeur that was neither warranted nor needed. The similes abounded and every description had to be likened to something else. He did this ad nauseum.
It is great to use words that flow with the structure of the sentence and inadvertently expose us to new terms or phrases of which we are unaware, but it is another thing to foist words into the book which are meant to glorify the author's extravagant vocabulary and not enlighten the reader. In this reading I stumbled over words and phrases when I should have been able to go with the flow.
Perhaps if there had been a story to be told the extravagant way with words would not have been such a hindrance. Conroy has always held me in his sway with his convoluted plots and identifiable characters. I have never finished a Conroy book without wanting to start it over again with a fresh perspective.
So the power and draw of Conroy remains, but with limitations. My Reading Life has opened me up to his faults -- things which I did not want to see in the past or which were not as blatant. I am still his number one fan but now I see him as he is, not as I dreamed and created him to be.
My Reading Life is published by Doubleday and Company. It contains 352 pages and sells for $25.00.
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