July 05, 2018

My Reading Life (Pat Conroy), A Review by Brenda Leyland

by Pat Conroy (1945 - 2016)

2010. Published by Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York and in Canada by Random House of Canada, Toronto.

In his memoir, American novelist Pat Conroy shares the story of his lifelong love for reading. He writes about the books that changed his life, and he introduces readers to the people who made the greatest impact on him as a budding author, including his southern-bred mother who ignited his great love for words and his passion for books. She started reading aloud to him when he was a boy—volumes of the world's great stories, including her personal favourite novel, the timeless Gone with the Wind.

Mr. Conroy's essays, rich with description and emotion are, in fact, wildly wordy. Many an editor has been frantic for him to edit his overabundance of words and exchange them for simple, leaner ones. But Conroy seemed to be in his element, and more to the point, he knew how to make all those words work for him. His grand use of words makes me think of the Baroque era, a time when artists, musicians, and architects embellished their creative work with flourishes, swirls, and ornamentation. Perhaps he was influenced by that era in some way. Or, perhaps it was all the Russian books he loved to read—War and Peace by Tolstoy, to name just one—for we all know how thick with description that book is.

Wordy or not, the memoir is compelling to read. I love it because:
  • It’s personal and intimate. It's sometimes poignant—when he gives hints of his childhood with his violent military father; and sometimes humorous—when he describes himself shooting through river rapids in a canoe with his favourite poet. Although I haven't read anything else by Mr. Conroy, I felt a strong connection to him—he'd be an author I'd want to meet in person. Saddened, therefore, was I to learn that the man passed away a couple of years ago. 
  • The language is rich with imagery and salty with honesty. I am lured time and again to favourite lines just to experience their beauty, savouring them on my tongue like dessert. I copied these lines into my quotations notebook:
“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 my tongue … The precise naming of things served as my entryway into art. The whole world could be sounded out. I could arrange each day into a tear sheet of music composed of words as pretty as flutes or the tail feathers of peacocks.” p. 84
  • The author named dropped quite a few titles and authors, both familiar and unfamiliar to me. If someone likes to glean from the reading lists of other writers, this book is sure to make eyes light up with the numerous reading possibilities.
  • It's a nice fit, size-wise. I know this isn’t why a person should recommend a book, but this lovely hardcover copy slips nicely into a carry all bag or a large coat pocket to take along for coffee shop reading.
Pat Conroy has written several bestselling novels as well as other memoirs and non-fiction, including A Lowcountry Heart, Reflections on a Writing Life (2016).

A long-time InScribe member, Brenda Leyland writes from her home in Sherwood Park, Alberta. She also blogs at It's A Beautiful Life


  1. Brenda, your vivid description of this book made me want to taste it too. And that quote!! If that's how the whole book reads, let me at it. Words, words, wonderful words. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Joy -- I wanted to share these two quotes as well, but thought it might make the post too 'wordy'. I love the last line of the second quote...about finding books I was born to read. Don't you just love that?

      “At an early age, I had turned to reading as a way for the world to explain itself to me. Here, at last, I had stumbled into the store that would open up a hundred universities for my inspection. I had dropped out of nowhere and found myself at the gates of my own personal Magdalen College in Oxford.” p. 111

      “I was lucky to find this store (the Old New York Book Shop) when I was a young man, and I think I stole the dream of fire from the pillar of God when I found the books I was born to read.” p. 140-41

  2. Thanks for this review, Bren. May I say also that I am "lured time and again" into reading your blog simply for the beauty of your writing, which I "savour". . . on my tongue like dessert." Keep writing these lovely pieces for us, my dear.

  3. This book has been on my reading list for a while, so I'm grateful for your review. Years ago I read Pat Conroy's "Prince of Tides," but I don't remember much about it. I understand that his father was represented by Colonel Meecham in his first book, "The Great Santini" and that many of his books have autobiographical features. As for long, wordy books, I am currently reading James Michener's "Hawaii", a 936 page novel. Once you get past the first section, about the birthing of the land itself, it's actually quite gripping, though Christian readers will likely be frustrated by the (mis)representation of faith.


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