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My Reading Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 2, 2010
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Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
The strengths and weakness of Conroy's novels--both his beguiling narrative voice and his often overly emotional language--are present in this slim paean to the books and book people that have shaped his life. Conroy attributes his love of literature to his mother, who nurtured his passion for reading and at the same time educated herself by studying his school books. "I tremble with gratitude as I honor her name," he writes. Conroy's favorite novel was Gone with the Wind, which his mother read to him when he was five years old, and it made a novelist of him, he asserts. Conroy pays tribute to the men who were substitute father figures and mentors, among them a legendary book rep who chastised him for his "overcaffeinated prose." Breakneck contrasts exist throughout: on the one hand, Conroy sketches concisely the venom of Southern white bigotry; on the other hand, he allows humor to bubble up through dialogue, and riffs the English language. While some readers will not progress beyond the fustian prose, 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. (Nov. 2) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Conroy has given us many hours of reading pleasure with such popular novels as The Great Santini (1976) and The Prince of Tides (1986), and now it’s time for him to tell us what books have given him particular reading pleasure over the years of his reading life. And what a delightful little book this turns out to be, with a punch far sturdier than its compact size might suggest. It won’t come as a surprise that Conroy identifies himself as having been a “word-haunted boy.” And he goes on in that chapter (the book is divided into thematic chapters), which is about his school librarian, to insist that “from my earliest memories, I felt impelled to form a unique relationship with the English language.” As readers can tell from those words, Conroy’s southern upbringing informs the eloquent flow of his prose. His school librarian’s personality—“Her disposition was troll-like and her demeanor combative”—is counterposed by his mother’s both challenging and cultivating nature: “The world of books was set for me by the intellectual hunger of my mother.” Read, especially, the chapter on Gone with the Wind, and try to resist rereading it! HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The many author appearances the publisher has planned for the charming Conroy will spark reader interest. --Brad Hooper
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Conroy was introduced to books and literature by his beautiful, Southern-born mother, Peg. Since "she did not attend college, she looked to librarians as her magic carpet into a serious intellectual life." In addition to his mother, Conroy talks about the teachers who opened his eyes to great writing. Through them, he learned that poems could bring you to tears and that "literature had the power to change the world."
Perhaps no teacher influenced him more than his high school English teacher, Gene Norris. Norris gave Conroy a copy of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel one Christmas. "The book's impact on me was so visceral that I mark the reading of Look Homeward, Angel as one of the pivotal events of my life." Conroy worshipped at Wolfe's altar, visiting his home and imitating his writing style. Things got so bad that one Citadel professor threatened to "cheerfully shoot the teacher who introduced me to the writing of Thomas Wolfe." Still, Wolfe managed to make Conroy realize that "a writer could touch me in all the broken places."
In My Reading Life, Conroy discusses many of the books and authors that influenced him over the years. Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, A Catcher in the Rye, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, etc. all hold special places in his heart. In between books, Conroy relates stories of his childhood, growing up a military brat, hanging out in bookstores, book representatives, author readings, marriages and children, travel, and especially, writing. "Reading great books gave me unlimited access to people I never would meet, cities I couldn't visit, mountain ranges I would never lay eyes on, rivers I would never swim...I learned how to be a man through the reading of great books." And in through reading great books, Conroy himself becomes a great writer. "I've always wanted to write a letter to the boy I once was, lost and dismayed in the plainsong of a childhood he found all but unbearable. But I soon discovered that I've been writing voluptuous hymns to that boy my whole life..."
My only minor disappointment with My Reading Life is that Conroy does not include former teacher Joseph Monte's list of 100 books that someone should read before entering college. He mentions this list in several of his memoirs and interviews, but as far as I know, I've never seen it published. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed My Reading Life. I've never had the pleasure to attend an author event by Pat Conroy, so My Reading Life is probably as close as I will ever come.
Most recent customer reviews
Reading this book felt like visiting with him.Read more