It’s always interesting to learn what writers read and what books have influenced them the most.
It’s impossible to be a writer and not read. In Pat Conroy’s case he started reading voraciously at a young age. We all read for a variety of reasons. For this outstanding American writer there were multiple reasons to lose himself in books.
All of Conroy’s fans probably know he grew up as a military brat, one of seven children, son of a Marine Corps pilot whose hobby and solace was to beat his wife and children until they cried “uncle.” But in abusive families, there are always some wives or kids who won’t give in. They’d rather die, literally. Pat Conroy hated his dad and let it show and got the most beatings. His book, The Great Santini, is a thinly disguised account of life with his father.
For Conroy reading was an escape, a portal to the world and the deepest chambers of the human heart. His beloved mother led Conroy’s reading life in the beginning but other mentors came along to nurture and encourage his reading life.
The book is not written chronologically but is divided into chapters about the influences that shaped his reading life. For instance, there’s a chapter on Gone With The Wind, a great favorite of Conroy’s mother. “I owe a personal debt to this novel that I find almost beyond reckoning,” he writes. “I became a novelist because of Gone With The Wind, or more precisely, my mother raised me up to be a ‘Southern’ novelist, with a strong emphasis on the word ‘Southern,’ because Gone With The Wind set my mother’s imagination ablaze when she was a young girl in Atlanta.”
There are also chapters devoted to his favorite high school teacher, a librarian, an Atlanta book store, a book rep, his first writers’ conference, Thomas Wolfe, Leo Tolstoy, James Dickey and more. Conroy’s reading interests range widely, from Milton to Tolkien, Philip Roth to Thucydides, encompassing poetry, philosophy and any mesmerizing tale of the South. The essays are beautifully written with Conroy’s love of the English language front and center. For those of us who share that love, it’s encouraging and a breeze to read.