“My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy–December 1, 2018

I have never written a blog before this attempt. My writing skills-if I have any-are due to my crazy college English professor, the adult education classes I took at Coastal Carolina’s OLLI courses, and the Coastal Authors Network, a writers group to which I belong.

Before I cite some facts about a famous southern author, I would like to list one thing I have learned that helped me in this creative process.

A quote from Leonardo da Vinci: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” For me as a writer that means when I go back to edit my stories, I need to leave some spaces on the page for additional information and corrections.

My goal as a new writer is to emulate as much as possible a southern writer many admired. For this blog, I will attempt to summarize an article Pat Conroy wrote entitled “My Reading Life”.

The famous author completed more than ten bestselling novels and a number of nonfiction works.

His article about the reading and writing process begins by Pat admitting he didn’t record the world as it is. Rather, how he transformed it by making it pass through the prism of the fabulous stories he had heard throughout his life. These stories became the vessels he used to interpret the world for himself. For Conroy, good writing is the hardest form of thinking. . . by attempting to turn profoundly difficult thoughts into understandable words. He took joy in the artistic loveliness of the English language.

Conroy always wrote with the help of his well-used dictionaries and thesauri, using words gleaned from his long-winded ancestors.

Pat credited his Georgia-born mother for getting him to fall in love with the sound of words. He wrote his stories in longhand starting in the early morning, bathing in the sunlight of the language of Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, and Churchill. Conroy built his sentences slowly. . . hearing his mother’s voice. She made her son into a wordsmith.

His novels were battlefields filled with smoke, noise, and cratered fields. They reflected absurdity and exorbitance. For him, all writers are prisoners of their childhood. Pat always heard his mother’s voice and felt his father’s fist. His early life became the basis of his art.

The women in Conroy’s books were always mysterious. He constantly sought to understand them and in turn his Mom. She had created an insatiable reader in her son- he read at least 200 pages a day for most of his life. Pat always sought to find the author’s heart in the books he read. He enjoyed tales filled with story and character and a thirst to know what happens next.

Finding a book he really enjoyed, Pat would ask himself: Can I match this depth? Can I incorporate his ideas into my thinking? What can this author achieve that I can’t? And, can I steal the author’s ideas and make them my own?

Pat wrote scenes with the wonders of living things he named, with characters who spoke their minds, with the horrors he had experienced growing up. Pat took infinite care in how his sentences sounded to himself. He rose out of the oral tradition of the American South. Conroy tried to express something simply and well.

His novels attempted to stir the readers blood. He seemed to be born to write.

An article in the Sunday Post and Courier by the Washington Post columnist, Kathleen Parker from November 4, 2018 talked about Pat Conroy and his untimely death in 2016. She wrote, “he had so many words tumbling around his head that he had to put them down on paper-literally and in longhand-to tell his stories. The result was a library of best-sellers, some of which became blockbuster movies, including ‘The Water is Wide,’ ‘The Great Santini’ and ‘The Prince of Tides’.”

Pat had fallen “in love with the marshes and waterways of the moss-draped, antebellum town” of Beaufort, South Carolina. His writings were influenced by his parents, his English teacher, as well as a wide cast of characters and creatures he encountered. Parker too grew up seeing, smelling, and tasting the same enchanted landscape of pluff mud, ospreys, and oysters.

A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy


One thought on ““My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy–December 1, 2018

  1. In a way Pat Conroy was too good to be a novelist. His language was ornate and lyrical and soared far above his plot points. He had the soul of a poet. In this world of plain language writing, many do not appreciate how good he was. I’ll never forget the final paragraph of “Prince of Tides”, where the main character is driving across the Charleston bridge at night, calling out “Lowenstein! Lowenstein!”
    If you read the book carefully, you knew exactly what the protagonist felt at that moment. Pure genius.


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