Monday, November 08, 2010

Conroy champions better way in new book

So I finished "My Reading Life," Pat Conroy's ode to the books (and the book people) that have shaped him. Completed the slim volume in one last gasp, just before 1 a.m., having passed the point of no return, the moment when a book screams "Finish me!" and you obey.

Like my usual time spent with Conroy from Carolina, I left it feeling enraptured, engaged, delighted, and yes, a bit deflated. I'm not sure why.

It made me want to hole up and hibernate for the winter, primed with a plethora of books, to tackle the tomes he loves. Thomas Wolfe and Tolstoy. Balzac. James Dickey. He even suggests another go around with "Gone with the Wind."

I, too, know what it's like to feel the pulse begin to pound at the sight of a used bookstore. I, too, know what it's like when a book grabs you, stabs you, haunts your dreams, rearranges your life. I loved hearing Conroy's version in his curious way.

But the best of the rest was his chapter about Gene Norris, a beloved English teacher who gave a trembling, terrified adolescent a gift he could never quite repay. Norris taught him, yes. He gave him books, indeed. But he drove him to the Wolfe boardinghouse in Asheville. He took Pat to meet a poet. He saw a spark and ignited an inferno.

In a way, "My Reading Life" is almost elegiac. He laments being born in the century in which novels lost their stories, music lost its melody, art lots its form. He says he read something claiming that paper-printed books will be obsolete in two years.

Maybe, maybe not. But I get his point. We no longer live in a literary age. Sound bites have made us spastic. Can't sit still. No time for stories. No time for depth.

We're a worse nation for it. Cheers to Pat Conroy for championing another, better way.

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