Sunday, January 23, 2011
Many, but not all, Southern writers have a wordy style. Think Faulkner, James Dickey, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Conner, Truman Capote, Pat Conroy. It takes a time and patience to read some of these writers. Critics have not always been kind to Pat Conroy, and I will admit following his sentences is sometimes like driving a roundabout with one eye shut. He uses four adjectives where one will work; his metaphors can be correct but convoluted. He sends me to the dictionary with words like kvelled and succubus. But I feel safe with a Conroy title because despite the wordiness, I can count on a good story. Conroy tells good stories, period.
Recently, I bought My Reading Life by Pat Conroy knowing I would get some good stories. I wasn’t disappointed. Oh, he wandered over some topics, became almost boring in a few places, but overall there were both inspiring and entertaining tidbits scattered through the entire book. His essay Why I Write was worth the price of the book. Readers can also see how his Catholic faith influenced his writing life, was a foundation of tradition, ritual, and discipline necessary for a writer.
“Good writing is one form hard labor takes….like some unnamable station of the cross,” pens Conroy. In another place, he describes writing as a form of coal mining. Wow, don’t we all know that for sure! He also says he made it a practice to do heavy writing in beautiful places with beautiful views. Two works were done in beach houses, another in Paris. Well, don’t we all wish we could make that a prerequisite for our stories?
When Conroy tells about all the great works he has read and some several times, one wonders when he had time to do any writing. His list of titles would take a lifetime of reading and studying. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was one of Conroy’s favorites, with the poem Fern Hill much loved. The reference sent me to check the poem out and even to find an audio version. Thomas is hard for me to stick with reading, as he is often over my head. But when you listen to him read his work, you don’t have to understand a single line. His voice is music; shut your eyes and float with the cadence of his composition.
“Stories are the vessels I used to interpret the world to myself,” says Conroy. For stories and leads to great literature, all readers and writers should take a look at this Southern gentleman's latest book.