I just came across a bunch of Pat Conroy novels on a shelf in my study and stood pondering them, and thought maybe I should write a little something here about him and his books. As we enter the summer season of reading big books on vacation, maybe one of his should accompany you down to the beach, or wherever you go to relax. I mean, of course, along with one of mine.
I like Pat Conroy a lot. And I like his books. I had the chance to sit and talk with him for quite a while one night, just the two of us, and came away with the feeling that he's a really good guy. I then heard him speak to a big group of people and was really impressed with his talk. He was funny. And moving. Just like his books. Born and raised and educated in the south, he's a man who paid attention growing up and stocked his mind and heart with the stories of this distinctive region that he’s been sharing with the world for many years.
He wrote his first book while he was still in school, and then followed up with a string of best sellers that continues to this day:
The Water is Wide – a heroic year of teaching on a small island off the coast of South Carolina, now the basis for two great movies,
The Great Santini – growing up in the home of a fighter pilot, and having to fight for any small measure of independence and dignity while surrounded by violence, prejudice, outrageous demands, and some surprising sides of love,
The Lords of Discipline – the experience of a southern military school: hazing, torture, friendship, self-mastery, hope, betrayal, and honor,
The Prince of Tides – one family’s struggles with tragedy and madness, much of it in the midst of great beauty, along with one man’s attempt at making sense of it all,
Beach Music – the gravitational force of family and how hard it is to achieve escape velocity from place and blood, no matter what you do,
My Losing Season – where basketball meets the rest of life,
And even a cookbook that people with culinary talents I don’t have say is one of the compelling cookbooks of our day. There are other titles, as well, but those are the ones I know.
Pat Conroy’s themes are as universal as his sense of place is particular: The experience of adversity, the power of friendship, the complex cauldron of family in which we’re all formed, the incredible lure of the low country with its rich display of the wonders of nature, here at the edge of America where I live. You can experience shock and trauma on one page of a Conroy book, and find yourself laughing out loud in the very next chapter.
Some of the best reading times I’ve ever enjoyed have been in Pat Conroy’s books. I’ve read them even when I really should have been doing other things. I’ve relished every one, and I’ve even taken notes. You see, Pat Conroy is a good philosopher – an astute diagnostician of human nature. But, most of all, he’s a master of stories.
Whenever I’m reading one of his books, I think I appreciate my family and friends a little more, I breathe the fresh salt air of my town a bit more deeply, I linger outside a touch longer to watch water birds move across the sky, and I get really hungry. The descriptions of food in Pat's books are pretty amazing, which is possibly why he had to do a cookbook for us, to help satisfy at least one of the cravings his pages create.
So: Do yourself a favor, and try out one of his books, if you haven't already. Or grab one you haven't read. It's sure to be a great summer read.