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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

V.V.B.C. Discussion: My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

Vicarious Virtual Book Club Discussion: 
My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

We just had our Sisterchick Book Club "live" discussion about My Reading Life last night. The next three paragraphs are what I posted previously. If you are interested in reading this book, stop reading when I post the notice below, otherwise, you may learn more than you want to know! Read the book, then come back and join in the discussion, and read the feedback! This was one of my favorite books, EVER! 

I'm already reading our Sisterchick Book Club's April selection, in book form, because it's "MY" book. That means I'll lead the discussion, because I suggested the book! (I'm trying to "be prepared!" I welcome your insight, and questions on the blog, for blog discussions, and to share with my non-virtual book club! Any ideas?)

I'm not going to comment about the book until April, except to say, this book has thoroughly captured my fancy. I LOVE Pat Conroy's vocabulary and storytelling abilities. So far, about 1/4 of the way through, this book is BY FAR the best book I've read in a long time, because of Pat Conroy's command of the English language. I really appreciate someone who uses their vocabulary to precisely express themselves in an entertaining way!

After I finish reading My Reading Life, before book club in April, I'm going to listen to Pat Conroy, via audible, as he reads his book! You may listen to a sample of Pat Conroy reading, and to part of a free 8 minute interview with Pat Conroy, by putting the book title in the search box below!
Search for audiobooks:
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To sample/order Kindle and all other formats from Amazon:

STOP READING NOW, if you don't want to risk "spoilers!" 

We had ten Sisterchicks at last night's Book Club meeting. I proposed this book, so I led the discussion.

Since this is basically a book of essays on Pat Conroy's favorite books, and those people whose contributions were instrumental in his literary journey thus far, it was a very easy read. Each chapter stood alone, and there was a complete story. 

My Reading Life captivated me, because it made me believe that Pat Conroy and I are kindred spirits. I learned to read at an early age, my parents read to me (a lot!) I devoured library books, and I preferred the company of a good book over most everything else in my childhood. 

We both grew up with a somewhat romanticized Southern influence. We both love books, language, stories, and writing. I felt like I "knew" and understood Pat Conroy so well, that I invited him (a couple of different ways) to come to our book club meeting. I didn't "hold my breath," and give it a lot of consideration, but I did have a smidgeon of hope that Pat Conroy, and his wife, Cassandra King, just MIGHT show up, "just because!" Unfortunately, they didn't! 

However, if by some chance Pat Conroy reads or hears about this review, THE INVITATION STILL STANDS! The Sisterchicks Book Club in Peachtree City would love to show Pat Conroy and Cassandra King some South Atlanta hospitality anytime! 

I took a "quick poll" to determine if there was anyone who did not like
My Reading Life (which I'll abbreviate MRL.) The results: Half those present LOVED the book. The other half loved PARTS of the book. Most of those who weren't wild about the entire book, were not life-long readers. Several members said they were "slow readers" and/or didn't enjoy reading growing up. EVERYONE was inspired by SOMETHING in MRL. 

I showed the group an 8 minute youtube video (below) on my computer, so "the girls" could hear, in the author's voice, and words, what Pat Conroy wanted readers to gain from MRL. (Last month, we found that the minority opinion in our group was actually the author's interpretation. This month, I wanted to go "straight to the horse's mouth" to get Pat Conroy's perspective.)

I read with pen in hand, with a pad of sticky note flags in the back of the book. While reading MRL, I was underlining or flagging something on most every page! I had to really restrain myself, to limit the number of quotes I shared at Book Club. There were SO MANY good ones!

Every quote that pierced my heart, every book recommendation that piqued my interest, made me want to devour the books Pat Conroy loved. MRL also made me want to revisit several books I'd already read. Here are just a FEW of my favorite quotes
(some shared in book club, some different):

"In a scene that has haunted me since I first read it, the father lifted his son off the Cretan earth and made the boy kiss the dead men's feet. Though nearly gagging, the young Kazantzakis kisses dirt from the lifeless feet as the father tells him that's what courage tastes like, that's what freedom tastes like." (POWERFUL quote!)

"But Southern women, forced to live with that defeat, had to build granaries around the heart to store the poisons that the glands of rage produced during that war and its aftermath. The Civil War stills feel personal in the South." (Pat Conroy's  inspired tribute to Gone With the Wind made it a favorite segment with both our Southern and Yankee Sisterchicks!)

"With the introduction of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, Miss Mitchell managed to create the two most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet." 

"Because of the military life, I'm a stranger everywhere, and a stranger nowhere." (This quote, and others, made it unanimous that we'd all love to give Pat Conroy a big hug--for all the hurt and angst of his past!)

"Finally, when her hostility had become a palpable, living thing at the Grand Hotel des Balcons, I took her aside and, in a carefully memorized speech, confessed to her I was mentally retarded and had been sent to Paris on a special program of rehabilitation. (We loved Pat Conroy's wicked sense of humor!)

"The book's impact on me was so visceral that I mark the reading of Look Homeward Angel as one of the pivotal events of my life....The book itself took full possession of me in a way no book has before of since." (One of our members said she thought she felt this same way about MRL!)

"My mother promised that reading would make me smart, and I found myself recruited in Mom's battle over her own lack of higher education." 
(The main character in "Her Mother's Hope," by Francine Rivers, last months Sisterchick's Book Club selection, also gained her "degrees" vicariously through reading and studying with her children.)

"Here's what I love: when a great writer turns me into a Jew from Chicago, a lesbian out of South Carolina, or a black woman moving into a subway entrance in Harlem. Turn me into something else, writers of the world. Make me Muslim, heretic, hermaphrodite. Put me into a crusader's armor, a cardinal's vestments. Let me feel the pygmy's heartbeat, the queen's breast, the torturer's pleasure, the Nile's taste, or the nomad's thirst. Tell me everything I must know. Hold nothing back." (This quote convinced two of us that Pat Conroy had read Middlesex: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) )

"A novel is my fingerprint, my identity card, and the writing of novels is one of the few ways I have found to approach the altar of God and creation itself. You try to worship God by performing the singularly courageous and impossible favor of knowing yourself. You watch for the black wings of fighters writing messages in the skies over the South. Your mother plays with snakes and poison and raises you to tell the stories that will make all of our lives clear. It all congeals and moves and hurts in the remembering. I can ask for nothing more." (Writing as an act of worship! What a wonderful way to look at writing!)

"It's the tortoises that hold all the secrets." (You'll have to read that chapter yourself, if you haven't already!) 

To close, we went around the table and each told our favorite parts of MRL, and named books that had changed our own lives. The chapters on Gone With the Wind, Gene Norris, and Peg Conroy were by far the favorites. 

Everyone loved Pat Conroy's treatment of his mother and his beloved teacher. The chapter about Gene Norris was one of the most beautiful and loving tributes we'd ever read. We talked about how it would not be acceptable now for a student to spend so much time out of school with a teacher, and how much Pat Conroy would have missed out on, had it not been for Mr. Norris.

Alice, our "leader," said she was worrying about what she would say if Pat Conroy had shown up at our meeting. Alice said that after reading how Gene Norris coached Pat Conroy before he visited South Carolina's Poet Laureate, and how Mr. Norris coached the kids before they talked to Pat Conroy, she would be afraid to ask anything!

One member had met James Dickey, in the context of her job, so she enjoyed reading Pat Conroy's perspective in that chapter. Her encounter with Dickey was not very positive, and served to confirm Pat Conroy's observation that getting caught up in the movie industry changed Dickey. 

The chapters on Gene Norris and the librarian led to a discussion about the impact and contributions that teachers, and other concerned, non-related individuals, can make in the lives of children. (We have a number of book club members who are teachers and people with family military experiences.)

One of our member's experiences at a writer's worksop caused her to identify with Pat Conroy's struggles with writing and publishing. She sympathized with the "blood, sweat and tears" that Pat Conroy pours into his writing. 

The Old New York Book Shop chapter intrigued most everyone. We loved Pat Conroy's relationship with the owner. I was the only person to have ever frequented the shop. 

The life changing books that were mentioned were: My Reading Life, Gone With the Wind, A Biography of Helen Keller (unnamed),A Biography of Mary Todd Lincoln (unnamed), Hawaii, A Grace Disguised, Scarlet Pimpernel, Ivanhoe, Tale of Two Cities, and "anything by Louisa May Alcott." (Girls, did I leave any books out?)

I loved listening to the Audible version of Pat Conroy reading MRL. 
I agree with his assessment that only an author reads his work as it is intended to be read. I also agree with him that hearing books is a wonderful way to enjoy literature, and there are some wonderfully gifted readers out there!

Mission accomplished, Pat Conroy. You launched each of us on an expanded literary journey, starting with your work! THANK YOU!
P.S. We're pulling for you and Susannah to be reconciled! 

Sister Chicks: Jump in with any comments/corrections/clarifications! Vicarious Virtual Book Club Members: What did y'all think? 
New friends: Check my blog archives for posts that start with V.V.B.C. for more book club selections/reviews/recommended reading lists. 

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