My Reading Life (as inspired by Pat Conroy’s book)

Define “reality.” Feel free to google it, and look through all the great philosophers and psychologists that Wikipedia so conveniently turns into sound bytes. I’m curious what they say, because I can’t neatly tie up in a tidy bow and point to it as a discrete package.

That’s because I read.

I don’t remember learning to read; I remember sitting in Mrs. Wild’s first grade, reading about Dick, Jane, and Sally. Decoding letters came so easily that I don’t think I ever consciously learned. Sure, I may have stumbled over new words as I sounded them out, but even that was minimal. I’m still baffled by how people learn to read. How do you not know how? And how can people not be entranced by the magic of one letter following another, making pictures in your head, conjuring whole people and places with the symbols on the page? One of my (many) downfalls as a teacher is that I assume that of course you will want to read, that meeting these characters or delving into this information is as wonderous for you as for me.

Pat Conroy, who is one of my all-time favorite writers, wrote a book that talks about the books that he’s been influenced by. It’s a cozy flannel sheet of a book, with his effusive and emotional explanations about what each volume meant to him. Usually, I race through Conroy’s work, finishing a first read of his huge stories in a day or two, then rereading more leisurely to sink into the place and people. (Yes, I do mean that the first time I read each of his books, I read twice, right in a row. Well, except for South of Broad, which I pretend he didn’t publish.Whole ‘nother issue!) My Reading Life, however, I’ve been eating in bite-sized morsels, a chapter at a time. Most then once, I’ve then read (or reread) the book that he rhapsodized about, wanting to see if I could find in the story why it was so influential to him. Some books focused as much on the person who introduced the book to him, fleshing out English teachers, librarians and friends who were fictionalize in many of his books.

There’s a punchline, of course. I’m going to take the Conroy Challenge. I’ve been off my game, writing-wise. My blog has been silent. In important ways, I’m more a reader than a writer–which is like taking razor blades to my soul to admit; I’m going to set a goal of writing about 20 books that have influenced me. That’s a minimum, fans. The challenge, I realize, is to say anything interesting enough about them for anyone else to read!

First book up…..hmm…...Little Black Sambo? Seriously, it might be–that’s a book I will write about. Over in the Meadow? Gone with the Wind? Little Women? On the Road? Stranger in a Strange Land? I’m not sure….but it’ll be this weekend!  (2020 Note: I still haven’t written about most of these)


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