I met Pat Conroy the summer before I started 9th grade, the summer before I started high school. The required reading for everyone going into Honors English 9 was The Great Santini. I was the only person in my class to love the book; I could not put it down. As I read Mr. Conroy’s words, I watched the movie in my head, and not the one starring Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner; in fact, I have not seen any of the movie versions of Mr. Conroy’s books.
The Great Santini was my gateway to the world of Pat Conroy’s books. I bought paperback copies of The Water is Wide and The Prince of Tides at Barnes & Noble. I began the books during Kol NIdre services and Yom Kippur sermons. Again, I could not put them down. There was something about Mr. Conroy’s writing that enthralled me, that captured me, that would just not let me go. I was hooked.
I worked at the local movie theater during my junior and senior years of high school. One Friday night during my junior year, a cadet from the United States Merchant Marine Academy came in and saw I was reading The Prince of Tides. He told me he loved Pat Conroy and asked if I had read The Lords of Discipline. I replied in the negative and he suggested I make that my next book. To this day, The Lords of Discipline is my favorite book. “I wear the ring.”
I read other books that year and before the summer leading to senior year. When I received the summer reading list for senior year, I was ecstatic to see The Lords of Discipline on it. Without reading it for a second time, I scored an A on an essay I wrote in class in September on the book. I knew exactly which page to turn to for the exact quote or scene I was looking for. To this day, I still laugh thinking about the laxative brownie chapter. My paperback copy is dog-eared, creased, and yellow from use, whether my own or a friend to whom I lent the book.
My next Pat Conroy book was Beach Music, about a man whose wife commits suicide and he tries to figure out why. The daughter of two Holocaust survivors, Mr. Conroy gives each survivor his/her own chapter to narrate his/her life and escape. I would have thought Mr. Conroy survived the Holocaust himself as he wrote so proficiently and knowledgeably about it.
I remember going on a trip with my father and he wanted a book to read for the flight. I suggested Beach Music. For a man who never reads, he couldn’t put the book down.
During my senior year of high school, my parents were able to get their hands on a brand new, wrapped-in-plastic copy of The Boo. If you have read any other Pat Conroy book, you will notice right away that The Boo reads differently. It is Mr. Conroy’s very first book and it felt like reading an early draft of The Lords of Discipline. The Boo left me very angry at Mr. Conroy. He takes the time before The Lords of Discipline even begins to explain that nothing about TLOD is true. He says the entire book is a work of fiction with no connections to his time at The Citadel. These are blatant lies. The Boo is completely auto-biographical. TLOD is a novelized version of it.
While I was dating my ex, South of Broad came out and Pat Conroy gave a talk at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. I rushed into Manhattan after work that summer day and made my way to the back of the crowd. Mr. Conroy shared the stage with another author and NY Times journalist-cum-moderator. The moderator was attempting to draw parallels between the works of the two authors but spent most of his time interviewing the other author. Mr. Conroy was escorted out immediately after while the other author signed books. Needless to say, I was not pleased. I did buy an autographed copy of South of Broad that I have yet to read, though.
Two weeks ago, I borrowed South of Broad and The Death of Santini from the library. I decided to read the latter first. I cried at the end of the prologue because reading a book by Pat Conroy for the first time in at least ten years was coming home, a return to something comfortable and familiar. As disturbing as many elements of the book are (this is Pat Conroy’s autobiography and he is the son of a very emotionally and physically abusive father), I cannot put it down. I need to keep reading more and more to maintain that connection with Mr. Conroy. I cannot get enough of him. I am about halfway through the book and look forward to picking up South of Broad when I am finished.
Since I turn 30 this year, Boyfriend D decided my birthday present is going to be a long weekend in Charleston. Why Charleston? Whenever we talk about places we want to go, Charleston always comes up first in my list because of Pat Conroy and the ties to the city in his books. From what I have read when it first came out, South of Broad is a tribute to the city. Hence, I want to read it before I go.
Tell me, dear Fitters, who is your favorite author? When you haven’t read something by that author in a while, do you have that feeling of coming home? What else do you suggest I read?
*Author’s Note: All photos are of books in my personal collection.