Pat Conroy’s book is an exuberant re-telling of his life as a reader and writer. His love of book reading led to his craft of writing. He considers himself a ‘southern writer’ – a label his mother first gave him as she was born in Georgia. There are chapters on great books which he feels are important to read: ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘War and Peace.’ I have read none of these works but intend to someday in my own quest to be writer. Pat Conroy mentions that one will be a different person after reading these books. This is a theme on several of his chapters on the power of books to transform one’s life. He undertook to read as many books as he can to transition himself into being an author. Along his journey are great teachers and book sellers, of living in interesting places like Beaufort – South Carolina, Atlanta - Georgia, Paris - France and Asheville – North Carolina.
These are interesting places to grow up into a writer. The book is similar to Larry McMurtry’s ‘Books: a memoir’ and ‘Literary Life.’ It is basically a story by writers who credit books with their success as an author. Pat Conroy is more ‘literary’ in the sense that he makes wonderful sentences but in need of editing. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable account of the writer’s young life. An author he particularly likes is Thomas Wolfe and he writes about visiting his home in Asheville, North Carolina. I enjoyed Wolfe’s work as well like ‘Look Homeward, Angel’ and like Pat Conroy, struck by the elegance and density of the book’s first sentences. I also visited Wolfe’s home last year but could barely recall the passages or story lines after having read his works in my youth. I do recall some of the book scenes but preferred the works of Ernest Hemingway with his clear, short sentences and action packed plots.
Larry McMurtry and Pat Conroy struggled with their demons on the road to becoming writers. Both speak about depression, failed marriages, difficult lives in their youth especially Pat Conroy with his abusive father. Conroy is also a good humorist seeing humor and irony in situations he finds himself in. He has an artistic mentality – striving for elegance in his flowery words. McMurthy on the other hand is more like a professional writer who strives to write as many books as one can in an efficient manner. Actually I have not read their creative fiction books but enjoyed their memoirs. But I do enjoy the file adaptations of their work: ‘The Last Picture Show’, Terms of Endearment' and ‘Hud’ for McMurtry and ‘The Great Santini’, ‘The Water is Wide’ and ‘Prince of Tides’ for Conroy. Both authors have a good record of having their books converted into popular films. I guess one can say that both writers are more famous for the film adaptations of their books than the books themselves.
One sees that one becomes aware of himself in his evolution towards being a writer. It’s a question of achieving one’s identity. This awareness seems to be achieved through deep reading, writing and reflection, travel and living in different places. In one’s own situation, one can say that one has read a significant number of books, done regular self- reflections via journal writings, traveled a bit (China, Thailand, Japan, India, Malaysia) and lived in different places: Philippines, Singapore and South Carolina – USA. I guess one can claim to have the ingredients of a writer’s experience but only recently has one studied the craft of creative writing. This brings us to the lessons of Eckhart Tolle in his book ‘New Earth.’ The key is not over thinking or the accumulation of outer forms or experiences but in self-awareness and consciousness though not in a literal or verbal sense. Achieving this special awareness results in space because one’s mind no longer contains the chattering voice.
According to Tolle, the way to self-actualization is the inner journey. It does not square with the life journey of writers like McMurtry or Conroy. Perhaps a balance between inner and outer forms is needed. The benefit is the networking that one achieves by meeting other writers and creative people. Thomas Wolfe would not be successfully without the help of Maxwell Perkins his editor. Hence, awareness can only be achieved with the inner journey and the outer journey’s role is to serve as the way to get published by networking with creative people and would-be publishers. Perhaps another benefit is to learn the craft plus tools like visual thinking or writing worksheets or word processing software. Learning these outer forms will help one be on the way but one cannot learn about the true essence via eternal means. Awareness via inner knowledge maybe the starting point achieved with the lessening of one’s noisy mind.