The following are a few of my favorite quotes from Pat Conroy’s book My Reading Life (2010). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
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Since she did not attend college, she looked to librarians as her magic carpet into a serious intellectual life. Books contained powerful amulets that could lead to paths of certain wisdom. Novels taught her everything she needed to know about the mysteries and uncertainties of being human. (p. 5).
Great words, arranged with cunning and artistry, could change the perceived world for some readers. From the beginning I’ve searched out those writers unafraid to stir up the emotions, who entrust me with their darkest passions, their most indestructible yearnings, and their most soul-killing doubts. I trust the great novelists to teach me how to live, how to feel, how to love and hate. I trust them to show me the dangers I will encounter on the road as I stagger on my own troubled passage through a complicated life of books that try to teach me how to die. (pp. 10-11).
Gone with the Wind is a war novel, a historical romance, a comedy of manners, a bitter lamentation, a cry of the heart, and a long, coldhearted look at the character of this lovely, Machiavellian Southern woman. It is beautifully constructed into fine, swiftly moving parts and sixty-three chapters. Margaret Mitchell possessed a playwright’s ear for dialogue and the reader never becomes confused as the hundreds of characters move in and out of scenes throughout the book. She grants each character the clear imprimatur of a unique and completely distinct voice. Once Miss Mitchell has limned the outlines of the main characters, they live eternally in the imagination of the reader. She was born to be a novelist, but then withdrew, having given voice to the one novel bursting along the seams of consciousness. Margaret Mitchell sings her own song of a land-proud, war-damaged South, and her voice is operatic, biblical, epic. Her genius lay in her choice of locale and point of focus and heroine. She leaves the great battlefields of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Bull Run and Antietam to the others and places the Civil War in the middle of Scarlett O’Hara’s living room. She has the Northern cannons sounding beyond Peachtree Creek as Melanie Wilkes goes into labor, and has the city of Atlanta in flames as Scarlett is seized with an overpowering urge to return home that finds her moving down Peachtree Street with the world she grew up in turning to ash around her. (pp. 19-20).
This book [Gone With the Wind] demonstrates again and again that there is no passion more rewarding than reading itself, that it remains the best way to dream and to feel the sheer carnal joy of being fully and openly alive. (p. 32).
Good writing is one of the forms that hard labor takes. It is neither roadhouse nor weigh station, but much more like some unnameable station of the cross. It is taking the nothingness of air and turning it into a pleasure palace built on a foundation of words. (p. 88).
Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next ten years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart. (p. 111)
In our modern age, there are writers who have heaped scorn on the very idea of primacy of story. I’d rather warm my hands on a sunlit ice floe than try to coax fire from the books they carve from glaciers. Writers of the world, if you’ve got a story, I want to hear it. I promise it will follow me to my last breath. My soul will dance with pleasure, and it’ll change the quality of all my waking hours. You will hearten me and brace me up for the hard days as they enter my life on the prowl. I reach for a story to save my own life. Always. It clears the way for me and makes me resistant to all the false promises signified by the ring of power. In every great story, I encounter a head-on collision with self and imagination. (p. 154)
“Hurt is a great teacher. Maybe the greatest of all.” quoting Norman Berg (p. 160)
The great books are like the elevation of the host to me, their presence transformed, their effect indelible and everlasting. (p. 161)
Later, he [Norman Berg] claimed he loathed parties because it represented time stolen from his priestlike engagement with the great literature of the world. (p. 162)
I’ve spent most of my life avoiding the companionship of writers. I try never to be rude, just seldom available. Though I have met some of the great writers of our time, I’ve become good friends with very few of them. The tribe is contentious, the breed dangerous. (p. 173)
She [Alice Walker] was as friendly as a cow turd on an altar step. (p. 180)
Because of the military life, I’m a stranger everywhere and a stranger nowhere. I can engage anyone in a conversation, become well liked in a matter of seconds, yet there is a distance I can never recover, a slight shiver of alienation, of not belonging, and an eye on the nearest door. The word “good-bye” will always be a killing thing to me, but so is the word “hello.” I’m pathetic in my attempts to make friends with everyone I meet, from cabdrivers to bellhops to store clerks. When I was a child, my heart used to sink at every new move or new set of orders. By necessity, I became an expert at spotting outsiders. All through my youth, I was grateful for unpopular children. In their unhappiness, I saw my chance for rescue and I always leaped at it. When Mary Edwards Wertsch writes of military brats offering emotional blank checks to everyone in the world, she’s writing the first line in my biography. Yet I can walk away from best friends and rarely think of them again. I can close a door and not look back. There’s something about my soul that’s always ready to go, to break camp, to unfold the road map, to leave at night when the house inspection’s done and the civilians are asleep and the open road is calling to the marine and his family again. (pp. 191-192)
When I was a freshman in college, she [Ann Head] sent me a copy of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for my birthday and inscribed it, “One day I hope to read what you think about Paris. This is the best book I’ve ever read about the romance of writing.” (p. 203)
Parisians and polar icecaps have a lot in common except that polar icecaps are warmer to strangers. (p. 208)
Parisians also relish the xenophobic sport of stereotyping and love to offer an infinite variety of theories on the nature of Americans. To them, we as a people are shallow, criminally naïve, reactionary, decadent, over-the-hill, uncultured, uneducable, and friendly to a fault. To Parisians, all Americans are Texans, grinning cowboys. (p. 208)
France is the only country in the world where friendliness is one of the seven deadly sins. (p. 208)
And it would embarrass me that they unfailingly knew I was an American; I wore my nationality like a cheap cologne. (p. 213)
Let me now add my own voice to the hallelujah chorus of novelists who have found themselves enraptured by the immensity and luminosity of War and Peace and cast my own vote that it is the finest novel ever written. (p. 268)
I think that War and Peace is the best book about war ever written, and that includes The Iliad. It is also the best book about peace ever written.
To me, his [James Dickey] book Poems 1957–1967 is the finest book of poetry ever published in America, and I include in that assessment Leaves of Grass, the collected works of Emily Dickinson, the works of Wallace Stevens, and I will throw in T. S. Eliot for dessert. When Dickey is writing at his best, it is like listening to God singing in cantos and fragments about the hard dreaming required for the creation of the world. Dickey crafts and fixes each of his sentences as though he were trying to shape a mountain range glorious enough to hover over Asia. When I read James Dickey, I am transported into that ecstatic country where poetry and poetry alone can take you and shake you with the cutting beauty and hammerlock of its language. (p. 299)
Few things linger longer or become more indwelling than that feeling of both completion and emptiness when a great book ends. That the book accompanies the reader forever, from that day forward, is part of literature’s profligate generosity. (p. 311)
Reading and prayer are both acts of worship to me. (p. 320)
Reading great books gave me unlimited access to people I never would have met, cities I couldn’t visit, mountain ranges I would never lay eyes on, or rivers I would never swim. Through books I fought bravely in wars of both attrition and conquest. Before I’d ever asked a girl out, I had fallen in love with Anna Karenina, taken Isabel Archer to high tea at the Grand Hotel in Rome, delivered passionate speeches to Juliet beneath her balcony, abandoned Dido in Carthage, made love to Lara in Zhivago’s Russia, walked beside Lady Brett Ashley in Paris, danced with Madame Bovary—I could form a sweet-smelling corps de ballet composed of the women I have loved in books. (p. 321)
Here is all I ask of a book—give me everything. Everything, and don’t leave out a single word. (p. 327).
“Kintsugi” is “the Japanese practice of repairing ceramics with gold-laced lacquer to illuminate the breakage.” (p. 330)