Sunday, May 30, 2021

Notes from a Reading Life: Salute to Pat Controy

I love to read about writers reading. I devoured The Road to Xanadu, an immense scholarly study of Coleridge's vast literary diet on his way to delivering "Kubla Khan". I delight in Jorge Luis Borges' accounts of his passionate lifelong love affair with books, and in the bookish essays that stud Mircea Eiade's journals and autobiographies. 

Pat Conroy's memoir My Reading Life has prompted me to publish more of my adventures in reading and how they spill into my experience or the world, and the roads I travel in dreams. Listen to Pat Conroy:

 "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. 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."

Conroy's word magic never falters as he gives us his memoir of his life as a reader. He made it his practice to read at least 200 pages a day. "Reading," he insists, "is the most rewarding form of exile and the necessary discipline for a novelist who wants to get better."

Shifting to his own fiction, he declares, "I do not record the world exactly as it comes to me but transform it by making it pass through a prism of fabulous stories I have collected on the way."

Reading was always his approach run to those wild day-nights when he wrote his heart out, completing The Great Santini by writing in a Georgia cabin for 24 hours straight. "The idea of a novel should stir your blood, and you should rise to it like a lion lifting up at the smell of an impala."



June 3, 2021

Thomas Wolfe's Magic Apple
I have been using A Reading Life for morning bibliomancy. I opened it at random today and found this:
"Why'd you want me to eat this apple, Mr Norris?" Mr Norris drove fast along the curves of the mountain road, pausing, selecting his words with care. "It's high time, boy, that you learned that there is a relationship between life and art."
Mr Norris was Conroy's English teacher. He had introduced Conroy to Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel when he was 16 and the boy had fallen in love with his first literary hero. They had just been to visit the boarding house in Asheville, owned by Wolfe's mother, where Thomas had grown up and watched his brother die. Mr Norris had plucked an apple for Conroy from Thomas' favorite tree.
Now that is a teacher!
Conroy writes: "Wolfe hovers over a blank page like God dreaming of paradise. With every word he writes he tries to give you a complete and autonomous world. Because he cannot do otherwise, Wolfe takes you high up into the mountains, past the tree line, to those crests and snowy peaks of the highest points of the earth. He stammers, he murmurs, he hunts for the right words, and words spill out of his pockets and cuffs and shirtsleeves as he tries to awaken us from the dream of our own barely lived-in lives."
That magic apple delivered some juice. Follow the sweetness and it could lead you back to Thomas Wolfe, writing in Look Homeward , Angel
“And who shall say--whatever disenchantment follows--that we ever forget magic; or that we can ever betray, on this leaden earth, the apple-tree, the singing, and the gold?”

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