Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

Well, this could very well be my last blog of 2010.  I don't get to write nearly as much as I would like, but I appreciate everyone who reads my ramblings and has been supportive of this project.  That being said, think of this review as my virtual Christmas gift to you.  No returns or exchanges allowed.

Who else but Pat Conroy could write a book about the books he likes to read and turn it into a masterpiece of literature? My Reading Life is a squat little volume containing the history of Conroy's reading life and what led him to be a writer.  You learn about the books that changed his life, how Conroy himself writes, and the power that good literature can have on society.

The book opens with a young Pat Conroy being given a love of books from his mother, Peg, who never went to college, but was determined to educate herself through the works of Austen, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare.  She used Gone with the Wind as a handbook for how a proper Southern woman should behave and in turn Margaret Mitchell's inspiring novel taught Conroy how to be a man.  Books created an unbreakable bond between Conroy and his mother and helped them escape from the world where Conroy's abusive father beat and belittled his family for a lifetime.

Conroy's chapter on a beloved English teacher puts me in mind of the teachers who introduced me to great literature and much of the book reads like a giant thank you to all teachers who dedicate their lives to students.  

Reading 200 pages a day, everyday, since he was a freshman in high school, Conroy developed an amazing command of the English language which allowed him to write books like The Water Is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, and more.  You learn when reading My Reading Life just how much of Conroy's own life goes into his writing and how the thousands of books he has read helped develop his craft.  I also enjoyed learning that Conroy writes all his books with a fountain pen, like myself.  This is probably the only similarity between Conroy's writing and my own.

My Reading Life is a beautiful creation about the love of books.  Conroy writes in a very conversational manner and I found myself writing down quotes from the text which made me laugh as well as think.  Whether you have read all of Conroy's works or this is your first foray into his literary genius, you're sure to enjoy the read.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Literary Overload: Meeting Patricia Cornwell

 Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Cornwell in Oakbrook, IL, where she signed copies of her new novel, Port Mortuary.  It was an amazing experience and I hope I can recreate it for you.  As Carrie Fisher once said, "You haven't lived vicariously until you've lived through me."

So I have to give it to my mom.  She swapped out her box of wine and bathrobe for coffee and a warm jacket and drove to Oakbrook to get wristbands for the signing for me, my dad, and her at 5:30a.m.  She was one of the first people in line so she got a sweet cap with the Scarpetta crest on it.  We also got Scarpetta crest coasters and pins at the signing.  Good marketing.

Anyway, we got to the signing an hour ahead of time, but the place was already packed.  Luckily, Patricia arrived on time with her entourage, including her beautiful wife, Dr. Staci Gruber.  Patricia was very warm and funny.  She has a very endearing way of talking about her characters.  "You think I have control over my characters," she told us, "Trust me, I don't."  She said that she invited Dr. Scarpetta to the signing, but she didn't return Patricia's call.

Patricia answered questions from the audience and talked about her writing.  When she wrote Postmortem, she had never read a mystery before.  She bought novels by Agatha Christie, P.D. James, and Dorothy Sayers for inspiration.  However, she ended up writing a parlor mystery set in a morgue.  "The butler didn't do it," Patricia mused, "but he did have his innards carved out."  After a half hour of discussion, Patricia got right into signing books.

While I was waiting for her to sign my book, I got to meet other fans who I've communicated with on Patricia's Facebook page.  Her fans really adore her, and it was great to connect in person instead of online.

I didn't have to wait long to meet Patricia and it was surreal.  I was shaking like a spastic colon, and it was hard to keep my voice from doing the same.  I told her how much I love her writing and how it inspired me to write.  She was incredibly gracious and told me that maybe I could sign a book for her one day.  It was freaking magic.

Patricia also offered to sign her older books, but only after all the new books had been signed.  I waited around and talked to other fans which made the time fly.  One of the books I had was my copy of Postmortem which is very rare to find in hardcover.  Patricia's reaction was priceless, and also showed how thoughtful she is.  She looked at the book and asked with surprise, "Is this a first edition?"  When I told it was, she had someone get her a ballpoint pen because she thought her Sharpie would bleed too much on the old paper.  She really went out of her way for me and I won't soon forget that.

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  Patricia and her team are very gracious and the fans can't be beat.  Port Mortuary already has a number 36 sales ranking on Amazon and is getting great reviews.  I'm very grateful to have met Patricia and hope the rest of her tour is as big a success as her stop in Chicago was.