Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rare Occurrence

Has it ever happened to you? Have you ever read a book and been so full of the words and the writing and the story that you were afraid to pick up another book for fear of losing the power of the one you just read? It has not happened to me in a long time. It happened after War and Peace and Blindness, but those are truly exceptional works. It happened after Lolita as well, but that was 20 years ago in college.

So I have to say I am surprised that it happened after My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. Pat Conroy? I'm a huge fan the movie version The Great Santini which is based on his semi-autobiographical novel, but I have never actually read anything he has written. I like books about what inspired other readers and authors, so when I saw this little volume sitting on the library shelf, I picked it up.

And was mesmerized.

It ratified a theory of mine that great writing could sneak up on you, master of a thousand disguises: prodigal kinsmen, messenger boy, class clown, commander of artillery, altar boy, lace maker, exiled king, peacemaker, or moon goddess....From the beginning I've searched out those writers unafraid to stir up emotions, who entrust me with their darkest passions, their most indestructible yearnings, and their most soul-killing doubts. (p. 10)

Great books invited argument and disagreement, but ignorance did not even earn a place at the table when ideas were the subject of dispute....books existed to force people to examine every fact of their lives and beliefs. (p. 53)

I had stumbled into a store that would open up a hundred universities for my inspection. I had dropped out of nowhere and found myself at the gates of my own personal Magdalen College in Oxford. I could punt down the Cam through the hallowed grounds of Cambridge University, take notes on Balzac at the Sorbonne, rush to my morning class on Dante in Bologna or sprint toward an honors class in Harvard Yard. (p. 111)

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 (personal note: immediately here was brought to mind the glorious story of Aslan singing the world to life). (p. 299)

And there is so much more. I could hardly take it all in.

Because I left mine in Texas in storage, I must immediately by another copy of War and Peace. I must rush and find a copy of Dickey's Poems and a volume of Dylan Thomas. But I can't even begin to read them today. First I have to let the music of Pat Conroy subside in my mind.

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