When I was fifteen years old, my father put the book The Prince of Tides in my hands and told me to read. An unusual choice, some might think, for a 15 year old female from the suburbs in Michigan, who listened to Nirvana and frequented Denny's. This was my life though, growing up. My parents started my reading education early, as young as ten when my mother gave me James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, and never moderated or censored my reading choices; in fact they encouraged me to read whatever I could get my hands on, and suggested many of their favorites, like J.D. Salinger, John Irving, James Herriot, and Kurt Vonnegut. I read voraciously and tenaciously, hanging on every syllable of every sentence.
The Prince of Tides was a changing point in my life however; while I always read constantly, and by constantly I mean actually not putting the book down, and read while brushing my teeth, making breakfast, walking from room to room, I really couldn't put this book down. I even convinced my mom the day after I started the book that I was sick, and had to stay home from school. I finished The Prince of Tides that very day, and thus began my lifelong love of the south and southern writers. The lives of the characters in this book could not have been further from my own, yet something in the writing, in the story spoke to me. The setting, the characters, were a million miles away from my own personal landscapes, and I wanted to be part of that world. I wanted the concrete and tall buildings around me to transform into tidal lowlands; I had a crush on Luke, wanted to be Tom's friend, wanted to save Savannah. And later Luke. I can still recite from memory the poem Savannah wrote about Luke, still remember the white porpoise, Caesar, Callonwolde. This book is so full of pain and beauty and love rolled into one. I cried throughout most of it.
After that day, I read all of Pat Conroy's published works, and made sure to read every new one that came out after. Now, 20 years later, I am midway through Conroy's book My Reading Life, and am just as enthralled as I always am. It has reminded me just how in love with reading, with words, with books, with the south, with southern writers, Conroy in particular, I really am. He taught me that there is magic in a sentence, and that you can never use too many adjectives. He has shaped my northern world into one that dreams of the south, flawed or unflawed.
"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." Pat Conroy - My Reading Life