I adore books about books and the reading life and he doesn't disappoint. He gives much more than a list of books, although he does do that.
Flowing through his life like a discordant melody is his father's influence, The Great Santini. Larger than life and scary as all get out, Pat still deals with the demons caused by this sadistic fighter pilot.
Also present is his gentle mother who would read along with her son every book assigned to him in school. Embarrassed by her lack of education, she was driven to improve herself through books. This mutual love of the written word was in many ways a saving grace for them both.
One chapter is called The Old New York Book Shop. Pat frequented this shop in Atlanta for many years and became best friends with its owner. While keeping the store one afternoon for his friend, he had a most unusual customer.
Mr. Conroy writes: Though I was reading O'Neill's most accomplished play, he wore me down in gloomy rain forests of dialogue that seemed both exhausting and fruitless. But the moment froze when the front door opened and three large, muscle-bound men walked into the store like an offensive line breaking out of a huddle. The largest man signaled someone outside in a limousine and a lithe, watchful young man with a terrific hat and expensive sunglasses entered the store. When he asked me a question, he appeared shy as a mollusk.
"Do you have any books on freaks?" he asked.
"We specialize in freaks here," I answered. "You ever met the owner?"
"Cliff, isn't it?" the man said, looking at me sidelong. "I bought some books from him last time I was in Atlanta."
"First room on the right after the bathroom," I said, pointing. "I know he bought a collection of circus books last week."
"Circus freaks?" the man asked.
"I haven't checked them out. He's got a couple of books on the Elephant Man."
"I bet I own them,' the young man said. "I tried to buy the skeleton of the Elephant Man last year in England. They refused to do business with me. It upset me very much."
"Those uptight limey bastards," I said.
I then went back to reading O'Neill, thus missing any further opportunity to meet Michael Jackson. When Cliff told me who had just bought several hundred dollars' worth of books from me, I remembered the man's hauntedness but also his innate sweetness. Michael Jackson was simply another celebrity who proved that fame could damage a human soul without even breaking a sweat.
Can you imagine selling books to Michael Jackson and not knowing who he is?
Pat Conroy's writing makes me want to swoon and cry at the same time. I've never met an author that moved me so. If I ever do meet him on Fripp Island, heaven help me! If two old people are seen running down the beach, one chasing the other, it'll probably be us!