I thought this would be an interesting little read and I was not disappointed. I was lucky enough to secure a bound manuscript copy from the publisher.
Using a variety of books he has read, over his lifetime, Conroy lets us explore his life with him. We meet his very abusive father whom he learns to love; his mother, who feels second class because of her lack of education and therefore reads everything she can get her hands on, including his reading lists, who yearns for an education and imparts this very love of knowledge to him as they read many of the books together; his poetess sister; his teacher who mentored him, the antithesis of his father, a surrogate parent who was the inspiration of his dream to write; his close friend who owns a marvelous bookstore that he explores often and where he begins to become a collector; an eccentric teacher with an odd “medicinal” need for a bit of liquor who really doesn’t belong in a library mentoring kids or in a classroom, her personality is so opposite one that encourages learning through the wonderful doors that books can open; many famous authors, among them Alice Walker who is rude to him because she doesn't like Southern white men and Thomas Wolfe, whom he credits for his writing career plus so many others that have walked with him through his life via his literary universe. We are travelers with him down the road as he searches for his real purpose.
Conroy was a lonely young boy, moving from place to place, year after year, as an army brat. I tagged along through his memories as he grew up as a proper Southerner, without the customary prejudices inherent in those times, in fact, he seemed almost colorblind. Since the world was not, he suffered for his openness and all embracing spirit even being fired from a teaching job because he showed an appreciation and affection for students that were non-white.
Because of his father’s military service, he moved around a lot and did not have strong roots to any one place; I learned that he was often alone and, at times, sad to the point of depression with thoughts of suicide. His marriage is a failure. From his background, he learned to expect and need order and organization. He became a creature of strong habits.
His anecdotes are honest and straightforward. Most of them will delight you. They are often humorous even when they are descriptions of dangerous escapades. It is an open and objective appraisal of the events and the people that populated his life.
Like Conroy, I wondered what kind of man he would have been if his background had been different. Many of his stories use themes of his past. His sojourn in Paris is a high spot in his life. From witnessing an explosion and fire there, seeing the victim burning and attempting to save him, he finally sees a shape and purpose to his life. He discovers that his passion is just that…he is “a man on fire”. He needs to express himself. First he tried to be a poet but was unsuccessful and his career ultimately took off when he became a writer of prose, of novels and now this lovely, little tale of how he grew up through the pages of various books and the friendships of some marvelous, although somewhat unusual, outside of the box, people.
Although it was a bit slow and repetitive at times and the sequence of events seemed oddly out of order making it difficult to follow the time line accurately, unless I used one of his reference points, like the Bay of Pigs, etc., ultimately, I was able to follow along happily. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to any of his fans. He has a gift for putting the words on paper and breathing life into them.