I have a condition I think of as “The Book Bug.” Whenever I approach a large collection of books or I get my hands on a new one, my pulse jumps, my heartbeat quickens and I seem to get a slight fever. I’ve had the condition for decades. It hit me as a kid whenever Scholastic Books distributed their lists of new paperbacks and I was allowed to purchase two. (My attempts to increase the order provided early lessons in negotiation and the Bug returned when the books were delivered.) The air around books is rarefied to me and I’ve been known to get a book rush when I enter a big library, a good book store or a list of new book reviews. I’ll probably need a defibrillator if I ever visit the Library of Congress. Up till now, I’ve assumed I’m the only one with this silly malady and I’ve been too embarrassed to admit it. Thanks to My Reading Life, I now know it’s a condition I share with the writer, Pat Conroy.
Conroy is, of course, one of the novelists whose stories are a combination of imagination and autobiography and he is the first to admit that. He is also a reader with a world-class addiction to literature. It started with his mother, an autodidact who saw reading as a means of escape as well as self-improvement; she read constantly to her children. Their family library was started with a selection of cast-offs, lucky garage-sale finds and the children’s school reading lists but the Conroy kids became readers of note. Pat described his own head rush when, as a young man, he found a place in Atlanta called “The Old New York Book Shop”. The owner became a friend who sometimes let Pat mind the store. Behind the counter, Conroy read the store’s stock, gobbling up all the great books he couldn’t yet afford to buy.
Not all readers feel the need to write but most writers (Conroy included) start out as dedicated readers. I believe the metamorphosis happens when a reader finds the stories or books that cleave to and over-charge his or her soul. The charge builds up until the passive reader is ignited into someone who must transmit his or her own tales and follow the writers that outlined the way. Conroy’s conversion began with the novels of Thomas Wolfe and it’s easy to see the attraction. A lonely, word-loving boy of the South found the story of another lonely Southern boy written in lyrical prose. The identification was immediate, surrender complete and another reader picked up the pen.
In the end, any writer worthy of ink retains an addiction to reading but their craft brings a new appreciation of the art. Books can take you anywhere, teach you anything and bring you home for tea but those who have created their own books grasp more of the artistry in the creation. Maybe that’s why Mr. Conroy appreciates all the stories that sustain his life as a reader. Or maybe he’s just suffering from The Book Bug.
On a personal note, this is my 100th post. For those who follow this page, thank you. My gratitude is deep.