If you’re new to this blog, Pat Conroy is my all-time favorite author. If you’ve been here awhile, you know how very much I love his work. So now that I can’t read any new work from him (he died of pancreatic cancer in 2016), I’m reading books about him.
The more I read about him, the more I realize how complex a person he was. He was beloved, but could also be cruel to those closest to him. And, that’s the dichotomy these two books really illuminate. Our Prince of Scribes focuses on the reasons people adore him and The Lost Prince delves into his dark side. Reading them more or less simultaneously was perfect for me because sometimes I needed some Conroy sunshine during the difficult portions of The Lost Prince (there are some parts that Conroy fans will find very hard to read…at least I did).
Two Books to Fill the Pat Conroy-Sized Hole in Your Heart
Plot Summary: A collection of essays celebrating the life and work of author Pat Conroy…written by fellow writers and people in the publishing industry.
My Thoughts: Pat Conroy was one of those larger than life personalities who owned the room the second he walked into it. He wasn’t flawless by any means, but he was never without an entertaining story to tell (sometimes of questionable truth) and he made people thankful they were in his orbit. He tirelessly mentored and championed other authors and described himself as a “blurb slut,” writing blurbs for gobs of authors just getting their start. And, that’s the general theme of these essays. Most of the essays were written by authors he championed and others who worked with him over the course of his career. They knew him in that capacity…and not nearly as well as his inner circle, one of whom you’ll hear from in the next book in this post. So, this collection is mostly a celebration of his good qualities and avoids his dark side. The essays had a sameness to them, which on the one hand showed me he had a consistent personality, but also leads me to recommend you read this collection in little snippets. My one complaint was I wish there was a short bio for each contributor at the beginning of each essay.
Every good novelist has a massive ego—it’s an essential tool for the job—but Conroy’s ego was contained in a package of sweetness, comedy, and full-Irish savagery that made him irresistible.
Plot Summary: Author Michael Mewshaw had a decades-long friendship with Pat Conroy until Conroy asked Mewshaw to do him a terrible favor, after which they didn’t speak for 6 years. Pat asked Michael to write about what happened, so this book is Mewshaw’s way of fulfilling Conroy’s request.
My Thoughts: Y’all know how much I love Pat Conroy (he’s my all-time favorite author), so you can imagine I was a little nervous to read a book that examined some of his flaws. But, this is a riveting story and an excellent compliment to Our Prince of Scribes. While the essays in Scribes are written mostly by people in the literary world, The Lost Prince is written by arguably one of Conroy’s closest friends (who is also an author, but their friendship goes far deeper than that). The Mewshaws lived in Rome with the Conroys (and much of the book takes place in Rome) and their families were best of friends. This story is far more intimate…and nuanced than the stories in Scribes. It shows Conroy at his best and worst…the worst being a side those in the literary world (to which Conroy gave himself entirely) didn’t see much. Mewshaw portrays Conroy as a complicated and difficult man…one that could enthrall every single person in his orbit, but also deeply hurt the people closest to him. The end of the book is riveting and horrifying and sad. It was certainly hard to read some parts (particularly Pat’s emails to his daughter, Susannah), but I’m glad I’m getting a more full picture of Conroy as a man, not just an author. That beings said, I’m very glad I was reading Our Prince of Scribes at the same time to take away some of the pain.
No sparrow ever fell in any dark forest that Pat didn’t volunteer to help. But all too often he failed to notice that the woods were on fire and his own house was in flames.
How do you feel about reading about the lives of your favorite authors?