Wednesday, December 29, 2010

by Pat Conroy

His mother turned him on to books at a very early age. She could tell stories like nobody else and was a voracious reader. At the age of five, she read him Gone with the Wind (it was this book that made him become a "Southern" novelist). Her voice mesmerized him by the way she spoke the words with her Georgian inflection. He then became so enthralled with the English language that he began to keep notebooks of words taken from other books that so entranced him.
Reading saved Pat Conroy's hellish life. Writing took him to another level.
My Reading Life is about who and what influenced him to become such a passionate storyteller.
Each chapter has a different theme. His English teacher, in high school, was truly an incredible man (loved by so many) who introduced Conroy to great literature and was more of a father to him than his own; the Old New York Book Shop in Atlanta where he learned how to be a collector of antiquarian books from the owner; taking a modern poetry course taught by James Dickey (he wrote Deliverance) because a book of his poems brought Conroy to his knees.
He talks about how he came to write his own books and the stories behind them. Conroy lists authors that have swept him away, such as Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. (He could easily write another whole book just on his favorite writers.)
I have never read any of Pat Conroy's books before and this one blew me away. It is unflinchingly honest and extremely personal. His writing is gorgeous. One of the last chapters in the book "Why I Write" is absolutely fabulous. How he puts words together is awe-inspiring.
He can be very funny, also, and obviously has a great sense of humor.
So, either get this book from your local library or go out and buy it. Even though the size is small, it's definitely worth the price. Superb.
Very highly recommended.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

by Burt Prelutsky

Not everyone knows how to interview people. You have to have the knack, technique, personality and good communication skills to extract information that is not usually forthcoming.
Being witty, having an open mind and knowing what to ask doesn't hurt, either.
Many books have been written on celebrities, but they have only scratched the surface and not dug deep enough.
In Portraits of Success author Burt Prelutsky uses his inimitable finely-tuned talents to reveal surprising facts about what makes 60 people more successful than others. They are from all walks of life, such as authors, professors, writers, athletes, ministers, governors, land developers, theater managers, etc.
Each entry is a couple of pages and is arranged alphabetically. It displays the profession, the name of the person, the birth date and a very funny paragraph about the interviewee which then leads into the question and answer format.
Their responses on their favorite book, what makes them laugh, best and worst advice they ever received, and what their fathers did for a living are truly fascinating. Whom they would choose to invite to a dinner party (eight people only), either living or dead, is revelatory.
If you like quirky stuff and are a trivia nut, there's enough here to satisfy. For example, comedian, David Steinberg, was a guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show 140 times; reporter/journalist, John Stossel, has had a stuttering problem; TV political commentator, Tony Blankley, was a child actor and taught violin.
Now, if you need an extra jolt and just can't squelch that inquisitiveness, you're in luck. Burt's previous book, The Secret of Their Success: Interviews with Legends & Luminaries, is just as rewarding and entertaining. It's set up the same way, but the beginning synopsis is made up of a couple of paragraphs. The profession is not listed in the entries; that is found in the CONTENTS pages. The questions are just as astute. Some of the entries have an addendum at the end, especially if it was the last interview ever given (Jack Lemmon, Dinah Shore, Henry Mancini).
Both books are quite enjoyable and I learned things that I wouldn't have known otherwise.