by Cathryn Conroy (Gaithersburg, Maryland): Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors, and I simply devoured this book that gave delightful and tragic insights into his life—so much so that this could double as a book titled “My Writing Life” or simply “My Life.” While he does discuss some of his favorite books, the emphasis is not only on how books influenced his life and his novels, but also on how the people who introduced him to those books changed the trajectory of who he was and would become.

All of this begins with his mother, Peg Conroy, wife of Col. Donald Conroy, the Marine fighter pilot who had a bad habit of beating her up, as well as frequently raising his fists to his children, especially Pat. But mother and son found solace in books. Pat’s descriptions of the impact his mother had on his reading life—from taking him to the library to reading “Gone with the Wind” every year—is one of the best love letters to a mother that I have ever read.

Also in the limelight is Mr. Gene Norris, Pat’s high school English teacher, who arguably had the greatest influence on Pat’s love of literature and decision to become a novelist. Theirs was a lifelong friendship that ended only when Mr. Norris died.

Several of the chapters are salutes to his favorite novelists and the special books they wrote that deeply affected him, especially “Look Homeward, Angel,” by Thomas Wolfe and “War and Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy.

Pat Conroy’s verbose and often flowery writing style is on full display in this book, and we find out why he writes this way and which writer influenced him to do so. (Well, that was a surprise to me!)

If you’re a Pat Conroy fan, this is a must-read as a kind of behind-the-scenes look at the wizard of Southern novels to find out how he pushes all those buttons and makes the magic happen.

(Although we share the same surname, Pat Conroy and I are not kin, as they say in South Carolina. Too bad!)