The first time I read Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides was a revelation to me. An awakening. Right from the prologue, I was captivated by Conroy’s masculine lyricism, his masterful blend of toughness and sensitivity, his descriptions that were at once tender and macho. “I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders.”
The story is phenomenal and bizarre, compelling, weird, complex, internal. But it’s the prose that swept me away, not the plot.
I had always been a reader from a family of readers, but this book, The Prince of Tides, this is a book that made me think about being a writer. I read it again, almost immediately after I finished the first time, and I kept a notebook of sentences that awed me.
Protagonist Tom and his wife on the beach, and “Orion the Hunter walked the skies above us, belted and armed, in the star-struck, moonless night.”
I love Conroy’s writing. I discover new nuances each time I re-read the story, new insights into what it is that makes us human. But I think my revelation had more to do with timing than with the story itself. I was at a point in my life when, like Tom, I’d had to let go of one dream but hadn’t yet found another to take its place. I couldn’t imagine being content with simply existing, going to work every day to a job, helping my employers pursue their dreams but having none of my own. If I wasn’t pursuing a goal, then what was the point?
I’d done a lot of soul searching and had opened myself to whatever ideas the universe might send. So when I stumbled upon The Prince of Tides and immersed myself in the lush prose of a master storyteller, it felt like a sign.
Try this. Do this.
Years passed before I published my first book, but they were happy years because I’d found my purpose. I read, first for pleasure, and then again to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and why. I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I studied, learned, practiced, improved…and I dreamed that one day readers could be swept away by my words, the way I had been swept away by his.
Book of note: Author Kate Carlisle's well-read and well-loved personal copy of Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides.
This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews August 2012 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.