A review of My Reading Life

Ever since he was a freshman in high school, Conroy has tried to read 200 pages a day. Inspired by his mother, an insatiable reader, he was also driven to inhabit another world in his reading because of his abusive father, a fighter pilot. "Read­ing and prayer are both acts of worship to me," says Conroy. A great book "puts readers on their knees." He looks for writers—novelists and poets especially—who will change him utterly. Conroy thinks War and Peace "is the finest novel ever written," even though Tolstoy's theories of history are didactic. James Dickey's Poems 1957–1967 is the finest book of poetry ever published in America, Conroy claims—better than the volumes of Whit­man, Dickinson or Eliot. Conroy adds a chapter on "Why I write." He says he writes "to explain my own life to myself" and to tell stories. "The most powerful words in English are 'tell me a story.'"