Falling in literary love

Charleston, SC

Do you fall in love with authors or characters in books? Or am I the weird one? I fall hard. Many men and women have become the object of my affections. The latest in this line is Pat Conroy. And this is our second time around. I honestly do not remember when I picked up my first book by him. I can’t even remember for sure which book it was, but I think it was The Great Santini. Or maybe it was The Water is Wide, which was made into a movie by the name of Conrack. Maybe I saw the movie and then read the book? Who knows? I fell in love with Mr. Conroy then. His books have soul. They are not “easy” reads. They are filled with angst. Raw emotion abounds. Tears are shed by the reader.

We almost met once. Or at least I like to think so. My colleague, Mr. Mac, was the 7th grade English teacher as well as the 7th grade boys basketball coach. After the fact, one day he let me know, quite excitedly, that Pat Conroy had come to the gym the day before to watch his practice. Huh? The REAL Pat Conroy? Are you sure? Yes, indeed. From all that I have read, Pat passionately loved the game of basketball and played at The Citadel. Pat was best friends with Doug Marlette, a cartoonist (Kudzu) and winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize. Doug lived in Hillsborough and his son attended Durham Academy. I taught him and got to know Doug when he drove some of my students and me to a farm for a field trip. His political cartoons brought him a great deal of fame. Doug also wrote two books and I am proud to own autographed copies of them. Sadly, Doug passed away in the summer of 2007 while I was living in France. The BFF called me to deliver the sad news. Perhaps Pat was in the gym that day to watch Doug’s son practice. Of that, I am not sure at this point, many years later.

I read Pat’s book South of Broad a few years ago. The Ex-Ex and I visited Charleston while Son #2 was in law school there. When I realized we were really south of Broad, I felt as if Pat was right there with me. I am pretty sure that every single time we crossed over that line, I said the same thing– “We are south of Broad.” The Ex-Ex was very patient with me. (The only fiction I have ever convinced him to read is Pat Conroy.)

A couple of weeks ago, I fell in love with Pat all over again. I picked up a copy of A Lowcountry Heart: reflections on a writing life. This book was published in 2016. It is a collection of blog posts, speeches, letters, and eulogies. Here’s a little taste of the book (it is obvious why I chose this one):

On My Paris Days (from Gourmet, August 2006)

On the last days I would ever feel like a young man, I went to live in Paris to finish the novel I was writing at the time, The Lords of Discipline. While attending The Citadel, I had gone into an uncontrollable rapture when I read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. He made the city of Paris glisten with a romantic luster it has never lost for me, and I could think of no finer way to spend a part of my life than by writing a book in the storied, uncapturable city of literature and light.

See what I mean?

I also just bought The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life.

Doubleday, 2004, copyright by Pat Conroy

I look forward to diving into this one. It is dedicated to his wife, Cassandra King, who is also a writer. I love her books as well and discovered them before I knew they were married. Evidently Pat loved to eat (personally I am suspicious of anyone who does not). While perusing the book, I found a recipe that I could not wait to try.

Southern Ratatouille with Bacon

This is called Southern ratatouille because it contains bacon. Southerners cannot seem to cook anything without flavoring it with some part of a pig. I still cannot spell or pronounce ratatouille, even with the bacon in it. -P.C.

Serves 1 as a main course or 2 as a side dish (my notes–This makes a huge pan of goodness! The Ex-Ex and I both had two servings and there are leftovers for my lunch tomorrow.)

ready to roll!

2 thick slices bacon, coarsely chopped (Sab Chef: I chopped up 5 slices- what can I say? We love bacon in this house.)

1 large red onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 small zucchini, peeled and diced into 1/4-1/2-inch cubes (about 1-1/2 cups)

2 small yellow squash, diced into 1/4-1/2-inch cubes (about 1-1/2 cups)

1 large ripe tomato, coarsely chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)

1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)

Chopped fresh chives, thyme, basil, or mint (I used herbes de Provence)

  1. Warm a large heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is just crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking over medium heat until the onion is softened and begins to brown.
  2. Raise the heat to moderately high and add the zucchini and squash. Cook, stirring occasionally without turning, until lightly browned but still crisp-tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook until softened, translucent, and beginning to break apart, about 5 minutes. Add the corn and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes. Add the herbs (if using dried herbs, add them earlier so they will soften appropriately) and mix gently. Serve at once.

Bon appétit! Happy reading and cooking! Take some time for you and find a good book. Make something delicious to share with your loved ones. I am so grateful for books and my literary loves.

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