Last night I didn’t go to bed until I had finished Pat Conroy’s South of Broad. I think Conroy is a fantastic writer, and I think I enjoyed South of Broad even more because I’m only about four months out from having finished Beach Music, and it is still pretty fresh in my head. I’ve read a LOT of books, but I feel comfortable going out on a limb to say that Beach Music is one of the best I’ve ever read. As in top five for sure.
I enjoyed South of Broad almost as much. Both books and The Prince of Tides (the only other Conroy novel I’ve read so far) all have a lot in common: South Carolina, racial and class divisions, mental illness, family (those functioning well and those not), old friends, high school, and honor. I found South of Broad to have many of the things going on in it that were in Beach Music, but it wasn’t so much that I had to put the book down from time to time for a break from it. I had to do that a few times with Beach Music. There is a lot of heavy subject material in that book.
I think part of the reason I liked South of Broad so much is because I love Charleston. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot in the past 10 years or so, and it’s a wonderful place to spend some time. I love the harbor, the food, the market, Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, and I love looking out from the Battery and seeing Fort Sumter. So while I read South of Broad, I could pull up mental images of The Citadel and the College of Charleston, the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and King Street.
This was the first time I’ve ever read an account of Hurricane Hugo that wasn’t in a newspaper or online. This massive monster of a storm showed up with only 60 pages to go in South of Broad. I was in fifth grade when Hugo hit and I remember it. I’m a North Carolina native, and I can remember most of the hurricanes that have hit North Carolina during my lifetime. Though my family and I didn’t take a direct hit by Hugo in 1989, my extended family members in South Carolina did.
I wrote my graduate school thesis about my great-grandmother. One of my favorite stories about her was what she did the night Hurricane Hugo came through her town, Sumter, SC. I told that story to show what kind of a person my great-grandmother was right from the get-go in Chapter One. (If you want to read it in its entirety, Google “Betsy Rhame” and “Sumter.” Pull up the PDF and see page 12.). The Washington Post wrote that “Hugo’s eye was described as very large, at 40 miles wide, and hurricane-force winds extended as far as 140 miles from it. Tropical storm winds of about 50 to 60 miles per hour reached 250 miles from the eye.” Sumter is home to Shaw Air Force Base, where they clocked wind speeds the night of Hugo at 109 miles per hour. People in Sumter still talk about what it was like the night Hugo came through in much the same way that I can recall everything that happened the nights of Fran and Floyd in Raleigh, NC.
I’ve been doing a thorough cleaning of my home office and last week came across several undergraduate English papers that I had gotten back from my professors. On one of them, my professor wrote, “I think readers who continually see connections between what they read and what they have lived are the readers who get the most satisfaction and pleasure from reading. Welcome to the club.”
Really, that’s what this blog is all about. It gives me great pleasure to read a Faulkner novel and then visit his home, to remember what stage of life I was in when I first read a particular novel, and to read a Conroy novel and know all the places he’s talking about.