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The Water is Wide
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Group Reads: Pre-1990 > The Water Is Wide: A Memoir, by Pat Conroy, July 2016

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message 1: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2718 comments Mod
To commemorate the passing of a great American author, the Trail has voted to read his memoir, The Water is Wide: A Memoir. Please join us in learning about Pat Conroy's life and career. Please post your thoughts and impressions below. Even though this is a memoir and not fiction, still be careful when it comes to leaving potential spoilers.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 178 comments Oh great! I had bought this to read during my April trip to Beaufort and then was too busy to start it. I hope to join in on the discussion later on in the month.


Jane | 753 comments On page 90 of my reread.
Conroy s honesty makes this special for me he willingly admits to certain attitudes and acknowledges them as part of his éducation


Jane | 753 comments I have a question that is not literary. How long would it have taken Conroy on average to get from the island to the mainland ? On average depending on the season and weather .


message 5: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
Jane, it's about a 30 minute trip if the weather is good. They offer tour boats over from Savannah and Beaufort. They let you off at the dock to wander around the island on foot.


Jane | 753 comments Thanks for the information ,Diane not sure why this question was bugging me :)


Jane | 753 comments Maybe because I have been down to the waterfront a couple of times but never got over there only done a trip from Charleston to Fort Sumter


message 8: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
This is pretty interesting. http://uncpressblog.com/2012/10/26/vi...


message 9: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
Unfortunately, the island is now mostly a resort area, with very expensive homes and hotels. Big money came in with developers, and as is always the case, changed the lives of the native Daufuskians.


message 10: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane | 753 comments The video is wonderful there s a bit of a spoiler in there though. It s good to know how much the kids loved him


message 11: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane | 753 comments Oh no a vacation resort sigh there goes the romanticism


message 12: by Howard (last edited Jul 04, 2016 01:02PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Howard | 468 comments Diane wrote: "This is pretty interesting. http://uncpressblog.com/2012/10/26/vi..."

Thanks for the link to that video, Diane.

I read "The Water is Wide" many years ago and I am now rereading it. In fact, I nominated it several times for a group read, but finally decided that it was never going to make it and am very happy to see that it did.

In recent years there have been several notorious examples of memoirs that were much more fictional than factual. Even though this has long been a favorite book, I always wondered to what degree it adhered to actual fact. The video that you linked removes any doubt I might have had. I now believe that he did not embellish his experience on the island.


message 13: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
I have met Conroy several times at book signings while working at the bookstore. He is a true southern gentleman with a great sense of humor; of course that doesn't mean everything he writes is true. I do believe this book is mostly factual. My husband knows a builder that works on Daufuskie, and he has gotten to know some of the old folks there. He said the parents of a lot of those children complained that their kids were no longer content with the old ways after Conroy's year there, and wanted more for themselves. So that means he was a success, because that is what a teacher should do. I believe that Conroy always had a major problem with authority, which came through in this book, "The Lords of Discipline", and his lifelong obsession with his father. His other siblings have said he was tough, but they don't have the same memory of the cruelty that Pat had. Maybe Pat was a more sensitive personality and felt things more deeply. My own father-in-law and his brother, just 18 months apart, have 2 very different memories of the grandmother who raised them. One saw her as a hateful old lady, the other as a funny, lovable person. Unfortunately for Don Conroy, Pat was the writer in the family. But fact or fiction, truth or lies, he was quite a writer.


message 14: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)


message 15: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Kaso | 601 comments Sibling placement does seem to have a lot to do with how kids view those who raise them. I ended up being close friends with my parents, wanted to live near them and visit. My siblings less so to varying degrees, could not wait to leave & one brother preferred his in-laws to my parents. My husband, conversely, preferred my parents to his. He misses mine, but said the other night he does not miss his own mother, although she treated him like he was the sun, the moon, & the stars. My older brother reminds me of a slightly milder version of The Great Santini, he would reduce me to tears when I was little with teasing, sarcasm, insults, and using me as puck for hockey, apple bearer for archery practice, etc. He would then continue whatever form of harassment to teach me tears are useless. Made getting through indoctrination for the military relatively easy for me, but was not so popular with his wife when they had kids. When I read the basketball scene, it felt very familiar.


Howard | 468 comments Diane wrote: "I have met Conroy several times at book signings while working at the bookstore. He is a true southern gentleman with a great sense of humor; of course that doesn't mean everything he writes is tru..."

I overstated my conclusion about the truthfulness of the book. I should have said that I am now confident that in all important respects he was not guilty of embellishing his experience.


message 17: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Kaso | 601 comments Well, truth is relative, especially when it is based on memories and emotions. But I think he tried to be honest in his books, and sometimes there is truth that is truer than the facts that surround an event. Facts, like statistics, can be picked and chosen...writing from the heart is something else entirely. I always felt Conroy wrote from the heart, and I felt a risk and an act of bravery was taking place when I read him.


Howard | 468 comments Kim wrote: "Well, truth is relative, especially when it is based on memories and emotions. But I think he tried to be honest in his books, and sometimes there is truth that is truer than the facts that surroun..."

I agree with everything you said.


message 19: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Kaso | 601 comments Thank you, Howard. Hope you are having a pleasant holiday. I am getting my quota of North & South & Lie Down in Darkness read while sitting at my kitchen table. My dog is still relatively calm, his hearing, while still decent, seems to be less acute this year & he is bothered less by the random firecrackers. Last night a series of cherry bombs sent him to the quietest corner of the house, and I imagine tonight will do the same. We are relatively close to the Coliseum & Oracle Arena so get a lot of fireworks throughout the year, & can also hear the ones across the water for the Giants. He does react to those much anymore, but the ones in the neighborhood still bother him.


Howard | 468 comments Kim wrote: "Thank you, Howard. Hope you are having a pleasant holiday. I am getting my quota of North & South & Lie Down in Darkness read while sitting at my kitchen table. My dog is still relatively calm, his..."

My dogs are also bothered by the fireworks during this time of the year. It has been going on all day and will only intensify this evening.


message 21: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Kaso | 601 comments Well, if one thinks how much more dogs can hear than we can, this time of year must be torture for them. And we have a lot of vets here, as well, & I cannot think firecrackers help with PTSD et al.


message 22: by Janie (new)

Janie Watts | 43 comments Diane wrote: "Unfortunately, the island is now mostly a resort area, with very expensive homes and hotels. Big money came in with developers, and as is always the case, changed the lives of the native Daufuskians."

Diane, in the 80s, my sister introduced me and my family to Daufuskie Island. At the time, it was in the "development" and outside of the Melrose Plantation (the resort where we stayed), there were many of the original descendants of the Gullah people. We even attended a Gullah church service one Sunday, and bought crab cakes from a lady named Miss Ernestine.
We continued to visit the island over a 15-year period and watched as most of the natives were forced out by higher property taxes created by the new homes. And the last time we visited, the resort did not employ the natives, but brought in workers not from the area, adding insult to injury. Is it any wonder the earlier character of the island is now changed?
I will always remember Daufuskie Island the way it used to be.


Howard | 468 comments Although the three books are set in three drastically different locales, as I reread "The Water is Wide" I am once again reminded of "Up the Down Staircase" by Bel Kaufman and "To Sir With Love" by E.R. Braithwaite.


message 24: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Kaso | 601 comments Well, I imagine if I wrote a memoir about teaching in the military, the teaching and the trying to handle difficult students parts would have echoes with them, as well. Those are all books I remember fondly.


message 25: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
I have "Up the Down Staircase", but haven't read it yet. I can certainly appreciate the efforts of great teachers and their influence on young minds, but I'm afraid I would never have the patience for it myself.


message 26: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Kaso | 601 comments It is challenging. My husband would hear me making inchoate sounds of anguish as I read essays, and he knew it was one of my 3 midshipman candidates who would elicit that particular sound. One was the king of run-on sentences, he could go for 3 pages without ever landing on a verb...another seemed to abuse English with an ease and frequency which seemed inhuman...and the third simply was not ready for prime time education, but played football well and had an influential father. No matter how badly he did, he was going to graduate and play football. He was a child of privilege & there was always someone to clean up after him. He chose Heart of Darkness to write about because it was short, and his summation was "if you need something to help you sleep, this is the book". I ended up giving him an easier book & ended up with one sentence that was salvageable in a 5-page essay. We met for several days during my office hours to build something from there. So many students, so many stories.


message 27: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2718 comments Mod
Howard wrote: "Although the three books are set in three drastically different locales, as I reread "The Water is Wide" I am once again reminded of "Up the Down Staircase" by Bel Kaufman and "To Sir With Love" by..."

Can't next month's selection, The Thread That Runs So True, fit in the same category, that of young idealistic teacher working in underprivileged area?


Howard | 468 comments Tom wrote: "Howard wrote: "Although the three books are set in three drastically different locales, as I reread "The Water is Wide" I am once again reminded of "Up the Down Staircase" by Bel Kaufman and "To Si..."

I am aware of this book, but have never read it. But reading the publisher's description would lead me to believe that it does fall into that category.


message 29: by Howard (last edited Jul 13, 2016 05:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Howard | 468 comments I first read this book not long after its publication in the early '70s and at some point I also saw the movie (under the title 'Conrack', which I thought was an unfortunate change).

I don't remember being struck by the fact then that not only was Yamacraw Island and its inhabitants isolated, but so was the entire memoir. By that I mean neither Conroy or his students, except for the trip to D.C., strayed far from the island.

What I find striking is that despite the fact that the book is set in 1969, there is little written about the nation or world at large. It isn't like there was nothing else going on.

The year before was one of the most unsettling years in American history. Among other disturbing events, it was the year that both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, but there is no mention of that or anything else that is happening domestically on the national stage, not even in the civil rights movement.

Americans were learning that despite what military and political leaders claimed the war in Vietnam was going badly. However, the conflict gets only a passing reference when Conroy admits that despite his father's military career and his own tenure at Citadel, he wants to stay out of the war. The draft resistance and peace movements aren't even mentioned.

I'm not saying that all this was an oversight on Conroy's part. I think it was intentional. I think it was his way of demonstrating just how isolated Yamacraw Island was from the rest of the world, even from a movement that was acting in its behalf.


message 30: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 425 comments Howard wrote: "What I find striking is that despite the fact that the book is set in 1969, there is little written about the nation or world at large. It isn't like there was nothing else going on.)..."

I agree that this was intentional on Conroy's part. Definitely demonstrated how isolated the population was from what was happening in the rest of the world. The water is WIDE, indeed!

(Note: like you, Howard, I read this back in the 1970s, shortly after it was first released. I keep meaning to re-read it, but just haven't gotten around to it.)


message 31: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
I've read this book twice, and both times marveled at the beauty of the language and the simplicity of the story. I think Conroy kept it simple on purpose, because he wanted the emphasis to be on those kids and the people of that island. I also saw the movie "Conrack" with Jon Voight as the teacher. It seems to be unavailable now. And I agree with Howard, that was an unfortunate title.


message 32: by Howard (last edited Jul 13, 2016 02:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Howard | 468 comments I checked and the movie is on You Tube. It is shown in four parts. When I have time I plan to view it.


message 33: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
Thanks, Howard. I'll look for it there.


message 34: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 667 comments I finished the book today---first time reading it for me. I was struck by Conroy's rashness, indeed brashness in dealing with just about everyone he met but then I remembered the times. He was 3 years older than me, I believe. People our age back in the 60s tended to want to move mountains and once ideals were adopted, they often became unshakeable.

I was also struck by the immediacy of the writing. We readers are there in the classroom, on the boat, watching the sun rise.


message 35: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4342 comments Mod
I think a lot of people in their 20's that are passionate about change are that way, even today. Look at the Bernie Sanders supporters. We lose it some as we age because reality intrudes on our ideals. I can see that the young Pat Conroy would have happily stepped on a lot of toes, not understanding that it wouldn't work that way. It's interesting to think of what he would have done had he not been such a talented writer.


message 36: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 667 comments Diane wrote: "I think a lot of people in their 20's that are passionate about change are that way, even today. Look at the Bernie Sanders supporters. We lose it some as we age because reality intrudes on our ide..."

Good observation, Diane.


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