LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — This year for Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law Teresa has us all ranking our favorite things in life. It’s a list of 20 different questions — what’s your favorite book, favorite song, favorite Christmas memory, favorite food, favorite T.V. show — and last night Gabrielle and I sat filling it out.
While choosing favorites is a somewhat painful exercise for Gabrielle and her dad, I absolutely love it. Ranking things is part of my DNA and, much to Gabrielle’s dismay, each family vacation always ends with me asking her to list her top three favorite things about the trip. For me, ranking is a light-hearted way to count one’s blessings, review an experience and be reminded how lucky you were to have it.
Anyway, one of the favorites questions was to choose my favorite quote and, with absolutely no hesitation, I started writing, “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”
The quote is from the book “The Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy. Regardless of what you thought of Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand in the movie (I didn’t think much of either of them, to tell you the truth), the book is one of my favorites — though not the favorite, that spot is reserved for “The Sun Also Rises.” For those of you who haven’t read “Prince,” I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a beautiful, magnetic read about family, mental illness, childhood, new love and, most importantly for me, South Carolina.
I read the book when I was in high school upon the recommendation of my friend Molly Kirk. She was a big reader, in no small part because she had an uncle who worked for some kind of book-binding company so she always had a lot of books whose front covers had been ripped off. She introduced me first to John Irving’s “The World According to Garp” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”
After my junior high years spent on questionable Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele novels, it felt good to bite into better fiction and I happily gobbled it up. By the time she introduced me to Conroy’s “The Great Santini,” I was reading hours each night, my little white reading light often glowing on the page until 2 and 3 in the morning.
Then came Prince of Tides. From the first line, which happens to be my favorite quote, I was in love, luxuriating in the beautiful words, snappy dialogue and round, complicated characters. While the plotline whips up and down like a rollercoaster, it was that wonderful setting of Melrose Island in South Carolina that gave me peace and food for thought.
A novel that has a setting so powerful it’s practically its own character is always my favorite, and I sunk into that southern landscape like a fish, completely enchanted by my new surroundings.
Years later, when I met a boy from Georgia, heard his gorgeous accent, listened to the stories of his broken childhood, it was as if I were living inside the Prince of Tides and was immediately fascinated by him and the new landscape he represented. He had moved from Georgia to Washington, D.C., though, so I followed him there, and we spent much of our free time driving the hills and beautiful college campuses of romantic Virginia.
The boyfriend turned out badly, but my love of the south didn’t go away. Always it has represented an exotic other for me: offhandedly pretty, gorgeously warm, so easy and laid back after growing up in a landscape more comfortably viewed from inside. So when I met William from Kentucky, I was happy to transfer that love to the land of the Derby and bourbon and here I sit today.
It’s wonderful and scary to think that the path my life has taken may well be because of one book I read in high school, that at any moment you can read something or have an experience so formative it can (wildly!) change your course. But I firmly believe that is what happened to me. So thanks, Teresa, for reminding me of that.