The best-selling author of such Southern epics as The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides is a passionate reader and raconteur. Here are the stories—of England, China, and Middle-Earth—that changed his life.

The Lord of the RingsThe Lord of the Rings
By J.R.R. Tolkien

"I love books about treks and journeys into the unknown," Conroy says—books like Tolkien's famous high-fantasy epic about a dark lord determined to conquer a magical land. "I was on a quest to be a writer that mattered, and a friend told me that I must read and remember everything. 'You cannot call yourself educated or literate,' he said, 'if you do not know the secrets of Middle-earth, if you have not trekked with the Hobbits.' I mark the time I spent reading these splendid books among the richest days of my life. They are like the elevation of the host to me, their presence transformed, their effect indelible and everlasting. What is the loss of a job or a bad review when you've followed Gandalf the Grey through the mines of Moria?"
Conroy's next pick: A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell


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