Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review - The Drinking Life - Pete Hamil

Reprint from Glass is 3/4's Full Blog

I just finished reading Pete Hamil's "The Drinking Life", a memoir of his life growing up as an Irish- American kid in Brooklyn.
I remember reading Pete Hamil's columns in the New York newspapers when i was in my 20's. I used to enjoy his writing at the time and appreciated how he worked his way up from his working class roots to be a journalist. I remember that Pete Hamil and another journalist Jimmy Breslin stood out for their working class style of writing and and their Irish roots.
Reading the book triggered a lot of my own personal memories growing up in the South Bronx. Pete's book brings to life his Irish-American experiences in Brooklyn and his struggle of being torn between two worlds, the working class world of Brooklyn and the middle class world of Manhattan. He also struggled with two identities, one the neighborhood guy vs the educated artist guy.
Of course his biggest struggle is summed up in the title "The Drinking Life". Well for most of his life he just gave in to alcohol and was "Living in the Bottle" as Gil Scott Heron used to say. Yet he reached a turning point and made a decision at that moment to change his life and he did. How he changed from a drinker to a non- drinker is different and I know a few people in my life who did the same.
The book is a very good read and also give the reader a historical context to his life. His story is a fascinating story in how he built a life and how he life spiraled from dropping out of high school to working in the Navy Yards, going to art school, joining the Navy and finally becoming a journalist and a writer.
One story that stands out for me is when he took his father back to Belfast Ireland in 1963 for the first time since his father left in 1932. The description of hearing the news that John F Kennedy was shot on the TV in Belfast was a powerful moment. It also crystalized his life long struggle and relationship with his father.
A lot of this book has a very personal connection to my life. Growing up the son of Irish immigrants in the Bronx, I went through a lot of similar struggles and a few different ones. I was from the next generation after Pete Hamil which brought some unique challenges for my life. I had to construct a successful life with no role models and no idea of how you achieve it.
I will be sharing a lot of these stories as I embark on my writing project this year.
If you are interested in memoirs I suggest you read Pete Hamil's book....

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