Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill

One of my Mom's favorite books was A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill and I am sorry that I never got around to reading it at the time.  I would have liked to have discussed it with Mom.  I have read the book now though and here are my thoughts.

A Drinking Life is an interesting book with important things to say about how a young Pete Hamill born in Brooklyn in a neighborhood where you did not dream big, found the drive to become a legendary newspaper columnist and author of eleven novels.  Pete Hamill clearly loved his mother who encouraged him to follow his dreams. He loved his father too but as Pete explains his father worked long hours and drank too much when he was home.  Also his father Billy Hamill didn't understand his son's passions when it came to cartoons and his love of books.

As a teenager, Hamill got a scholarship to the prestigious Regis High School in Manhattan.  He dropped out of Regis at age 16, got a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and began taking art classes at night.  In 1957 at age 17 he joined the Navy and after a few years in the Navy moved to Mexico to study painting.  In 1960 at age 25 with a wealth of experience (several lifetimes of experience) behind him, Pete Hamill started working as a reporter for the New York Post.

A Drinking Life is about drinking of course and how it permeated Hamill's early life and the neighborhoid he grew up in.  As the memoir progresses Hamill's drinking becomes serious and he writes about what finally caused him to quit.  The memoir is also about trying to be a cartoonist and then a painter before he became a writer. And in A Drinking Life it's fascinating to read about the great comic strips and cartoonists of the era.

Also what stood out for me was Pete Hamill's unwillingness to settle.  When at 16 he got a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for many that would have been their career path, job security and after 30 years a good pension. But as Hamill describes it in his memoir he wanted more.  Throughout his teenage and young adult years he was constantly questioning himself.  Is this where I want to be right now? And if the answer was no, he moved on and changed his situation.

As I read A Drinking life there were parts of it that reminded me of Angela's Ashes but Angela's Ashes is by far the better book which is not suprising.  Very few memoirs can compete with Frank McCourt's book about his impoverished Limerick childhood.  Pete Hamill is quite honest in his memoir, shockingly so at times, and he has truths to tell too but the book dragged for me a good part of the way.  So instead of A Drinking Life I would suggest you try out one of Pete Hamill's novels, specifically Snow in August about a ten year old boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940's which I can highly recommend.

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