84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2005
I picked this up because it was referenced in Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, and the two are often cross-marketed on Amazon.com. I was expecting more of a story about alcoholism and specific drunk events in Hamill's life. This is much more than a story about alcoholism, it is a story about Hamill's life, and alcohol just so happens to be pervasive throughout his childhood and adulthood. This is truly a complete picture of a man, of his boyhood in the Neighborhood, his family, marriage, his career, and alcohol touched every aspect of his life. Drinking was a constant throughout Pete's journey--a way to celebrate with friends, a way to get through your anger, a way to be social in the Neighborhood, and a way to relate to your co-workers as a newspaperman. In Hamill's boyhood, it was a point of pride in the Neighborhood to be able to handle your liquor, not to be a drunk, but to keep a steady stream of drinking while trading jokes and stories and songs.
Hamill doesn't push any kind of 12-step program in this book. He got sober on his own, in a snap, and he is unusual in his ability to do so. For this reason, for alcoholics looking to relate and to get some insight into their disease, I would recommend Caroline Knapp's book instead. For anyone looking for a fascinating memoir, a touching journey through life, and an inside look and the life of being a reporter, Hamill's memoir is highly recommended.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A Drinking Life is really an autobiographical memoir. Hamill is the son of an Irish immigrant and finds that the culture of drink is part of the culture of being a man. However, he also watched his father, who was a fall down alcoholic through his life growing up, and thus recalled the pain it imposed on his family's life.
In the course of telling his story, Hamill reveals that he was a person who was constantly going from place to place, all over the world. What exactly he is searching for, he never really reveals. But eventually, he does come to grips with the fact that the Drinking Life is detrimental to his continued existence.
One of his greatest lines in the entire book is in his introduction when he states, "But life doesn't get easier when you walk away from the culture of drink; you simply live it with greater lucidity." The book is a fine example of someone who eventually realizes that life is "better" if not easier, without his addiction. The book is an inspiring story and I recommend it to all observers of social behavior.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2005
I grew up 8 blocks from where Pete Hamill grew up in virtually the same type of apartment with virtually the same type of family (albeit 25 years later). I felt like I was reading my life. He realistically and dramatically captures the attitudes and bigotries of Park Slope Brooklyn at that time, the indifference of the Catholic church to the actual needs of it's congregants, the absence of fathers because of their need to be in the "fill in the blank" Irish Bar down the block". For his dad it was Rattigan's for mine it was McGrorities but the resulting effects were very similar.
I was shocked when I realized after finishing the book, he was accepted to Regis, which meant he must have had at least a 98% on the acceptance test. This was the toughest Catholic Boy's high school in New York to get into, only the "best of the best" were allowed entry. Getting accepted to Regis is parallel to getting into the Harvard of High Schools and Pete Hamill dropped out. What a tragedy! Then it hit me...it was his drinking at 15 that caused that. Point made Pete. You didn't have to say it, it was right there between the lines.
Mr. Hamill's writing style in this work is captivating in a way that the reader feels right there with him in the candy store, at the kitchen table drawing cartoons or on 23rd Street when he was 16 waiting for his 41 year old lover.
I totally loved and enjoyed this book and was very sad when I finished it. I am now an official Pete Hamill fan!
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2001
Pete Hamill's name should be familiar to everyone in the New York area: in addition to rubbing shoulders and bending elbows with New York City's elite, his celebrated articles in the NY Post eventually landed him the highly coveted job of editor. In A Drinking Life, Hamill recounts the story of his life, with a particular emphasis on his childhood in Brooklyn. The son of a heavy-drinking, one-legged, Irish immigrant, Hamill lost his innocence early and found refuge drawing his own comic books and playing the street tough. This dichotomy seems to follow him throughout his life: on the one hand his roots have made him a brawler, a drinker, and a swaggering toughguy; on the other, him mother's influence helped to shape a sensitive young man who couldn't stand the site of blood on the face of his street fight victims and who longed for the life of a bohemian artist in Greenwich Village. In time, Hamill leaves his drawing and illustrating behind and begins to write.
Throughout all of this, there is much drinking; however, to call this a book about alcoholism would be inaccurate. This is a memoir of a life... one to which drinking is inextricably tethered, but not one that revolves around the art of drinking. Hamill began drinking early, and then as a reporter spent most of his time in bars, and his storytelling ability leaves no doubt that he was probably the center of attention in these bars more often than not. In the end he kicks the habit, for fear that he has been peforming his life rather than living it. He still visits his old drinking haunts, but now sits there quietly with a Coke in hand.
This memoir is well told, and Hamill sees himself with a very clear eye. His voice is unarguably that of a reporter: there is very little fanfare or elaborate language, and the story of his life is always moving. Fortunately for the reader, it is an eventful life, filled with street fights in Brooklyn, mischief at camp, passionate sex with mysterious women, gunshots and jail in Mexico, and much more. The memoir genre is growing tired lately, but this is one of the books that set the craze off, and it is easy to see why.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2007
What a sroryteller and what a story to tell.I can't believe it took me so long to "find" this wonderful writer.I had never read anything by him or even heard of him.I do recall, seeing the name on books in the bookstore;but since I tend to read mostly non-fiction,I guess I've just been passing him by. This book has been on my bookshelf for some time,so I decided to pick it up and see what it was like;not really expecting much. I hadn't even recognized him as an Irish-American writer. I have read all the books by Frank and Malachy McCourt,Roddy Doyle,Brendan O'Carroll,Brendan Behan and numerous other Irish and Irish-American writers; and enjoy them immensely.
I found this book a real gem for many reasons.The author was born the same year as I was. Even though he grew up in Brooklyn in the 40's and 50's and I grew up in a small town of about 5,000 in Nova Scotia ,life was very similar.All the things he talked about were familiar to me. Warships in the harbor,Servicemen everywhere,Rationing and shortages (I never saw a banana till I was 10 years old),Air Raid Wardens,etc. I sympathized when he told of giving his skates for the war effort.I can remember Aluminium drives at the school,where there was an effigy of Hitler hanging from a pole and the kids were to bring aluminium stuff to throw at it. Was my mother ever mad when she found out what happened to some of her pots and pans. Peter brought back the many memories of the comics,Comic Books,Big Little Books and all the heroes .I followed all the same ones too. And then the movie theatres,especially on Saturdays. The one big difference was that there were no bars in my town,The arena and the Pool Room was where the young guys "came of age",,or could get anything they were not supposed to have. My town had an Army base nearby.When soldiers were off duty they had to get beer or wine from the Bootlegger (no Bars ,and Liquor Stores closed at 5 p.m.).There was a big orchard back of my house,and that was where they did their drinking. Since the bootlegger did not deal in returns,the empties were given to us kids and kept us in spending money.I still remember going to the junk dealer with my wagon piled high with bottles ;2 cents for quarts and 1 cent for pints.Man,we thought we were rich! So much for being a kid during the war!
Then Peter takes us along with him as his interests develop,how he wanted to be a catoonist,writer etc.He tells us about all his exploits in finding his way through life and impact that drinking had on him. In the end,he finally quits drinking; but if you expect this book to deal with great problems in drinking,extreme difficulties in quitting etc.,you're going to be disappointed. Quite to the contrary,drinking was a real part of his daily existance and the solution to many of his hard times and also very much part of his good times.
Virtually everything and everyone mentioned will be familiar to anyone who was born in and grew up at the same time.
As with other Irish writers ,their use of language is wonderful. It is filled with expressions and great lines.Here are a few;
"Never marry a woman you can't knock out with one punch."
"an Artist must pay a price in loneliness."
"most people go through their lives without ever doing one whole thing
they really want to do."
"No matter how fine a school you are in,you have to educate yourself."
"You could be there for life. That's what I'm afraid of."
"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you:the good and the bad,the estacy,the remorse and sorrow,the people and the places and how the weather was." (this is one of those kind of books)
Now that I've read this book and ejoyed it so much;I'll be reading more of his books.Just remember;
YOU ARE THE SAME TODAY,
THAT YOU WILL BE FIVE YEARS FROM NOW,
EXCEPT FOR TWO THINGS;
THE PEOPLE YOU MEET,
THE BOOKS YOU READ.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2000
Along with Malachy McCourt's "A Monk Swimming," Hamill's book is an essential 'growing-up-NYC' book end. They both tell of the restless yearning and wanderlust that two jaded Irish-Americans have as they search for kicks, enlightment, familial acceptance, and redemption. Both are somewhat long on heartache, the loss of female companionship, and post-alcohol remorse. But both works move along nicely without resorting to smaltzy over-sentiment and pathetic self-pity. In "A Drinking Life," Hamill interjects enough touching and comedic passages into the narrative that the reader forgets all the heartache that Pete's father put the Hamill family through. It's only after you are deep into Pete Hamill's own adulthood that the irony hits like a shot of cheap bourbon -- Pete has essentially "abandoned" his family, like his father did many years before. From there, Pete accepts his own missteps and rights the ship for a respectable journey into comfortable middle life. A breezy read and a grand book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 1998
I loved this book. Hamill puts you on the streets of Brooklyn, in an artist's studio - every place he was. I was sorry to see it end. It was fantastic, but . . . if you're buying this book to examine someone's (or your own) battle with alcoholism, you'll be disappointed. He rarely discusses his "problem" and barely correlates alcohol to other difficulties in his life. Knocking down the door of a Mexican whorehouse may seem innocuous to those of us in AA. Other than some instances of frat-boy pranks, his drinking seems rather tame. That aside, pure joy and entertainment. If you want an intensely personal and shakingly accurate account of what it is to be alcoholic read Caroline Knapp's, Drinking: A Love Story.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2005
Hamill's memoir is great prose. He discusses growing up in New York in the post WWII years and his early years as a newspaperman, though not much time is spent on his life in the business (I wish he had spent some more time on what it has been like for him to be a reporter). It some ways Hamill fits the stereotype of the hard drinking, tough newspaper reporter, but he also breaks that mold with a sensitity and intelligence rarely seen in his line of work anymore. And this is a nice study of art, it'll give you some good artists to start with, and what it's like to struggle with being an artist. Hamill makes no excuses for his drinking or the ways that it affected his life, but unlike many other drinking memoirs, he doesn't preach, and the sole focus isn't to push a 12 step program, rather it is to warn about the dangers of alcoholism and tell the story one man's (interesting) life.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2005
I just finished this book and I couldn't help but feel dissapointed when I put it down. It was an okay read (subway, under a tree, before bed), but it wasn't a "oh my God, I can't put this book down" kind of book. Too bad, because I think if Hamill hadn't held back some, it could have been a lot more moving.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 1999
It was difficult to put this riveting book down. As a middled aged Irish American who was raised a Roman Catholic, Hamill explained through his eloquent memoir what being Irish in Brooklyn (and for me, Long Island) were all about. He answered many questions that I never even articulated as a youngster or as a man in a way that made sense to my father's generation (WW II), Hamill's generation (Korean War) and my generation (Vietnam). He helped me better understand myself by reading his story. I wish I had read this book 20 years ago.