Friday, April 27, 2007

The people and the places and how the weather was

Pete Hamill gets it.

Take this quote from the introduction to a collection of his essays, "Piece Work."

"Writing is so entwined with my being that I can't imagine a life without it."

One can relate.

My boss recommended Hamill's memoir, "A Drinking Life," when I came on board at the newspaper in 2000. It remains one of the finest books I have ever read. Walk don't run to Amazon.com and order this gem if you want to see a true wordsmith at work. There isn't a wasted word.

Early on during my jury duty term this spring I found myself with a free hour. So I walked over to Lawson McGhee Library and pulled Hamill's "Why Sinatra Matters" off the shelf. Fastest hour of my life. Hamill wrote another fine piece on The Chairman of the Board for Esquire magazine years ago that's worth looking up.

He also writes well about the Vietnam War, New York City, baseball and Mexico. You name it, Pete's been there. He may be the last of the great generalists in the newspaper business.

Funny thing, though. I've never cared for much of Pete's fiction. Tried to read his last novel, "Forever." Couldn't finish it. Maybe I'll try again sometime this summer.

Manhattanophiles will love his book "Downtown." I read it last spring while laid up with a kidney stone. Made me want to hop a plane and touch down at LaGuardia just in time to take a taxi into the Theater District for an 8 o'clock performance. Forgot all about that darn stone.

Never will forget something he wrote. Pete says that when he writes, he taps time with his foot, as if his own personal metronome helps keep rhythm. Read "A Drinking Life." You'll see.

Hamill said once that his youthful ambition was to capture in his work the qualities that Hemingway says makes for a good book -- "the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

I hope ol' Pete knows just how well he has succeeded.

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