Sunday, June 22, 2008

Watertown, CT: New Mecca For Writers & Readers

Waterbury Republican-American

Skip the CliffsNotes, start reading now!
Get a copy of Pete Hamill's 'A Drinking Life'
before he visits Watertown in October


Watertown is becoming the go-to destination for best-selling authors.

Last year, the Friends of the Watertown Library capped off a summer read of "Mountains Beyond Mountains" with a talk by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder.

This summer, the group is encouraging town residents — or anyone interested — to read three books by Pete Hamill in preparation for the acclaimed journalist, novelist and essayist's visit to Watertown's First Congregational Church Oct. 14. A field trip to Brooklyn, where much of Hamill's works are set, is planned for Sept. 13.

"We want to bring his Brooklyn to life," said Linda Merriman, vice president of the Friends of the Watertown Library.

The project is called "Friends Read Together" and is a local spin on the Connecticut-wide "One Town" program that encourages people in towns, cities and regions to read and discuss one book together. (There is also a national program called The Big Read, which Waterbury participates in.)

Last year's book focused on Dr. Paul Farmer, who helped public health care facilities in Haiti develop treatments for drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. Kidder's culminating talk drew about 300 attendees, Merriman said. So the stakes were raised this year to make the program even bigger. When Merriman and the group realized Hamill would be a possibility, they went for it.

"I have worked at the library for 20 years and I have noticed his books coming in and out," Merriman said.

In July, the group will read "North River," a novel set in Manhattan during the Depression. August's book is "Snow in August," which was written in 1997 and was on The New York Times best-seller list for four months. "A Drinking Life" is a memoir about his struggle with alcohol and growing up in a rough neighborhood in New York.

The books can be purchased for $10 apiece at the library or its downstairs bookstore, the Book Nook.

Hamill, 73, was born in Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children to Catholic immigrants from Belfast, Ireland. After studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Hamill began working as a reporter for the New York Post in 1960.

He went on to work for The New York Daily News and Newsday and covered wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Northern Ireland as a foreign correspondent.

He served as editor in chief of both the Post and Daily News. His work has also appeared in the Village Voice, Esquire, Vanity Fair and most recently, The New Yorker. He has published 10 novels and two collections of short stories.

Jan Marino, a member of the Friends of the Watertown Library committee, said she has read "North River" and "Snow in August" so far and loved them both.

Jan Marino, a member of the Friends of the Watertown Library committee, said she has read "North River" and "Snow in August" so far and loved them both.

"I had never heard of him before this, but his stories capture your attention from beginning to end and his writing is excellent," she said. "And the three books we are featuring are all so different."

If you go

Pete Hamill will speak at the First Congregational Church, 40 Deforest St., Watertown on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. The topic will be his memoir, "A Drinking Life," followed by a book signing.

Admission is free, but donations will be accepted at the door. Paperback copies of three Hamill books are on sale at the library or the Book Nook (used bookstore run by the Friends) for the discounted price of $10. For information, call (860) 945-5360 or send an e-mail to

  • Pete Hamill

  • Watertown Public Library

  • Waterbury Republican-American
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