BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — “Reading is active, watching television is passive,”acclaimed novelist and essayist Pete Hamill told a standing-room-only crowd in St. Francis College’s Founders Hall, Dec. 1, as the 2011 speaker for the Thomas J. Volpe Lecture Series.
The legendary Brooklyn born journalist emphasized the importance of reading, shared stories of his life growing up in Brooklyn and discussed his travels abroad.
“It [reading] was essential to the making of my life … and essential to millions and millions and millions of my generation,”said Hamill. He explained that even though his family was poor he was not deprived because books such as Babar allowed him to experience a world outside of the “urban hamlet”he lived in. A chair, lamp and book were all he needed to time travel to any destination his imagination desired. “The reason to read doesn’t go away as we get older,”said Hamill. He encouraged the audience to make lists of books they should read or re-read, noting that life’s experiences often tend to change our insight on stories. After all, he questioned, who would want to reach the end of their lives and realize they never read Moby Dick?
Hamill added that in re-reading his copy of a book on Aristotle’s ethics, he now realizes, “how callow and young and arrogant I was when I was 21.”He said that he kept it to remind himself that you never stop learning. “I cherished that copy because I had underlined all the wrong stuff. The points that Aristotle was making I was missing.”
Hamill offered a great deal of advice to SFC students. He pointed out that reading enables individuals to develop a better understanding of human beings, urging students to use their talents to give a helping hand to those in need. He said that these talents enhance perspective and help us learn from one another, understanding both the visible and interior world.
The discussion also touched on the current ethical challenges that journalists face, highlighting the need for reporters to remember that press cards come with responsibility and certain boundaries should not be crossed. “You have to be very careful with ordinary citizens that you’re not hurting them by what you write when they’re at their most vulnerable.”Hamill added that concerning the scandals with British tabloids, “Anybody that tried that in the newspapers that I worked at would be fired just for suggesting it.”
Hamill quoted the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, who said, “Young writers should read like predators because what they are reading is food.”Continuing to stress the importance of reading, Hamill said that individuals who want to live a fully conscious life gain through looking at the world and learning about the experiences of other people; adding that reading helps people on their journey through a world filled with hopes, dreams and accomplishments but also tragedy and destruction.
Pete Hamill’s most recent novels include Tabloid City: A Novel as well as New York Times Bestseller, Snow in August, and North River: A Novel. His memoir, A Drinking Life, which chronicled his childhood and youth as a working-class Irish kid in the 1940s and 1950s, spent 13 weeks on the Times Bestsellers List.