The Taut Wire of Childhood Memory

Columnists Art Buchwald and Pete Hamill describe how their early lives were seared by the Great Depression

American childhood sometimes emits a note that is painfully clear and haunted. It vibrates through a taut wire of memory from a long way off, even from the opposite end of a child's life. This is not sentimental music. The sound issues from the child as involuntary realist, the one who sees with defenseless clarity and transmits without melodrama or calculation. That child's transparency, a kind of wonder, can break the heart.

The note vibrates, unexpectedly, in memoirs by two veteran newspaper columnists, Pete Hamill (A Drinking Life; Little, Brown; 265 pages; $21.95) and Art Buchwald (Leaving Home; Putnam; 254 pages;...

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