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Citywide Intervention

The new Go Read Richmond book has people talking about alcoholism.


A native of Long Island, McDermott is known for the unique and personal voice she gives modern Irish-American immigrants as they live big, beautiful and ordinary lives. Winner of the 1998 National Book Award, "Charming Billy" is receiving a new readership and a new life as Richmond's fourth Go Read book.

"Alcoholism and Depression," "Community and Family," and "Marriage and the Different Faces of Love" are a few of the topics that will be discussed this fall by every demographic of Go Readers in area libraries and bookstores, and for the first time, on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

"People ask, what's the catch for a free book?" says Monique Prince, a librarian at VCU's Cabell Library, who is interested in using Go Read as a springboard for other university book groups. So far, Prince has helped give away close to 200 copies of "Charming Billy" to anyone affiliated with VCU. "I think the most important thing about this for me is getting students to read for pleasure. Reading is a stress reliever and a way to build community with off-campus students, who can feel disconnected."

On Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the fall semester, VCU students are encouraged to gather in the student commons to engage in discussions moderated by Prince. Sophomore Nicole Winning says she's excited to be a part of the discussion because she's curious to hear other people's perceptions of the book. She is an anthropology major, and thus, the Irish perspective of "Charming Billy" holds particular fascination for Winning.

"I come from the Scottish perspective," she says. "It's interesting to look at different cultures and their views of drinking. We talked about alcoholism and the question of whether or not it's genetic. My father's father was an alcoholic, so I was able to add my own personal insights."

"Anywhere fate and personality intersect, these types of questions will be raised," says McDermott, who has not experienced alcoholism personally, but believes it exists somewhere in nearly every extended family across cultures and borders. "I recognize Billy from different generations, mine and those of my friends."

McDermott set out to write about the stereotype of the lovable drunk. "But he's not just a stereotype; he's a particular person," she says. "I didn't want to illustrate anything about alcoholism. I wanted to show this one character — to see the people who love him and the emotions that feed them."

Whether your identification with "Charming Billy" is big or small, if you've turned off the TV for a couple of hours to read it and shared your thoughts with someone about what you've read, Go Read has won again. S

The Go Read discussions will culminate with a visit from Alice McDermott Thursday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m., at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, free. For a full calendar of discussion groups, events and more information, call 646-0290 or visit

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