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    new england literary news | Nina maclaughlin

    Saga of a bricklayer and Boston Marathon champ and a marathon of ‘Moby-Dick’

    Bill Kennedy after the Chateau Thierry relay race in 1919.
    Bill Kennedy after the Chateau Thierry relay race in 1919.

    An original Marathon man

    In his lifetime Bill Kennedy, a bricklayer by trade, survived a five-story fall off a coliseum in Iowa, train accidents while riding the rails, car crashes, Typhoid, Depression-era bankruptcy, blows to the melon as a boxer, and a stint as a soldier in war.

    He also won the 1917 Boston Marathon two weeks after the United States entered World War I when the race was in its 20th year, a time when the idea of running 26 miles was, to most, an eccentricity bordering on insanity — if not dangerous. But he lived to tell the tale.

    In his retirement, Kennedy took to the quieter pursuit of writing, producing a memoir about his bumpy, rollicking life. His great-nephew and great-grandnephew, both Boston natives, got a hold of the manuscript and used it to write a book about the man: Bricklayer Bill: The Untold Story of the Workingman’s Boston Marathon’ (University of Massachusetts) by University of Scranton history professor Lawrence Kennedy and his son, journalist Patrick Kennedy.


    The biography offers a lively look at a restless man and a different time in sports, when athletic superstars were often amateurs and never multimillionaires. In an excerpt from Kennedy’s original manuscript, the champion reveals the secret of running, as offered to him by a coach in Chicago: When Kennedy asked whether he was “laying ‘em down all right,” the coach replied, “Never mind how you lay them down, keep picking them up.” Of course, he thought, they go down on their own.

    A relay reading of “Moby-Dick”

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    “In New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.” Such is Herman Melville’s description of New Bedford, and this coming weekend the whaling museum there hosts its 22nd annual “Moby-Dick” Marathon, a relay reading of Melville’s epic. This year’s event begins on Friday, Jan. 6, with a dinner and screening of the documentary “Call Us Ishmael’’ (tickets for the dinner are $50). On Saturday morning, there’s “Moby-Dick” trivia and a shortened marathon for kids with a reading of an abridged version. At noon begins the reading itself, and it continues all through the night. For the third year, there’s a mini-marathon in Portuguese; the Whaling Museum commissioned Portuguese playwright Tiago Patricio to translate an abridged version specifically for the event. Artist demonstrations, poster signings, breaks for chowder, and a special performance of chapter 40, “Midnight on the Fo’c’sle,” round out the day. Sunday continues with a robust breakfast and wraps up a little after midday. The event will be livestreamed online. For more information visit

    Patterson plays Santa for booksellers

    James Patterson is ranked as the highest paid author in the world, pulling in an estimated $95 million a year, according to Forbes. For the past three years, he’s been awarding bonuses of $750-$1,250 to exceptional booksellers around the country (nominated by colleagues, managers, and regulars). A number of local booksellers were chosen this year. From Porter Square Books in Cambridge, bonuses went to: Josh Cook, Heather Goss, Kate Mikell, Gary Cowan, and Marika McCoola. From Harvard Book Store: Alan Hurley, Mark Lamphier, Rachel Betz Cass, and Sophie Bell. From Trident Booksellers: Clarissa Hadge and Max Clark. From Wellesley Books: Rachel Conrad and Rebecca Stimpson. As well as Kate Layte of Papercuts J.P., Alie Hess from Brookline Booksmith, Denise Evans from Pyramid Books in Salem, Janet Bibeau from Storybrook Cove in Hanover, Sara Hines from Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Sharon Decastro from Readmore Bookstore in Taunton, and Victoria Robers from the Andover Bookstore.

    Coming out

    “Invictus’’by Natalie Eilbert (Noemi)

    “Where the Dead Sit Talking’’by Brandon


    “Self-Portrait with Boy’by Rachel Lyon (Scribner)

    Pick of the week

    Marika McCoola at Porter Square Books in Cambridge recommends“Echo after Echo’’by Amy Rose Capetta (Candlewick): “Zara is in NYC to star in a Greek tragedy as the tragic romantic lead opposite a heart-throb movie star. But as moves deeper into the world of the theater, Zara realizes she may drown in its madness. Add a murder, a forceful director, a girl who shines brighter than her lighting designs, and sentences so beautiful you’ll be dog-earring pages, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary.”

    Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at