Literature and addiction
August 31, 2015 7:58 PM   Subscribe

"Here are some books that will not only make you want to quit doing the thing that is killing you, but also offer an interesting narrative structure for writers because they flout the conventional hero journey template. Instead of a reluctant hero emerging from an ordinary world to delve into the tricky landscape of magic and tests, these heroes begin in chaos and emerge from the grungy ashes of last call and plunge into sober, or at least peaceful, life earned by one’s ability to overcome hurdles associated with addiction." (Antonia Crane at Electric Literature)

The top 10 books about addiction by SJ Watson, The Guardian

7 Addiction Memoirs: Books About Hitting Rock Bottom (slideshow) by Margaret Bristol for Huffington Post

The 10 Best Addiction Memoirs (slideshow) - Sam Lansky, The Atlantic
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (15 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
What! No Infinite Jest?
posted by lownote at 8:02 PM on August 31, 2015 [11 favorites]

What! No Infinite Jest?

I find it hard to imagine a comment that is more quintessentially Metafilter.
posted by solarion at 8:12 PM on August 31, 2015 [28 favorites]

Metafilter: I find it hard to imagine a comment that is more quintessentially Metafilter.
posted by Bistle at 8:19 PM on August 31, 2015 [13 favorites]

Hmm. No A Scanner Darkly. Guess I'll keep doing drugs.
posted by item at 8:24 PM on August 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Surprised none of those had Boy with Loaded Gun. I didn't drink for a month after that book.

It also includes a chapter called "The Amazing Technicolor Effing Machine" and the line "This here river rock's a nut-rubbing motherfucker", so you could call it an insta-classic.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:54 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

How about You Can Drink And Stay Healthy (Robert Linn, 1979)?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:13 PM on August 31, 2015

I'm glad that Carolyn Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story came up a couple of times, because it is very good. There's something about a story that's not only honest but gives you something useful to take away and use in your own recovery, and Knapp's book introduced me to YET as an acronym, as in I haven't lost my job yet, I haven't gone to jail yet, etc.: You're Eligible Too. Same for The Basketball Diaries, not to be confused with the mediocre afterschool-specialish movie made from it; quoth Jim Carroll, "You just got to see that junk is just another nine to five gig in the end, only the hours are a bit more inclined toward shadows." That gets to the truth about addiction, that it doesn't even really give you pleasure in the end; it's just another job that you get burnt out on because you feel that you can't leave it.

On the other hand, fuck that HuffPo list because of this: "Whether "A Million Little Pieces" is bitter truth or part-myth, one thing is for sure: James Frey was at one time addicted to alcohol and crack." In fact, precisely because of Frey's prevarications about it, even after admitting that he'd made at least some of it up, nothing is sure about his story; it's likely that he had a couple of arrests for DUI, dealt some weed in college, and went into recovery, probably at Hazelden. That's about it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:11 PM on August 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

I find it hard to imagine a comment that is more quintessentially Metafilter.

What if it had a gender studies element to it AND Infinite Jest?
posted by C.A.S. at 11:59 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find it hard to imagine a comment that is more quintessentially Metafilter.

Which is, of course, a compliment of the highest order. Quintessential Metafilter... is the best of the web.
posted by cell divide at 1:23 AM on September 1, 2015

Mike Doughty's memoir, The Book Of Drugs, is pretty great.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:38 AM on September 1, 2015

A Million Little Pieces is an interesting addiction memoir because of the lies. It's so typical! Lying is as much of a part of long-term addiction as the using of drugs, and that he was still lying to that degree years later is a pretty strong indication he's indeed an addict. He probably could have benefited from going to a few meetings and working the steps instead of dramatically rejecting the concept in favor of his own "recovery" program, which clearly didn't do much to change the terrible person he was when he was using.
posted by something something at 5:42 AM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

What! No Infinite Jest?

The Atlantic link took a very long time to load, but I'm glad to see that William S. Burrough's Junkie is at least worth a mention there, but it's really bizarre that they are calling it "a universal story of wayward boyhood and a redemptive ending that is no less rewarding for its inevitability." It makes me question if the person who wrote that actually read it, as that summary could be applied to the majority of novels with a male main character, for anything from Le Morte d'Arthur to Dune to even The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
posted by chambers at 7:15 AM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

More seriously, I just realized that I've read a lot of drug/addiction fiction despite being pretty much a non user.

A Scanner Darkly is nearly a memoir, fantastic, and probably doesn't fit the tone of the other books. I'm guessing all the ones here I haven't read come from a more or less sober perspective. That would also explain the lack of William S. Burroughs on the lists.

Choke is a fantastic take on addiction because it strips away some of the cliche ideas about addiction that are attached to drug use and gets to the core of what addiction does to people mentally.
posted by lownote at 7:15 AM on September 1, 2015

Ooops! The atlantic is not loading for me. I meant to say that. At least the other Burroughs made it somewhere. He did more than enough drugs to get some mention. His nonfiction, to me, is more interesting for its thoughts on drugs, though.
posted by lownote at 7:17 AM on September 1, 2015

Wow nice post and nice timing. I have only a handful of pages left of "Blackout" and I'll be reading more from Sarah Hepola. I like her style. I've been thinking about what to fill my commute with next. I haven't read "Permanent Midnight" since I've been sober and though I've heard of most of the others here it's nice to have them all in one place. You basically just had a best answer in the Ask I was thinking about posting.

I think I'll skip "A Million Little Pieces" though because of the above. I watched a guy ask an employee at Hazelden ask about the book, the author, time spent there, etc. and there was of course no answer but the face made in reaction to the question said plenty. I don't doubt that it's a fine book and others here have some bent truths, but I'd rather read something that's not tainted in my mind already.

Give "Blackout" a chance if you like addiction or memoirs or addiction memoirs. It's good stuff.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:02 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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