Thirty pages into a memoir of recovery from alcoholism, I suddenly stopped and flipped the book over to study the photo of the author: Had I read this book before? Then I realized that no, it just seemed that way because I’ve read several such memoirs and they all have the same basic structure. Chapter One outlines the sad state of the author’s life in cringe-inducing detail and ends with his/her vague realization that something’s gotta change. The second chapter flashes back to her youth and gives the story of how she got into this mess, usually starting with how she found her first drink, and so on until we arrive back at the scene detailed in Chapter One; from here we follow the author’s path to redemption, a trip that usually involves at least one relapse. I find this sort of tale riveting. Most of the time. Perhaps I’ve read too many memoirs of addiction and recovery. That said, here are four I’d happily read again:
Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. To describe her own journey, Knapp uses (expertly) the metaphor of a love story; her story ends with a scene of her in a restaurant watching a glass of white wine being carried past her and she makes it sound just as bittersweet as running into the once-love-of-your-life.
Dry: A Memoir, by Augusten Burroughs. Burroughs was working at an advertising agency when he hit bottom. A little over the top but funny — this guy knows where to find the humor in rehab.
Lit, by Mary Karr. Karr lets us vicariously ride her roller coaster of highs and lows in a book that covers drunkenness, hangovers and depression but also what Karr calls her journey “from black-belt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic.”
Addicted: Notes From the Belly of the Beast, edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. This collection of essays by writers addicted to one thing or another (mostly alcohol) is, like any collection, a mixed bag — but many of these pieces are gems.
More recovery lit you might want to try:
Parched, by Heather King. King managed to get a law degree but preferred to earn her living waitressing in sleazy joints rather than get out and get a real job, in order to carry on her life of partying. (Now she’s an NPR commentator and columnist.)
The Night of the Gun, by David Carr. Carr, an investigative journalist for The New York Times, “investigates” his own junkie tale.
Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg. I actually didn’t finish this book, but if you’re interested in how a literary agent bottoms and then comes clean…
Nice Recovery, by Susan Juby. I haven’t read this, but it’s on my to-read list (for when I decide I actually haven’t read enough recovery lit).