Saturday, August 20, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 11

Day 11: Drunks!  Our favorite books involving the substances and their abuses.

Let's face it, drinking adds flavor to a story.  I'm shocked that the original 30 Day Book Challenge didn't involve this category.


Well I will try to stay away from the obvious picks like Bukowski , Hemingway, and Hunter Thompson. I will also spare you my own personal harrowing journey with alcohol in April of 1987 when I drank nine beers. [I was 10 years old in April, 1987.  Just saying.] The next day I spent apologizing to people, including two strangers that I apparently offended so badly during my drunken escapade, they felt the need to seek me out the next day. Awkward.

I don’t drink much these days because I hate apologizing. [True, and doubly true.  And Gianna doesn't need the liquid courage; she once jumped out of the car to scream at a woman and insult her lack of education in the middle of a street in Oklahoma City because the woman driving the other car honked at us.  The mall security officer in the golf cart nearby looked scared of Gianna too.]

Now, Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay were ladies who enjoyed a glass of wine every now and again from sun up to sun down, which obviously makes me wish I could have been their designated driver. And sure, while their writing about such things is wonderful, I do have the feeling that either one of those gals would beat the shit out of you if the mood struck them while they were hammered. [Yes.] While that is undeniably sexy…it's not safe.

My favorite book (books, really) are by Jim Carroll.

Carroll’s biographies are fantastic and I think reading them back to back is the way to go. Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries: both books focus on Carroll's young adult life trying to kick drugs (Carroll started using heroin when he was 13…yikes). I think Carroll is a beautiful writer and much like Patti Smith’s book Just Kids, he is able to really paint a portrait of time and place. In Basketball Diaries you get a taste of how the country was changing in the 1960’s and he was clearly already drawn to the counter-culture movement. Carroll would eventually immerse himself in that movement just few years later, hanging out with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, which he writes about in Forced Entries. Not that it's impossible to figure out, but in the second book Carroll uses fake names so as to not appear to be name-dropping, but I think with a bit of research one can figure out the players. Personally, I am too lazy. One other thing, Basketball Diaries is made up of actual diary entries that Carroll kept from the ages of 12-16; Forced Entries is written from memory and Carroll freely admitted parts might not be accurate. How refreshing is that, a drug addict admitting that he isn’t a reliable narrator? I know that night in ’87 is pretty fuzzy….if only I could block it completely. Of course, many people I met that night probably wish they could forget it too….

My runner-up, by the way, is Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story which should be read directly after reading Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Walk Home. Please.


If anyone in the publishing business drinks less than Gianna, it's probably me.  Nonetheless, there was a night in April of 1999 that involved rum, Diet Coke, and a declaration of love for my former boss.  I don't really regret it; everyone loved him.  Not everyone grabbed his butt...but I don't think he minded.

Two books full of regrets and what-might-have-beens are Stuart: A Life Backwards and one of the best titled books ever, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.  These aren't uplifting books.  They are the stories of broken men, men so far down that they have no homes.  Stuart tells the story of an eccentric homeless man, a man who develops a friendship with the book's author, Alexander Masters.  Trying to understand the enigmatic Stuart, Masters unravels his story beginning in the present and winding back to a turning point in his childhood.  Another Bullshit Night, written by talented poet Nick Flynn, is an incredible memoir about Flynn's attempts to locate and assist his father, a damaged man who ends up homeless on the streets of Boston.

My favorite memoir about the bottle, though, is written by one of my favorite writers, Mary Karr.  The third book in Karr's series of memoirs, Lit, is a brilliant composition blending Karr's past as recounted in The Liars' Club and Cherry, her love of literature, and her struggles with marriage, the raising of her son, and her first book's success.  As I've mentioned before, I feel an extra affinity for Karr because she grew up and survived the area of East Texas where I was raised.  I also love that Karr turned to literature to guide her out of that home.  Lit describes how Karr's past catches up to her and she turns to alcohol for self-medication, and in a downward spiral she finally breaks down and finds her way to AA meetings and the church. 

Now, I am not a religious person and normally I steer clear of books on Christianity because the majority of them lack the level of depth I think is warranted when discussing philosophical topics.  Love Jesus, be rich.  Love Jesus, be happy.  It's all too simplistic and two-dimensional.  I struggled with Karr's book in part because of my own prejudices, but her views on spirituality are anything but two-dimensional.  This is a thinking person's memoir of abuse and recovery; it's not phony or slick or full of soft-focused sunrise imagery. 

1 comment:

  1. I still liked Million Little Pieces despite the exaggeration.