Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Recovery Reading List

December 16th, 2016

Among the true joys of writing Out of the Wreck I Rise were the fantastic books we encountered during our research. Our book could only excerpt the briefest of each, though many deserve a full reading, not only for their perspective on recovery, but for their pure literary fire. Here are our 10 favorites, in no particular order:

1. Never Let Me Down, by Susan J. Miller. A scarifying tale of growing up in the household of a Jewish, jazz-loving heroin addict in the 1950s, this book bursts all clichés about addiction, while mapping, in heart-breaking detail, the cost that drug use inflicts on families.

2. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. The famous big novel of the 1990s, weighing in at almost 1100 pages, Infinite Jest is renown for its Pynchonesque wordplay and dystopian view of the immediate future, with its Year of the Depend Adult Undergarments. And tennis. Lots of tennis. It is also the most detailed, fascinating look at Alcoholics Anonymous you’ll ever read, plus a stomach-twisting view of addiction that approaches its true grotesque horror.

3. All of Us: The Collected Poems, by Raymond Carver. The master short story writer called it his “second life”—the decade after he gave up drinking at age 40. His poetry crackles with the despair of alcoholism plus the thrill of recovery, including his masterpiece “Gravy,” an ode to the gratitude he felt after getting clean. It’s inscribed on his tombstone.

4. The Journals of John Cheever, by John Cheever. You don’t have to be a fan of his fiction to appreciate this glimpse into the family life, creative struggles, loves and lusts of this titan of late 20 th century fiction. As booze-soaked as a bar towel, Cheever expresses the impossible effort needed to hold his demons at bay. “The battle with booze goes on. I weed the chrysanthemums and hold away from the bottle until half past eleven but not a second longer.”

5. The Life of Johnson, by James Boswell. Samuel Johnson, the great dictionary-maker of the 1700s. was plagued by problems: ill-health, poor hearing and eyesight, ill-starred romantic interests and a bottomless thirst for the bottle, which he discusses continually with razor sharp contemporaries like artist Joshua Reynolds and economist Adam Smith. He slips, time and again, but in the end, Johnson is the image of resolve. “I will be conquered,” he declares, “I will not capitulate.”

6. With or Without You: A Memoir, by Dominica Ruta. Addiction doesn’t take place in a vacuum, but within context, usually a family context. While the general condition is that families are supportive of recovery, Ruta’s mother was pressing drugs on her. Her fresh, honest voice is a highlight of our family chapter. Plunging fully into her life here is in equal measures funny and agonizing.

7. Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill. Addiction is a family curse, and seeing the Tyrones in O’Neill’s most autobiographical of works drives that home, with James and his carefully-marked bottle and Mary with her medicine. The play shows the strangled hope that comes when a loved one relapses, the way addiction lubricates the clanking gears of life even as it destroys them.

8. The Shining, by Stephen King. The Overlook Hotel, Redrum and all that supernatural hooha get the attention. But puff that Halloween spookery away and you have a real-life horror: one of the more spot-on portraits of an alcoholic committed to paper, the violence and hope interlaced with despair. King knows of what he speaks.

9. Poems: 1962-2012, by Louise Gluck. If you think poetry is for lightweights, Gluck will cure you. Her work is clear, fine, angry and can be read through like a novel. If Mary Oliver embraces the natural world and finds her comfort there, Gluck shakes her fist at it hissing, “How dare you?!”

10. Life, by Keith Richards. You don’t need us to recommend the Rolling Stone’s guitarist’s autobiography; it was already a huge bestseller. But unlike so many bestsellers, this one is really good, primarily for Richards’ voice, which is as fascinating talking about the Boy Scouts as it is giving backstage dirt on the World’s Greatest Rock Band. As for drugs, “the most seductive bitch” in the world, he gives one of the better reasons to stay sober: because otherwise all you know are junkies, and junkies tend to be idiots.

-Neil Steinberg

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