Gift giving doesn’t have to be limited to flashy jewelry or the latest in blood soaked video games. A more meaningful and longer lived present can come from a positive book, one centered on the struggles we have living a spiritual life in an often profane world. For your loved one in recovery this holiday season (or any other time) I’ve compiled a list of the top ten books involving alcoholism, addiction, mental illness, or treatment centers. I’ve personally read most of them and heard glowing recommendations from friends for the others. In all cases I’d be interested in hearing feedback from you, the reading audience. Let me know your thoughts on these memoirs, novels, and accounts – as well as any other books that might have been left off. So without further ado let’s begin our countdown…
1) Dry by Augusten Burroughs – The author who wrote the hilarious “Running with Scissors,” delivers a personal account of his recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. Sure to appeal to a wide range of readers, including those involved in advertising (his previous career), to those with delusions of grandeur (plenty of those here). This book provides a funny and riotous romp through the often painful process of treatment and recovery.
2) A New Pair of Glasses by Chuck C. – Not a conventional inclusion to the list, this book is best read by those already involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and working a program of their own. If this is the case they will gain much from the speeches of Chuck C, which are presented in book form after having been transcribed from a men’s retreat where the author spoke before his passing. Unconventional but potentially a powerful read for those in recovery!
3) Parched by Heather King – Being from the northeast area of the United States I particularly enjoy this memoir by Ms. King, her piercing insight into the ways of Irish Boston had me literally shaking with laughter. At other times the prose takes more serious turns, detailing her descent into ‘questionable companionship’ and bottom of the barrel alcoholism. Though she’s currently a devout Catholic the book avoids overt preaching and remains a safe read for almost anyone, alcoholic or ‘normal’.
4) Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - Perhaps not strictly about recovery, this sprawling epic of a tale is certainly about change, redemption and the lengths to which we go to escape. An auto-biographical tale about the author’s imprisonment in Australia, his jailbreak and his ensuing life in India, ‘Shantaram’ weaves a beautiful web of worlds – from the biker subculture, to the hippie trail, from the slums of Bombay to the slopes of Afghanistan. An amazing read that will truly make you think about how much one man can accomplish.
5) Beautiful Boy & Tweak by David & Nic Sheff – The first of these two books is written by a father, the second by his son. Mostly concerned with the effects of addiction on a family, ‘Beautiful Boy,’ is a comprehensive account of Nic’s descent into methamphetamine abuse and the correspondingly corrosive effects this has on his relationships. Nic’s narrative (‘Tweak’) forms a much more personal perspective on his immersion in drugs, progressing from pot and alcohol to crank and heroin. Reading both of these books together affords a truly unique view of the totality of addiction, from addicts to the loved ones that are forced to watch as a life goes up in flames. Not for the faint of heart, but an amazing couple of memoirs nonetheless.
6) Undrunk: A Skeptics Guide to AA by A.J. Adams – As the title states this book is by an author who approaches the institution and meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous with trepidation. Eventually he becomes a convert and realizes a life he couldn’t have dreamed of before, but this slender tome can still be the perfect read for those of us with reservations about AA.
7) The Night of the Gun by David Carr – A journalist’s perspective on addiction ‘The Night of the Gun’ represents an intriguing new approach to the traditional drug memoir. The author pieces through the puzzle of his life by interviewing old lovers, associates, and co-workers. From them he gets to the truth about an infamous memory he can only vaguely recall. Part history and part mystery this book gets to the heart of the matter of addiction by addressing the frailty of memory (especially when intoxicated). A highly recommended read, no pun intended.
8) Everything I Never Wanted to Be by Dina Kucera – This selection is the only book on the list I have not personally read, but it’s been recommended for a poignant approach to the nature of alcoholism. More importantly this book focuses on the family nature of the disease and manages to derive a lot of comedy from the darker corners of life. Give this book for the person on your list who needs a good laugh at the expense of someone else (and who can’t use that from time to time?)
9) The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz – Our second to last selection has more of a religious theme than most, but in a very original and agnostic sense. The author describes the importance of imperfection in humanity, and how our flaws create the stories of who we are. Hard to describe the exact nature of this book, its subject is at once illuminating and playful – a must read for those in recovery and absolutely everyone else.
10) Alcoholics Anonymous by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson – The ‘Big Book’ that forms the basic text of AA. Although you knew it was coming this book has to be at the beginning of any list of readings on recovery. The tome that started it all continues to be the most influential text for anyone trying to recover from alcoholism. Other books may refute the findings of Bill Wilson, or investigate different methods of sobriety, but they all acknowledge the importance of this one, seminal work. If the person you care about in recovery doesn’t have a Big Book it’s the number one gift to get them, period.