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2008: Year of the Addiction Memoir

January 2, 2009
by Daniel Guarnera
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"Best [movies, TV shows, music, etc.] of the Year Lists" are one of my favorite December traditions. No need to pay attention to the hundreds of media reviews that come out throughout the year when you can get all caught up in a few concise Top 10 lists!

I was struck as I read Entertainment Weekly's Best of 2008 lists to see that two of its Top 10 Books of 2008 were memoirs on addiction.

EW lists David Carr's "Night of the Gun" as the ninth best non-fiction book of the year. "Night of the Gun" (an excerpt can be found here) is about the author's attempt to re-discover what life was really like for him when he was a heroin- and crack-addicted young man in Minneapolis twenty years ago. "To be an addict is to be something of a cognitive acrobat. You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs — you need, actually — to keep them at a remove," Carr writes. As a result, he doesn't trust even his own memory of what happened. So he goes back and interviews people from his old life and finds medical and legal documents to piece together his fractured existence. Carr, a NY Times reporter, essentially investigates his own past as though he were doing research for any other story.

Entertainment Weekly's #1 non-fiction book of the year is a more conventional addiction memoir, "Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff. Sheff's book was based on a NY Times Magazine article he wrote back in 2005 (available here) about his son's methamphetamine addiction and recovery. (Nic Sheff, the son, has written a companion book targeted at teens and young adults.) "Beautiful Boy" recounts the guilt and helplessness that David Sheff feels as a father, but also the resolve and love that he finds during the darkest periods in the life of his family. He writes in the original NY Times Magazine article, "Through Nick's drug addiction, I learned that parents can bear almost anything. Every time we reach a point where we feel as if we can't bear any more, we do. Things had descended in a way that I never could have imagined, and I shocked myself with my ability to rationalize and tolerate things that were once unthinkable. He's just experimenting. Going through a stage. It's only marijuana. He only gets high on weekends. ... At least he's still alive."

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"Only Mortals Can Be Heroes" by David J. Weaver is a fantastic addiction memoir: http://www.amazon.com/Only-Mortals-Can-Heroes-Addiction/dp/0977091600/re...

There's some information about "Beautiful Boy" and another addiction memoir, "Tweak," over at the Brief Addiction Science blog: http://www.basisonline.org/2008/12/addiction-the-humanities-vol-49-addic...

"Swish: Maria in the Mourning," by Pamela Palmer Mutino is the best addiction memoir ever.

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Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...