I think it’s a universal truth that everybody enjoys books about the things they are passionate about. It just makes sense, right? If you are an artist, you might tear through books on Van Gough, Renoir or Monet. If you’re a WWII buff, (besides spouting the order of your favorite U-boat related movies to all who will listen) you’ll probably thumb through countless Third Reich history books throughout your life. And if you’ve dedicated a fairly large portion of your existence to ingesting (or injecting) different mind-altering chemicals, chances are you’ve probably read one or two books about drugs (and I’ll bet money at least one of them was written by a fellow addict). I know I certainly have. For others in this category who are looking for a good read, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorites. These are in no particular order and are all excellent books that I would highly recommend to anyone, user or not.
Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamine, by Nic Sheff – A rough and beautiful first-hand account of a young meth addict throughout stages of his addiction and recovery. Parts are gritty and harrowing, others uplifting and heart-wrenching. As a fellow methamphetamine addict myself, I related intimately with Nic’s experiences, yet at times I wanted to shake him stupid and drag him into recovery myself. But ultimately, it was a story of hope and courage. I’ve rarely read such an inspiring firsthand account of addiction. He puts it all out there for the world to see. It’s obvious Nic has done a lot of work and has a great deal of self-awareness to be able to open up and discuss his addiction so openly.
Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff – Entertainment Weekly’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2008, Beautiful Boy is a marvelous and rare opportunity to read a story of addiction from two points of view, first by the addict, Nic Sheff in Tweak and then by his father, David Sheff. Nic’s dad David lets you walk a mile in the shoes of an addict’s father. He describes the life-consuming and even life-threatening effects of his own addiction to his son’s addiction and the impact it had on the other members of his family. A journalist by trade, the elder Sheff does plenty of research on methamphetamine use and the devastating effects it has on an addict’s brain and body. His empathy for his son’s plight and unconditional love and support as he sways Nic to clean up and pull his life together should be traits all loved ones of addicts should strive to emulate. He knows when to say “No” and is always there when Nic hits a new rock-bottom and agrees to yet another rehab. In the end, his tenacity pays off and his family is once again unified. Anyone who has ever loved an addict will feel as though Sheff is writing about their own personal experience. Each admission of blame, anger, frustration, confusion and sadness will sound bitterly familiar. Addicts will benefit from looking at their addiction through the eyes of their loved ones. After all, it’s not just the addict that suffers; it’s everyone who loves them. A brilliantly written book that will most likely be tear stained from beginning to end by the time it’s finished. His next book, Clean, is next on my “to read” list, after I finish Women Heroin Users.
The Heroin Users Handbook, by Francis Moraes – An honest and straightforward account of everything a heroin user should know to be as successful as possible while using heroin. Initially meant to be a book to help chippers and casual users of heroin avoid addiction and other undesirable heroin-related consequences, it thankfully morphed into a book that can be useful to a heroin user at any stage. This book might seem controversial to some, but all Dr. H is trying to do is help users be as safe as possible, avoid the law as much as possible and, if possible, avoid addiction. He covers topics like routes of administration, acquiring heroin, legal and social issues, how to avoid addiction, and mostly importantly how to recover. (Many of the things covered within this blog as well.) Anyone who uses heroin, even on the smallest scale, should read this book if they can get their hands on a copy. Since it’s out of print, first edition copies go for over $200! But according to his website, there should be a second addition out soon. I bet that one will come with a more reasonable price tag.
Junky, by William H. Boroughs, Junky is the literary equivalent of Lou Reed’s song Heroin, or the heroin themed movie, Trainspotting to junkies. It’s by an addict, for addicts and tells a raw, sometimes heartbreaking, always relatable story of a man thinly veiled as Boroughs himself. While in my opinion, heroin users will enjoy this book more than straight people, Boroughs is such a brilliant writer that anyone can grasp his desperation, internal conflict and relationships with others, no matter what the catalyst. It’s a tragic page-turner, from beginning to end. Don’t be surprised if you stay up all night to finish it.
Women Drug Users: An Ethnography of a Female Injecting Community, by Avril Taylor, Being a woman myself, I particularly like books that center around other women drug users, especially IV drug users. In this ethnography, Taylor follows a handful of women heroin users around Scotland for a couple of years, building close relationships with them and their colleges. She is clearly moved by what she finds in the underworld of heroin addiction, and does her best to not let their drug use interfere with her relationships with these women. Some are mothers, some are in recovery, some are HIV positive, and she chronicles all of their lives in a manner that is empathetic and understanding. This book was written in the 70’s, so unfortunately heroin was the only drug that any of these women IV’d. I’d love to read a follow up with women who inject other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine as well. I’m not going to say she was 100% perfect at keeping stereotypes at bay, but she does a better job than almost any other author I’ve read.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe, A true account of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters as they embark on their journey across the United States on their vividly decorated school bus, Furthur and the aftermath of their psychedelic voyage. Some embrace the acid scene with open arms and thrive on the comradery of the culture they’ve created. Others don’t fare quite so well and quickly burn out on the excess acid and plethora of other drugs. Kesey’s innovative ideas, literary success, subsequent financial comfort and natural authoritative personality position him as the natural leader for the group. Although run more like a dictatorship than a commune, most don’t mind and gladly follow his direction for the opportunity to participate in the great LSD-fueled mindmeld. But what starts as a journey to expand the mind eventually deteriorates into something a little less savory before the crews eventually disbands and go their separate ways. Told in the then new literary style, New Journalism, it is captivating and unique. Once started, I couldn’t put it down, a page turner that was finished in no time.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson Vegas has always been a playground for the debaucherous and insatiable. But rarely has excess been taken to such an extreme as in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You might be familiar with film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas starring the ever-popular and always loved Johnny Depp. But if you haven’t read the book, written by the infamous and openly drug fueled, Hunter S. Thompson, you’re missing out on half the fun. Written in the literary style gonzo-journalism (a name no doubt taken from Dr. Gonzo himself, a main character in the novel), it’s a blend of fact and fiction. Where the truth ends and the fabrication begins will always be a mystery. But if even half of the chaos written in Fear and Loathing is true, Thompson’s lifestyle was definitely not for the faint of heart. Whether you’re a drug user, or simply an appreciator of the bizarre and quirky, this book is a must read.
Of course there are many, many more books I’d like to mention here, but I will save those for another time and write a follow-up when the time is right. In the meantime, this should give you enough to read for a while. If you read any of these books, let me know your thoughts! Got any better recommendations? Please let me know! I’m always on the lookout for a good new book!
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