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review 2018-09-29 02:16
Not the same, I promise
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath - Leslie Jamison

The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison at first glance is remarkably similar to my last post and in retrospect I probably shouldn't have read them back-to-back. (If for no other reason, than my own mental health.) In my defense, my library holds always seem to come all at once so this was just coincidental. This book. however, is more memoir than anything else…although I'd also lump it into the literary commentary category. The author takes an almost journalistic look at addiction and recovery. While Jamison does discuss the 12 Steps, she emphasizes that most need more than the 12 Steps which promotes complete abstinence in order to recover. Medication and counseling in combination with a recovery program that advises group meetings is essential to long-term sobriety. She talks in-depth about her own recovery journey and how it doesn't always end neatly with full sobriety or even one linear line to sobriety as relapses will and do occur. The first part, in truth, focuses quite heavily on "drunk writers" using alcohol as a creative crutch and how Jamison herself felt that without booze she would not be interesting enough or creative enough to write. Along with that was her preoccupation with love helped along by an addict's natural self-centeredness. It is this inflated self-centered attitude which Jamison believes is the fuel for an addict. The addiction narrative is unchanging and that's the point. It doesn't need to be new and interesting (not necessary or even possible really) because it's the sharing with others that makes all the difference when all anyone wants is to not feel alone. Maybe because I read this on the heels of Russell's book or maybe because it didn't necessarily reveal anything new to me but this was only an okay book in my opinion. If this was the very first book someone had read on this subject then I believe it would be deemed excellent but for anyone who has read extensively in this vein it didn't really cover any new ground. 5/10


That isn't to say there weren't some interesting quotes. Here are two that jumped out at me:

 

Most addicts don't live in barren white cages - though some do once they've been incarcerated - but many live in worlds defined by stress of all kinds, financial and social and structural: the burdens of institutional racism and economic inequality, the absence of a living wage. - pg 154

Most addicts describe drinking or using as filling a lack…you drunk to fill the lack, but the drinking only deepens it. - pg 155

What's Up Next: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Star Trek: Destiny #3: Lost Souls by David Mack

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-06-10 12:46
The Recovering: Addiction & Its Aftermath
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath - Leslie Jamison
nb. I am a recovering heroin addict with decades clean. I lived through it when some medical professionals thought I wasn't worth the effort anymore. (That still upsets me - nobody should ever give up on an addict, especially medical professionals!) My addiction is private, but it's worth a mention here since it affects how I consume recovery literature.
 

I normally stay far away from recovery memoirs, having lived one myself and heard thousands more through the years. This book, though, promised to turn "the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself." My ears perked up and I took note. The blurb goes on to say (from the publisher):

All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, Billie Holiday, David Foster Wallace, and Denis Johnson, as well as brilliant figures lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here.

That interested me tremendously. I find it endlessly interesting that so many artists are sure their art is linked with their particular dysfunction -- be it mental illness, substance abuse or misogyny. And I know of some writers and other artists who have done their best work only after clearing away the wreckage of addiction (Denis Johnson, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, Raymond Carver to name just a few...) Jamison's theory and examples seemed (from the blurbs) to be about how the stories we tell ourselves about addiction and recovery are, in fact, part of both solution and problem. I've read enough about the hard-drinking writer. I wanted to hear about the writers who got clean and sober and continued or gone on to great success. I didn't want another quit-lit book. I wanted something deeper and more interesting. What I got was mostly (but not all) another literary drunkalog, and this ain't Tender Is The Night, Where I'm Calling From, A Moveable Feast or any of the other rather brilliant drunkalogs we have to choose from.

Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.

Lofty, eh? It promises not just another quit-lit recovery memoir, but something that will alter the landscape.

 

So I was mighty upset when, for the entire first half of the 544-page book, we get precious little that differs from any number of other recovery memoirs, even while she explicitly states in the text that she will not be writing "just another recovery memoir." The language in this part is practically caressed, not just massaged. Every bartender's eyes or hair rates several adjectives, every drink is served with multiple metaphors. Everything is so damned beautiful. It felt -- a lot -- like the glorification of alcoholism and the behavior that comes with it. Eventually, on her own because it seems nobody else really noticed her problem, she will get sober, relapse and start over. It's here that the tone begins to change, but we're more than halfway through 544 pages at that point. In other words, she devoted a massive amount of pages to the glorious drunken Leslie and her oh-so-uniquely artistic pain.

 

At one point she says outright that she has trouble writing without putting herself in the story, and that's clear. She makes mention of the famous writers at Iowa with her, but only in passing because we're busy learning what she likes to drink, how much of it, when and how... Once she decides to get sober, she will fail and there will be a bit more longing for drinking/scheming etc, but the shine has gone, as anyone who has relapsed could tell you in far fewer words. It's after this point that the book starts to be unique. She is an excellent journalist, and I wish she'd excised her own story from this book entirely.

 

Her drinking is written in far greater detail than her recovery. She seems to take an emotional step back the minute she gets sober. I could feel fear at her vulnerability and recovery the minute it stopped being a drunkalog. Once sobriety starts, Jamison introduces journalism, statistics and experts, so we get no "other side of the coin" to the first half of the tome -- there is no honest portrayal of Jamison sober. It's obscured by her fact-finding missions and critical readings. This is where the other writers step in to give an assist.

 

Honestly it felt a bit like she used their stories of relapse and recovery to mask her own fear that she isn't qualified to write about her own recovery. Perhaps, like any smart addict, she has a fear of relapse. If you write a book called "The Recovering" you probably hope not to have to start counting days sober again after the publication date. Instead of saying that outright, though, she shows us other writers who did exactly that. The irony is that her sponsor tells her at one point that this is her problem in life -- it seems to also be a problem in her writing.

 

Jamison leads a charmed life, drunk or not. She is in prestigious writing programs and residences throughout the entire time chronicled in this book, and she's publishing too. High-functioning isn't even close to the right word. That doesn't change her pain or disqualify her sobriety, but it's worth a mention. She says nada about insurance or paying for medical care. When she does make mention of money, it's to do things most of us will only dream of - travel, foreign research, time just to write in exotic or beautiful locales. One could imagine she saw this note coming, since she shields herself from her privilege by mentioning it a few times. 

 

But between all of that extraneous and rather privileged "just another recovery memoir," there are very interesting themes and excellent journalism. She has a great hypothesis that's buried a bit deeply, but it goes something like we are all subject to being seduced by the stories we tell ourselves and it might be good, if scary and different, to tell ourselves healthy stories rather than unhealthy ones. Artists don't have to write with their own blood, and if they do, they'll eventually bleed out. She has an excellent critical eye for reading others' writing and pulling support for her story out of their words. Those parts are extremely compelling, and I really wish that the majority of the massive amount of pages had gone to that.

 

One final thing. While she makes mention of the big names who were known to drink, some of these writers also seem to have suffered from comorbid disorders, and that is never discussed. I can't say, nor can Leslie Jamison or for that matter, her relative, author and psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, whether many of these suicides were caused by one specific illness - be it alcoholism or an affective disorder. I do wish these rather large topics weren't skipped. They're important, even if they don't fit neatly within the narrative built here.

 

What I would hope is that the personal story be completely excised next time and the researching, critical eye step in. Her best work is when she empathizes with the writing of others and explains it from the standpoint of one who has felt those feelings and lived to tell.

 

 

 

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text 2016-04-15 15:00
Fabulous Five Friday: Essay Collections (4/15/2016)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Joan Didion
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader - Anne Fadiman
Bad Feminist: Essays - Roxane Gay
The Empathy Exams: Essays - Leslie Jamison
Paris Was Ours - Penelope Rowlands

Fabulous Five Friday: Five Great Essay Collections

 

 

 Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion

 

There is no denying that Didion is the queen of the essay form. Bethlehem is one of her earliest collections, but it’s still my favorite. Though some might find the essays rooted in the current events of the 1960s a bit dated, her personal essays are timeless. Some of her best known pieces come from this collection, like “On Keeping a Notebook,” “On Self-Respect,” and “On Going Home.”

 

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

 

Anne Fadiman is a book person after my own heart, only smarter and more articulate. Each essay looks at a personal experience with reading, like learning to love reading by watching her parents, or her family’s obsession with finding errors in their books. Her whole family is bookish and weird and really fun to read about.

 

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

 

This collection is not so much a direct analysis of feminism as it is simply a collection of Gay’s pieces from all over the internet. She focuses so much on feminism, directly and indirectly, that the title is still pretty spot-on. The essays cover everything from the day-to-day struggle of being a POC in academia to what it’s like to compete in a Scrabble tournament. Her pop culture criticism is both incisive and highly personal, which something I strive for in my own criticism and she makes for a fantastic teacher.

 

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

 

This collection got a lot of buzz when it came out, and for good reason. Jamison writes highly personal essays on the experience of empathy in a style that seems meandering but always comes together in perfect but surprising ways.

 

Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light edited by Penelope Rowlands

 

Writers—some famous, some less so—write about visiting or living in modern Paris. The different voices and experiences each capture something unique about the city and about what it’s like to be in a famous place that contains so many contradictions. Like with all anthologies, I found some more interesting than others, but none were disappointing.

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review 2015-09-17 02:56
The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison
The Empathy Exams: Essays - Leslie Jamison

On the cover of my edition of The Empathy Exams, by Lesli Jamison, Mary Karr says that the book will make its readers better people. This is not true. I’m not a better person for having read it. A couple of the members of my book club declared that they weren’t improved by reading it. Then our conversation veered into the very short list of books that might actually have changed us. The Empathy Exams does explore how we feel when we witness others in pain or in turmoil, but it’s a very academic exploration...

 

Read the rest of A Bookish Type.

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quote 2015-07-24 22:16
I wish I could invent a verb tense full of open spaces--a tense that didn't pretend to understand the precise mechanisms of which it spoke; a tense that could admit its own limits.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

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