Such is Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man: A Memoir. Here’s a guy who seems to have it all, he’s young, gorgeous, in a relationship, and runs his own literary agency. BUT he likes the crack a bit too much. And that’s what this story is about.
Is it the car-wreck fascination that makes memoirs like this so enticing? Watching people make THE worst decisions they can make? Watching them crumble and lose it all? Is it knowing that they make it out OK in the end because, after all, they wrote this book?
I think it’s all of those things and the inevitable comparison against our own choices, the fears about our own habits and decisions undoing us. It may be an extreme comparison when you, the reader, join Clegg on his binges, as he first decides to simply take the edge off with one huge hit … that turns into another … that turns into another … as the hours spiral down the drain and all his obligations and responsibilities evaporate. It’s easy to put yourself in his shoes even if you’ve never done a single drug. You have your own mundane weaknesses—food, drink, shopping, relationship choices. You find yourself overindulging or overextending or following the same pattern even though you swore you were going to stop . And these impulses and compulsions don’t even always make you feel GOOD. Imagine if we felt so very transformed and blissful in the arms of our weaknesses.
We all disappoint ourselves and promise ourselves to do better next time. And then we don’t. So we tag along knowingly with Clegg as he falls apart, spends all his money—tens of thousands of dollars, hooks up with questionable strangers in one hotel room after another, pushes his body to the limit and wastes away in the same drooping, soiled clothes day after day. We become so immersed in his crack-fueled existence that even his paranoia, though clearly delusional, seems a little believable as we look through his eyes. Every business traveler, every cab driver, every ho-hum person is a federal agent just waiting to pounce and drag him away. Well, maybe they are; why not? Or maybe he’s helped us, in his world, to also lose that touchpoint with reality.
Clegg pushes himself to the very edge, and then finally, at his lowest, when he can no longer make himself go on, he makes arrangements to check out, writes his note and all. Despite his best attempts, the body he has pushed to its limits for so long fights back and carries him back home where he is finally able to get the real help he needs.
And all the while we get a third-person narrative peek into his life as a boy, at the personal demons he battled and how these difficulties affected his relationships, especially with his parents. Is this childhood torment the source of his adult devils? We are left to wonder.
I’ve been coming across a lot of good bookish links this week that you might enjoy too.
- Fear of speaking in front of large crowds? Adam Mansbach shares scenarios that are worse in “Hell is my own book tour” at Salon.com.
- I remember terrible name calling and hurt feelings from team mates when we tried to play the Book Lover’s Edition of Trivial Pursuit at A2’s house (not once, but unwisely twice!). Here are some other “Literary Board Games for Book Nerds.” If I had to be made to play one, I think I’d go with The Shining. (But The Name of the Rose—really?)
- Speaking of A2, she shared this link on the evolving design of the covers for Ian Fleming’s Bond novels (I used to consider these my guilty pleasure) in “60 Years of Spying in Style.”
- The Paris Review ran an interview with a poet from Pittsburgh, born in 1925, whom I hadn’t heard of before: “Jack Gilbert, The Art of Poetry No. 91,” Interviewed by Sarah Fay. It’s a long piece but interesting; I love this particular remembrance:
And you might not think it, but the power of Pittsburgh, the grandeur, those three great rivers, was magnificent. Even working in the steel mills. You can’t work in a steel mill and think small. Giant converters hundreds of feet high. Every night, the sky looked enormous. It was a torrent of flames—of fire. The place that Pittsburgh used to be had such scale. My father never brought home three pounds of potatoes. He always came home with crates of things. Everything was grand, heroic. Everything seemed to be gigantic in Pittsburgh—the people, the history. Sinuousness. Power. Substance. Meaningfulness.
Especially that line “You can’t work in a steel mill and think small.”
I am currently in reader hell. I have a stack of about 12 books waiting to be read and a list of another 7 more that are waiting to be purchased, but I can’t get to them just yet. I have to finish Midnight’s Children first.
I’ve been reading it for about three months now and I just can’t get through it. It’s not that it isn’t a good book. It’s beautifully written, a story that is woven not told, but it’s just not compelling. I could stop now and never return to it and I wouldn’t spend a second wondering what happened next. (I refer to this as the Tom Robbins Effect. I’ve abandoned more of his books than I’ve finished and not because I don’t think they’re good. I just get…distracted? Bored?)
Unlike some people I know (ahem) I am not the type of person who can read multiple books at a time. Well, I can, I just don’t enjoy it. I dedicate myself solely to a book until it’s finished. To me, if I start another book before I’ve finished one that means the first one hasn’t grabbed me and probably isn’t worth my time. I realize this isn’t fair, which is why I’m so determined to finish Midnight’s Children. I started it sometime in November and since then I’ve also read somewhere around 8 other books. Two of them were for book club, three were because I needed something light to distract me from real life, and the rest were because they were more interesting to me than Midnight’s Children. That says something, doesn’t it? An unread book drawing me to it more than the book I’m in the middle of?
I know some people would tell me to just quit, life is too short to spend reading a book that feels like a chore, but I can’t do that. I hate not finishing a book, no matter how terrible, and this one isn’t terrible. I just feel weighted down by it and I can’t wait until I’m finished so that I can move on. It’s getting harder and harder to resist the siren call of my TBR pile.
So, is this just me? Am I the only one too stubborn to quit? And am I the only person to not enjoy a book that I think is good? Let me know if you’ve experienced anything like this and if you’re a quitter or a finisher.
Hello, hello. What’s this? It’s been five days since my last blog post?
Well, you know. January. I think that says it all. Winter. Snow. It’s very cold and walking the dog takes three times the effort to trudge through the accumulation. And since it’s dark by the time I leave the office, that signals my brain to just take it easy, conserve energy. My body compels me (I am powerless) to crawl under a blanket on the sofa and keep warm and read. Anything else requires too much effort.
But as I resolved I would, I’m chugging through my New Yorker article backlog (including David Sedaris’s dental adventures in Europe, Jennifer Egan’s short-lived venture into archeology, and a short story by Rivka Galchen, “Appreciation,” that had the same mental acrobatics of Atmospheric Disturbances).
I’ve started the journey into Drood (ah, period dialogue), and I’m also reading a Christmas gift from my sister: Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez – blindness caused by viewing a film? Portions of or an homage to Un Chien Andalou, no less? (don’t watch the video unless you know what this film is known for.) And there’s another set of twins in this one, just on the heels of my finishing The Night Strangers, Chris Bohjalian, which was twin-centric, though I’m too early in this one to know if their twinness is significant.
I’m working on a post-holiday sale copy I picked up of Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man (why do I love to read about other people’s chemical dependency struggles?). I’m finishing up Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (a post is a brewing on this itself) and also just started Colin Meloy’s Wildwood (children’s brain workings and talking animals!).
I’ve been keeping myself busy in these cozy alternate realities, if not my own.
But enough about me. Have you taken Vulture’s Quiz: Jay-Z Lyric or Line From The Great Gatsby?
Now, I’m not so familiar with Jay-Z lyrics, but I have written quite a few papers on The Great Gatsby in my day. I’m both shamed by how poorly I did on the quiz and charmed by the way the two worlds meld.
Now you take the quiz–do better than me!
Do you have a bookish New Year’s resolution? In the past I’ve tried challenging myself to a couple.
One year, I think I wanted to read 100 books in a year, because my boss at the time had once told me she read 200 a year (which blew my mind, but I later deduced her count was largely composed of books on CD that she listened to commuting the long hours between her home state and our HQ state). When I realized that for me that would be 2 books a week and that my tastes leaned toward HUGE books, I knew I was doomed to failure.
Last year, I thought I’d take it easy on myself and make my challenge a single book. I would read a classic that I’d never read but should. I picked War and Peace. My husband decided to join me with Les Miserables as his choice. I think we both spent one night looking at the first few pages and never picked up the books the rest of the year. They are currently sitting prominently in our living room as physical reminders also holding up a Buddha head.
Elise asked me yesterday if I had a book goal for this year. I don’t. I can’t think of one. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve grown accustomed to book resolution fails so quickly. One of hers was to read Drood. As I haven’t read it yet either, we think we’ll tackle it together (of course, you see how that worked out for my husband and I last year). But we’ll take it a chapter at a time and you’ll probably see that process here.
Last night, I also realized that I do have a reading challenge I could offer myself, too. I have a terrible, terrible habit of “reading” The New Yorker. Because I feel so time challenged in many ways and am better able to justify spending time reading a book, when I “read” The New Yorker, what I really do is scan through, reading the little bits, the cartoons, the occasional “Block That Metaphor” squib. But I tear out the articles I want to read in-depth. I pile them up to read later. I eventually move them into folders, and now the folders into magazine file boxes, to get to when I have more time.
I do the same thing with stories online. I star them or somehow file them away to get back to … and never do, just adding more and more to the to-be-read list.
I think this year I will tackle them. I will tackle them all.
And what will you be doing?