Highs and lows in transgressive fiction

For those students who somehow have free time between classes, attempts at parking and learning to function as independent adults, the following books are recommended for reading. With September being designated “National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month,” the books chosen are sure to educate, as well as sometimes entertain, regardless of whether one prefers drug experimentation or drug recovery. For students with alcohol and/or drug problems, or those who know someone with those problems, the Counseling Center is available for help and can be reached at (813)974-2831.

Diary of a Drug Fiend, by Aleister Crowley; published in 1922.

Based on the real-life experiences of Crowley, Diary of a Drug Fiend describes experimentation with every drug imaginable – heroin, in particular – as experienced by a couple traveling across Europe. The couple, Peter Pendragon and Unlimited Lou, attempt to find freedom from drugs through Thelema, an occultist philosophy central to Crowley’s own personal beliefs, which is based on the conviction, “Do what thou wilt.” The story accurately depicts the cravings and demoralization related to drug abuse. Diary of a Drug Fiend is a fascinating and obscure read for fans of drug culture, especially considering that it was written in the 1920s by “the wickedest man in

the world.”

Junky, by William S. Burroughs; published in 1953.

Yet another book based on the autobiographical drug experiences of the author, Junky describes in accurate detail the process by which repressed desires and too much free time lead to the creation of an opiate addict in the 1950s. Burroughs, a staple of the Beat Generation, takes inspiration from the cravings, the sickness associated with withdrawal, the dependency on crime and the sexual perversions that make up the daily life of the junkie. Originally rejected numerous times, Junky owes its publication to the perseverance of fellow Beat writer Allen Ginsberg, who used his stay at a mental institution to convince a fellow mental patient to publish the book. For those interested in Burroughs himself, a trip to USF’s Graphicstudio – which displays the artwork he created while an artist-in-residence there – is recommended.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe; published in 1968.

In the late 1960s, Tom Wolfe moved out to a hippie commune in California to study the psychedelic ways of Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his followers, the Merry Pranksters. LSD was still technically legal and they consumed it, quite literally, by the barrel. They painted a school bus, rigged it with a ridiculous stereo and rode around the West tripping on acid and freaking out squares. The book is full of references to the Hell’s Angels (with Hunter S. Thompson in tow), William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, The Beatles and many more, making it a staple of

1960s counterculture.

Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh; published in 1993.

This book follows the escapades of a group of friends and acquaintances in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. The major connections and shared interests between the book’s various protagonists are sex, drugs and rock and roll. The story explores many social issues including poverty, welfare, AIDS and addiction. The book goes into much greater, gory detail than the movie and somehow surpasses the film’s ability to make you cringe, even though you can’t look away. The main character, Renton (played in the film version by Ewan McGregor), struggles with heroin addiction throughout the story, and vacillates repeatedly between cleaning up and relapsing. Other protagonists include a violent sociopath, a 14-year-old nymphomaniac and a con man obsessed with Sean Connery. Trainspotting is packed with authentic Scottish vernacular, so it might add a few bizarre words to your vocabulary. It will definitely leave you wanting a shower.

Requiem for a Dream, by Hubert Selby; published in 1978

This novel is a gut-wrenching story of heart-ache, loss and addiction. The protagonist, Harry (Jared Leto in the movie), his girlfriend Marion and his junkie sidekick Tyrone finance their heroin habits by selling drugs and stealing Harry’s mother’s T.V. The novel explores other facets of drug addiction in our culture as Harry’s mother, widowed and lonely, becomes addicted to valium and diet pills prescribed to her by a negligent doctor. As the plot unfolds the characters’ relationships become increasingly strained and they are forced into greater depths of degradation to get money for drugs. The movie (especially the extended director’s cut) will make you want to throw up, if you can manage to keep your eyes open.

For other books on drug culture, check out The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, and Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.

Dry: A Memoir, by Augusten Burroughs; published in 2003.

While binge drinking, hangovers and messy apartments might seem normal to some college students, these subjects also provide countless material for Dry: A Memoir, a book detailing both the humorous and tragic sides of recovering from alcohol. Although the story lacks the hilarity and strangeness of Burroughs’ Running with Scissors, it takes inspiration from the author’s real-life personal struggles. For readers familiar with Running with Scissors, it’s not difficult to understand why Burroughs was plagued by addiction, such as being forced by his mother as a child to live with his psychiatrist, where he played with antiquated electroshock devices instead of toys. Addiction, even in the face of success, and the struggle associated with change make Dry: A Memoir an important and necessary read for recovery.

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey; published in 2003.

Best- known for pissing off Oprah, A Million Little Pieces is the exaggerated “memoir” chronicling the author, James Frey’s, supposed misadventures with drug abuse and subsequent recovery. The book, which was originally heralded for its originality and style of storytelling, but later denounced for its unethical blurring of lines between memoir and fiction, is infamous for the author’s description of beating up a cop while high on crack. A Million Little Pieces is a slap in the face of how low drug addiction can take users and a poignant reminder of the need for recovery for those led astray.

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood; by Koren Zailckas, published in 2005.

Another first-hand account of addiction, Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, represents the growing trend of alcohol abuse among young girls and women. Surprising in its assertions, the book explores not only the problem of alcoholism, but also the internal conflicts associated with this growing problem, such as the insecurities, shyness and emotional turmoil common to the transition from girl to adult. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood forces readers to rethink innocent experimentation, binge drinking and irresponsible sex.

Permanent Midnight: A Memoir, by Jerry Stahl; published in 1998.

Permanent Midnight: A Memoir is a fascinating glimpse into the addictions of Jerry Stahl, who is known as much for his drug abuse as for his writing credentials. A writer for Hustler, ALF, Twin Peaks and CSI, the book details the downfall of a creative genius through heroin, crack and everything else he could get his hands on. Stahl’s humor and unique perspective are used to describe the loss of his family, possessions and self-respect, as well as his hatred for the ALF puppet and his strange relationships with drug dealers and women. Stahl eventually traded in the crazy stories for a life of sobriety, and currently works as both a writer and spoken-word artist.

Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge Our Misguided Rehab System, by Lonny Shavelson; published

in 2001.

As the title suggests, Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge Our Misguided Rehab System follows the lives of five drug addicts through the less-glamorous side of drug addiction, such as the dependency on welfare, legal problems, low-grade rehab centers and governmental red-tape. The socioeconomic factors that lead to addiction, such as poverty and mental illness, are also explored. The stories of these addicts are not photo-ops for magazines or story plots for movies-of-the-week. Instead, Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge Our Misguided Rehab System is an accurate portrayal of the heartache of addiction and the lifelong struggle for sobriety.

For other books on recovery, check out East of Paradise, West of Ego by Mark Walliser and Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill W.