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Quit Lit and Alcohol Memoirs

Following up on a previous post about memoirs, it should be noted that storytelling has great traditions in alcohol literature. The most famous book that inspired thousands of people to quit drinking – and remain sober – is the “The Big Book,” the popular name for Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism (the title of the very first edition). As the librarian selecting substance use and addiction-related topics for the Rutgers Libraries, one of my favorite types of books to choose for the collection are inspirational addiction memoirs, occasionally from celebrities.

Why celebrity memoirs? Going through difficult times is tough enough when someone is not in the spotlight. Being constantly under scrutiny may force the biggest stars into hiding: hiding their addiction, hiding their struggles. Or just the opposite: they may open up, taking the first step on the path to healing by admitting that they have a problem. Then they face that problem head on.

Not every public figure can afford to donate major monetary contributions to help fight addiction such as Betty Ford or Eric Clapton. But by sharing their story, celebrities can show their true colors and help in another way. Books and texts can play a significant role in any recovery program, whether one reads self help books, celebrity addiction memoirs, or “quit lit,” which is an umbrella term for quit literature, i.e., books to help quit drinking. In a picture-perfect world of social media, these stories may not be pretty, but they are true, and as such, are worth more than a thousand pictures.

The last few books I read and can recommend to anyone who needs an inspiring story, with or without the addiction components, were written by celebrities from diverse areas.

A memorable read, Beautiful Things: A Memoir by Hunter Biden will probably divide readers just like voters are divided during an election. But it can’t be denied that his story speaks to all of us, regardless of political views. It’s the story of terrible losses, brotherly love, and respect for family values. At the age of two, Hunter Biden was badly injured in a car accident, the same that killed his mother and baby sister. More recently, in 2015, he lost his beloved big brother, Beau, to brain cancer. His memoir reveals a long battle with substance abuse and the struggle to sobriety, ending with the sober Hunter Biden, who can finally see the beautiful things in life.

Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard is such a great title. If Tom Felton’s name doesn’t sound familiar right away, no biggie. That’s how I am with most celebrities – either I don’t know them, or I recognize the name of their biggest-ever gig; in his case, playing Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. Can a young actor, still in his mid-30s, really produce a meaningful memoir? Most of Felton’s story ties him to the wonderful world of Potterland and the exceptional actors, young and old, he grew up with, written in all superlatives. However, his voice is genuine in his memoir, which, in the last chapters, turns into another story of overcoming addiction: it’s the voice of someone who went through his own hell and learned to appreciate what he had at that time.

In Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, the actor Matthew Perry chronicles his decades-long struggles with alcohol and drugs with the explicit goal of helping others. A genuine voice in the genre, he conveys the feeling of someone who actually sponsors others. As if it isn’t enough that he depicts more than half of his adult life spent in treatment centers or sober living facilities, the descriptions of his physical condition visually evoke the most deterrent anti-smoking TV ads, TMI for some. Hopefully, his book will inspire some on the verge of quitting. An admirable feat is that he never relied on a ghostwriter, quite rare for celebrity authors.

What do these books mean for the reader? The pattern usually follows the path of hitting rock bottom, getting clean, and trying to stay sober while making amends. Recovery stories are presented in diverse texts, from masterfully created narratives of the story told a million times at AA meetings to a stream-of-consciousness, free writing style. A strong advocate of bibliotherapy, I believe a text that resonates with the reader in the right moment will make them understand that they’re not alone with their situation. Moreover, the example set by an influential individual, including household-name celebrities, might just show them the path to recovery, complete with its ups and downs.

My goal in selecting material for the Rutgers Libraries collection is to follow the traditions of the Library of the Center of Alcohol Studies, which, in addition to its scholarly collection, also featured a great collection of popular titles such as biographies, memoirs, and any other books to inspire readers to quit drinking. Our Reading for Recovery project built on this experience. Connecting readers with the right book at the right time is the first step of benefiting from the potentials of bibliotherapy, the therapeutic use of books. For those grappling with addiction, recovery stories might just provide new perspectives to old situations, new revelations and insights through relating with the story, character, or narrator, new solutions to old problems, and all these, in the long run, will promote healing.