Posts Tagged ‘books about recovery and addiction’

Book Review: Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery



This book, written and edited by Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader and published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016, will appeal to intellectual and thoughtful people in recovery.

The book is a compilation of writings from famous and non-famous people throughout history regarding aspects of substance use disorder and recovery from this disorder. It’s an impressive effort. The book is composed of essays, statements, prose or poetry relating to the topic of each chapter.

The book is organized by sections. It’s easy to miss the topic of each chapter unless you read the lead-in writings by the authors at the beginning of each chapter. For example, I started one chapter in the middle, and was unsure of the topic until I started at the beginning of the chapter and found it was about going to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The nine chapters cover the topics of drug use and the negative experiences that lead people to recovery. Chapters cover the experience of early recovery, maintenance of recovery, and 12-step meetings. The last chapters cover the experience of the family and friends of people with substance use disorders, the possibility of relapse, and the blessings of a rich life in recovery.

Some of the cited excerpts are tangentially related to drinking, drug use, and recovery. For around ten percent of the book, I have a hard time seeing how it’s relevant to the topic. But then, over the years my scientific brain has become stronger than my poetic brain, so it could be me and my limited, linear thinking. And that’s a benefit of the book – it got me thinking just a little more outside the box about substance use disorders and things related.

For example, there are three excerpts from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, a book that is not about substance use disorders at all, unless I very much misread that whole book too. The excerpts are lyrical, and I appreciate them…but they are not about addiction or recovery. This compares to the same number of entries, three, from William Burroughs, who wrote exclusively about substance use disorders.

Surprises lurk in this book; would you have expected to read something from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in such a book? Would you have expected only three excerpts from Keith Richards? No to both.

Yet as extensive as it is, there are obvious quotes that the authors neglected. What about Lenny Bruce’s famous quote about using intravenous opioids: “I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing God.” What about Drew Gates: “Heroin gave me wings but took away the sky.”? There’s nothing from Augusten Burroughs, one of my favorite authors, (“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”) and only one entry from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

So, while I enjoyed this book, I did find it to be uneven in its selections for inclusions.

This isn’t a book you’ll sit down and read through. It’s a book to be picked through, read in sections and pondered. It’s great for the ADD readers like me, who tend to read several books at once because I need different books like different foods. Sometimes I want meat, sometimes a good carbohydrate, and often a light and fluffy dessert.

This book is a sophisticated French dish that’s tasty but rich.

Here are a few of my favorites that I had not read before: “How many people thought you’d never change? But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.” From Kate Light in “There Comes the Strangest Moment,” a poem from her book Open Slowly. I think I will have to read this book of hers.

Most of the quotes I’d never heard before, and I consider myself very well-read on this topic. Many quotes are from very old writing, from Seneca or Ovid, for example, but the quotes still hold up over time. The age of the quotes gives more perspective about how this illness isn’t new, and substance use disorders have been with use since man has been alive.

This book is well-annotated, with extensive source notes, a list of permissions, and an index, making it easy to find a reading.

Maybe I lack appreciation for the poetry of this body of work. I would give the book a solid 4 stars – interesting and appealing to most people interested in substance use disorders and recovery from substance use disorders.

I suspect this book will be most appetizing to people in recovery who are avid readers, no only because readers like books, but because this anthology points towards other authors and other books that might interest us. With the tidbits in this book we are pointed toward potential feasts with other authors who understand the peculiarities of addiction and recovery from addictions of all sorts.

I know I now have a list of other books I’d like to read. Some are old and some new; some may be out of print and others will be at my local library. I’m thankful to the authors of “Out of the Wreck I Rise” for pointing me towards these resources for the soul.

And I’d like to offer my readers my very favorite quote, not found in any books but uttered by a stranger at a 12-step meeting: “If I could drink like normal people, I’d do it all the time.”

That’s the dilemma, perfectly.