Skip to main content

Book 24 of 52: Drinking: a Love Story by Caroline Knapp

This year, I moved back into the house I bought in 2007. While unpacking my boxes and boxes of books, I came across a smaller box tucked inside a bigger one: my master's degree thesis, which was a short memoir about playing highly competitive softball.

In graduate school, I became enamored with the works of Caroline Knapp, who has appeared quite a few times on this blog before. I set out to write a book in her style, and even sent a proposal to her agent, Colleen Mohyde. She asked for sample chapters, then passed. I can't blame her. I wrote the project when I was 23. I've re-read parts of it in the last 10 years, and it wasn't terribly good. I also don't thing I was mature enough at the time to write a gut dump book. I certainly couldn't have matched Knapp's masterpiece Drinking: A Love Story, which I picked to read again for book 24 of this series.

This is the second alcoholism book of this cycle, and I am always interested in reading books about the topic because an ex of mine had a drinking problem (I hesitate to call him an alcoholic because I think that's for him to declare, and I don't know if he's drinking anymore). I pulled Drinking: A Love Story back off the shelf after the season finale of Mad Men. Don's alcohol consumption has been a part of the series (as has that of other characters, including Duck), but it wasn't really face front until that last episode where Don realized his hands would shake without a drink. The Wall Street Journal just published a story about women and drinking, too. I've been reading a lot of different kinds of first person books to see what's on the market now since I'm working on a proposal for a new book that would require me to be a central character, so why not turn back to the person whose writing started me down that road in the first place?

Drinking: A Love Story is not new. Knapp published it in 1996, and she died in 2002 of lung cancer. She writes that she came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which means she'd have been about the age as Sally Draper: "a little Marilyn Monroe here, a little Mary Tyler Moore there" and with her parents drinking.

To call this a gut dump would do a disservice to Knapp's work. It is a straight forward, blunt recounting of her drinking: why she did it, how she did it, what happened to her when she drank, why she got sober, and how she stayed there. She also includes the stories of other drinkers and alcoholics so that it's not just her story but a drinking store.

She writes about a lot of themes she'd pick up again in Appetites, which was published posthumously in Appetites(Knapp was also anorexic in her 20s): "I am consistently amazed to hear women talk about their multiple relationships and addictions, the way they combine two or three, the way they shift form one to another, so naturally and gracefully you might think they were changing partners in a dance...the dance will begin again, for the music is always there in women's minds, laced with undertones of fear and anger, urging us on into the same sad circles of restraining and abandon, courtship and flight."

I first read this book in my early 20s, but it made a lot more sense to me now at 32. Knapp was 36 when she wrote it, and we're at about the same stage of our lives: what's the next writing move, do we get married, do we have children? A sting of really horrible boyfriends were behind us, and we both had good, solid me in our lives. I had my issues with food in my 20s (and still a bit now but the worst was back then), though I don't have an issue with alcohol except that I have a hard time processing red wine when I'm training for a marathon. I don't even have any booze in my house except a small bottle of vodka that's been in my freezer since April, untouched.

But reading this kind of book is a good thing to do if you know anyone who's struggled with addiction or wonder why someone can't just willpower him or herself out of a problem. Knapp lays out, painfully but clearly, why.

I hate that she died.  That's the only way I could put it. She was such an important writer - not just women's writer, but WRITER - and to lose her at such a young age is rage-inspiring. I wonder what she would have written about the rise of the internet, life in her 40s, even the death of her beloved dog. It just doesn't seems fair, but cigarette smoking was one addiction she just couldn't quit until it was too late.

If you want to read more about Knapp's process of dying, read Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendshipby her friend Gail Caldwell (which I swore I'd reviewed here before, but I can't find anything). It's about female friendship, but what happens when it ends, far too early.

As for my softball book - I didn't trash it. I've moved it six times and can't let it go. It's a reminder of trying for things that seem too big and large - and I don't think that's a bad thing. I put it in the back of another closet. Maybe I'll be able to revisit someday. Maybe.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R