Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life, Neil Steinberg - 2009
Why am I, like many others, so drawn to memoirs of addiction? Partly because we can tell ourselves "I may feel bad about things I do or leave undone, but it could be much much worse." Partly because it's inspiring to see human beings survive and resurrect themselves from such dark abysses. Partly because the struggles depicted are the common lot of humanity, writ larger. When I surf the web instead of writing, I wonder why I make that choice; does Steinberg's inability to stop drinking once he'd started come from the same source? I think perhaps it does.
When facing the prospect of stopping, Steinberg worried that drinking was part of his smart-alecky, cynical observer personality, and that he'd become less funny and interesting. That personality, which came through strongly in his earlier books, is certainly compatible with drinking, but it's not a causal relationship. Steinberg also built his identity as a hard-drinking writer (led on by his role models at the Chicago Tribune), but believing that fallacy doesn't feel congruent with the ironic distance of his writing persona. In today's world, when I hear about writers who think drinking is an important part of creativity, I'm astonished that they swallowed that particular idea (I feel the same way about intelligent young people who smoke). How could Steinberg mock the received wisdom of his middle-class upbringing, and simultaneously rush to adopt the received wisdom of the Fitzgerald/Hemingway school?
I love the final paragraph:
In the final analysis, I don't drink because I don't want to be compelled to think about drinking all the time. That's no way to live. I persuaded myself that I was tired of it, that it was boring, and the world too varied and rich to remain obsessed with as narrow a thing as alcohol. You can't imagine the delight of having the urge fade--the absence itself is a powerful motivation not to drink. To not have the obsession hit you in the face each morning when you open your eyes. To have other things occupy your mind. A joy. What madman would wake the beast by pouring booze on it again? No me. Not today.
Good for you, Neil, and thanks for the thought-provoking book.