It’s the end of Thanksgiving weekend, and for many of us, that means a slow, painful recovery back into the work week. The holidays can be lovely, but they can also remind us of the cycle of indulgence and regret many experience year-round with alcohol and drugs. This week’s book club features three new books about stories of bingeing and addiction, with the pain and self-recrimination of those mornings after. They give us sociological background on the phenomenon, and the stories of individuals who struggled against addiction to, thankfully, find peace without it.
1. Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall ($17): The word hangover, writes Amazon First Novel Award nominee Bishop-Stall, “is one of the youngest words in the English lexicon.” Dating back only about 100 years, the word is now synonymous with that horrible, head-pounding, wooly-mouthed, intensely nauseated feeling that you only hope the night before was worth. Bishop-Stall, who has embarked on previous ambitious writing projects, such as living for a year with the homeless, goes on a journey through the concept of the hangover and the lengths to which people have gone to cure it.
“Though it’s one of the most common and complex illnesses known to man, there have been practically no state-sponsored attempts to address the hangover as a legitimate medical condition — the explanation being that it is a malady for which the victims have only themselves to blame. And while that might be true — the you-did-it-to-yourself-ness of it all — one would think that even medical experts have fallen hiccupping off their moral high horses enough in the past few thousand years to try and make a go of it… And where it might end is anyone’s guess — much like this quest of ours… It will involve some real, fundamental research: talking to very smart people, squinting at scientific studies, compiling current data, learning about chemistry and all that, in an effort to understand what’s out there.”
Bishop-Stall travels from city to city and country to country in his almost decade-long quest to prevent the hangover, from Las Vegas, the “hangover capital of the world,” to the Austrian Alps. He drinks and seeks advice from a large variety of interested parties, including doctors and scientists, brewers and distillers, and connoisseurs and bingers. He takes his readers through his attempts at trying any cure that’s been recommended (legally, “and then some others”). He describes the physiological reasons behind the feeling we used to call “crapulence,” and the possible science involved in getting rid of it. But, like imbibing, it’s the journey rather than the destination that proves to be the fun; unfortunately, as he reveals on the first page, “No matter how hard I tried, however, the morning after did still follow the day before.”
2. The Perpetual Motion Machine by Brittany Ackerman ($16): Originating from Ackerman’s MFA thesis from Florida Atlantic University, the book is a short, essay-based memoir of her life and relationship with her parents and older brother Skyler. From a somewhat idyllic childhood, issues began to crop up that began to give her Ackerman the idea that all was not quite as well as it seemed. Her parents began to do unpredictable things, fighting and issuing visceral threats, like her mother’s desire to plunge their car into the Hudson River. Ackerman details a childhood moment where her mother insisted her brother take on too much speed at the skating rink, using oversized skates, that led to his very public injury; all Ackerman could focus on was that the family’s flight in the wake of the accident tore her away from the promise of a snack stand’s square piece of pizza.
The pressure to grow up and achieve proved daunting for Skyler; after the family moved to Florida, he began to drink and take drugs. His younger sister, who had looked up to him as a protector, followed in his footsteps, abusing in turn alcohol, pot, MDMA and oxycodone. It took her brother’s journey into suicidal depression for her to reevaluate her life and decide to sober up, stopping a cycle that seemed like it might go on forever. Like that perpetual cycle, the book is named for her brother’s science project, a perpetual motion machine that they thought could eventually save the world.
“When my brother was in high school he attempted to build a perpetual motion machine, a machine that can do work indefinitely, to save the world. That machine was my brother’s experiment; this book is mine. It is in the text where I dissect our relationship and try to understand myself. Writing down my experiences metamorphosizes them in an attempt to keep them close, to always be surrounded by the memories that I often feel so distant from. My research has been investigating photo albums, interviewing my brother and parents, finding out what I was like as a child. I knew there was a purpose, something bigger happening than I could fathom; an unstoppable urge, a movement, a force set in motion forever by writing down the words. What I have found is that there is always hope available and present in times of chaos, even perpetual chaos.”
3. The Spiritual Vixen’s Guide to an Unapologetic Life by Maureen Muldoon ($17): “The end is an odd way to start a story, but it was actually the end where it all began. It’s funny now, because I didn’t know it was the beginning. I would have bent all I had that it was the end. It had all the markings of the end: the silence, the pain, the separation, the secrets, the terrible tumble down feeling of it all. I stood with my young son in the midst of a New York winter storm, snowflakes melting on our upturned faces as we gazed toward the moon over Central Park. The year was closing out with the patchwork of other people’s conversations as they passed by with boxes and bags and bottles. The urban orchestra of cabs and car horns and the trotting of horses, the jiggle of car keys, the rattle of tin can change, and the enthusiastic bells of the Army of Salvation Santas collecting cans for the less fortunate. All of this music playing against the crackle of snow falling. It wrapped its way around me, but did little to eliminate the deep dread I felt as I contemplated the New Year on the horizon.”