Leslie Jamison picks the best books to understand drinking

From Stephen King’s The Shining to Billy Holiday’s memoir, the novelist picks five books that offer solace, if not salvationThe literary accounts of drinking that have meant the most to me aren’t the ones whose stories are lit in neon, full of sprawling hijinks and outrageous blunders, but the ones that capture how lonely it can become. They aren’t chronicles of the way many people can drink, but stories that have made me feel less alone in the way I used to drink: desperately, repetitively, often gracelessly, delivered constantly back into the dingy storeroom of the self. Perhaps a deepening awareness of this kind of drinking is part of why more young people are choosing not to drink at all. These books are often dark, but there is something generous in their honesty – never promising salvation, just some solace. The grimly self-destructive antiheroine of Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight holes herself up in a Paris apartment with “the bright idea of drinking herself to death”, and the novel is clear-eyed about the numbing claustrophobia of drinking. It’s also canny about the spectacle of drunk weeping – the way no one wants to be bothered by a melodramatic lush – and it’s surprisingly funny: people keep offering this woman coffee and cocoa, but she knows what she wants. Continue reading…

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