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October 14, 2010

Addiction Memoir

Filed under: — shochbaum @ 1:37 am

What is an Addiction Memoir?

An Addiction Memoir is a memoir, a non-fictional narrative collection of one’s previous experiences involving “episodic structure” and/or people connecting to the personal development of the subject, of an addiction.

Most Addiction Memoirs are about addictions to drugs and alcohol. There are however some about other addictions such as sex (prostitution), exercise, and even shopping. Many Addiction Memoirs also relate to depression or other psychological conditions that are a contributor to the subject’s addiction.

Addiction Memoirs are most often written by the former addict themselves, but sometimes a parent or a close loved one of the addict authors the memoir.

Some critics have linked Addiction Memoir to the term “Misery Lit” which is a term coined by the Bookseller magazine that describes a genre of biographical literature that is primarily concerned with the main character overcoming a traumatic experience in their life and then recovering, such as abuse. In Addiction Memoir, the road to recovery is the fundamental theme, coinciding with the pattern of “Misery Lit.” Moreover Addiction Memoir falls under the category of “Fake Memoir,” a term describing memoirs that have fabricated information and/or authors.

Contemporary Criticism of Addiction Memoirs

The Addiction Memoir is a contemporary genre of autobiographical writing. There is next to nothing concrete to be found in researching its “history.” It is not even listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Addiction Memoir has however, evolved and exploded into an extremely popular genre of literature, sub-genre of the Memoir. Many contemporary critics have what to say about it.

In a June 2010 article published in the Los Angeles Weekly, titled The Tyranny of the New, Nathan Ihara discusses the current phenomenon of books being values for their newness instead of their inherent quality. To pose his argument, he opens with a critique of Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Ihara describes Clegg’s work, which received outstanding reviews as a part of the “sordid micro-genre of addiction memoirs.” He claims that even within this distasteful genre, Clegg’s novel does not make its mark.

Ihara’s attitude toward the genre of Addiction Memoirs is a reflection of a general attitude toward the sort.

In a January 2010 article published in The New Yorker, written by Daniel Mendelsohn titled, “But Enough About Me,” Mendelsohn discusses the history of the memoir and its development  and transformation over the years and its place in literature. He describes Addiction Memoirs as a part of the group of “…unholier-than-thou first-person narratives that has culminated in the memoirs of abjection with which we are surrounded today.” Mendelsohn discusses the opinions that say that Addiction Memoir and other related memoirs such as Trauma Memoir, that narrate a cycle of desperation and hope, are “fake” and a flawed reflection of the truth.

“…This justification of a literary fraud on the ground that it is true to the writer’s interior world—a world that helps the author “cope” or “survive”—strikingly echoes the self-defense offered by Frey. “People cope with adversity in many different ways,” he wrote, adding that his mistake had been “writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience….”

(Frey, author of the Addiction Memoir, A Million Little Pieces, admitted after publication to have fabricated some of his work.)

Mary Karr, an author of three memoirs and a significant contributor to the genre responded with the following when contemplating the genre of Addiction Memoir:

“I don’t like these sound-bite memoirs…There’s too many two-dimensional books that don’t do anything but wallow in the shocking experience. It’s like they just vomit out these shapeless incidents that aren’t meant to do anything but show what a big (beating) they took. They never find a way to make it consoling for the reader.”

Karr feels that most Addiction Memoirs do not get past the familiar pattern of servicing the addict’s addition until he/she hits rock bottom and then, with the aid of friends or family or inspiration of any sort, finds their way to recovery. Karr believes that Addiction Memoirs are often written as “redemptive acts” but she negates this notion entirely, mainly because it leaves the reader out of the experience. Most Addiction Memoirs, she says, are published not because of their quality but for their content, “the dirtier the better.” Karr is interested in the reader’s emotions in response to her story, “Otherwise it’s like a car with no gas in it. If you’re not getting to that, all you’re doing is writing about how you’re a victim every day.”

To watch a video clip about Mary Karr’s latest Memoir, click here.

Examples of Recent Addiction Memoirs

Spent, written by Avis Cardella, is about the former model’s shopping addiction. Cardella discusses how she shopped to satisfy her inner happiness, but all the purchasing in the world made her feel more and more lonely. The term “compulsive shopper” may seem like a fake psychiatric labeling but Cardella insists it to be a truthful condition.

In My Skin, written by Kate Holden, tells the tale of Holden’s heroin addiction and demise into the life of a prostitute. In My Skin received remarkable reviews for Holden’s tactful recount of her degradation.

More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction, written by Elizabeth Wurzel, is the second memoir the author has published. Wurzel writes about her struggle with depression and addiction to Prozac and Ritalin.

Coming in the Fall of 2011:

Patrick Kennedy, son of late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, writes about his struggles with alcoholism, drugs, and depression.

Why Do We Read Addiction Memoirs?

Addiction Memoirs are a very popular genre of autobiographical writing. You may ask why? Are we so fascinated by others’ compulsions for dangerous activities such as gambling, drugs, and alcohol? Why do we readers choose to engross ourselves in the miseries of a sex addict or the depressive mind of a poly-substance abuser?

While personal accounts such as these may make for the most touching and inspiring reading, for after all the author is writing about his/her own experiences, perhaps the popularity of Addiction Memoirs exists merely because, comparably to the popularity of Reality TV shows, we audiences enjoy seeing others mess up because it makes us feel better about ourselves and our own mistakes. The series of trials and tribulations posed in an Addiction Memoir are undoubtedly worse than our own.

Moreover, Addiction Memoirs are most often written in the same sequence of events: depravation and subsequently recovery. For any reader who can personally relate to the author’s account, perhaps the exposure of the light at the end of the tunnel is a comfort to them. For the rest of the world, millions of people suffer from varying addictions. Whether or not we are directly affected by an addiction in our own lives, society at large suffers, and seeks answers; more important than abstaining from the addiction is the understanding of the why’s and how’s of addiction. Why do people turn to drugs in the first place? How does one cocktail at a friend’s birthday party turn into years of pain and torment? Addiction Memoirs are indeed testaments to the why’s and how’s and if done right, can very possibly and hopefully serve as means of a cure to those afflicted.

Works Cited

“A Million Little Pieces.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 6 Oct. 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

Baker, Jeff. “Speak, Memory: Mary Karr on Memoir |” Oregon Local News, Breaking News, Sports & Weather – 24 Nov. 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

Dwight, Garner. “The New York Times Log In.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 15 June 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

Geller, M.D., Jeffery. “More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction • The Camera My Mother Gave Me • Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir — Geller 53 (10): 1338 — Psychiatr Serv.” Psychiatric Services. Oct. 2002. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

“In My Skin, A Memoir of Addiction.” Arcade Publishing. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

Meltzer, Marisa. “A review of Former Model Avis Cardella’s Shopping-addiction Memoir, Spent. – By Marisa Meltzer.” Slate Magazine. 10 June 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “Topic_books.” The New Yorker. 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

Nathan, Ihara. “The Tyranny of the New – Page 1 – Art Books – Los Angeles – LA Weekly.” Los Angeles News, Events, Restaurants, Music LA Weekly. 17 June 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <>.

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