By Leslie Jamison
I think it’s fair to call Leslie Jamison’s recent book about her experience with alcoholism a tome. It’s really long and the wispy pages are as thin as the memory of cigarette smoke. The
book tome mixes multiple genres, including memoir, literary criticism, journalism, and cultural critique, into a potent zero proof cocktail. The 14 sections are titled with one-word themes of stops on her addiction and recovery journey (Wonder, Abandon, Blame, Lack, Shame, Surrender, Thirst, Return, Confession, Humbling, Chorus, Salvage, Reckoning, Homecoming). Less like a 14-step guidebook and more like a cycle of grief with ambiguous and overlapping boundaries, “The Recovering” is a must for anyone whose life has been touched by addiction; in fact, that’s exactly who she dedicated the book to. I am especially loving her deconstruction of the myth of the connection between alcohol and the talented creative writer. One thing, she argues, does not beget the other, and we should maybe stop romanticizing a destructive narrative that lets alcoholics stay trapped.
By Mark Doty
This will sound silly and/or phony and/or a line from an SNL skit about aging hipsters, but I don’t care: I’ve been really into still life paintings lately. Ha! I don’t know when it started (maybe right after we uninstalled Gone, Country?). I am usually drawn to loud, bombastic art or highly graphic design or minimalist pieces bridging on nothingness. Never still life. Ew, boring! Until now. I suppose it’s tied to my desire to slow down a little. I’ve been working like a Bronte madwoman in the attic this year, and I think my psyche is catching up with me. “Seriously, slow the fuck down,” it says. “Here. Look at this pretty painting of material objects and ripe fruit to remind you that you are dust and to dust you shall return. And also that you need to eat something soon, OK?”
And then (devoted readers like me are familiar with this experience) a book I’ve needed to help me put words to what I’m going through found me before I could find it. “Still Life with Oysters and Lemons,” published in 2002, offers a longform musing, dissection, and memoir hybrid-essay that explores the mystery and love of still life artwork. In it, writer Mark Doty is a brilliant word magician (ahem, painter?) who deeply encapsulates the meaning of still life (and a still life). Perhaps no other book about still life needs to be written? “Especially not by you, Jackie, so take a nap,” my psyche moans.