Book Review | Drinking: A Love Story – Caroline Knapp

I wanted to love Drinking: A Love Story, I really did, for a lot of reasons:

  • A friend lent it to me with a glowing redrinkingview and she generally has great taste.
  • I am a recovering alcoholic and am generally interested in books about recovery.
  • I like a good memoir.

All of these reasons should have led to a knockout reading experience but for this seemingly winning equation just didn’t add up for me.

I can see why many people would love this book, and why it would be important to many people. The author is a drunk and the memoir follows her through the last few years of her drinking into the first few years of sobriety.

I appreciated the way Knapp compared getting sober with ending a relationship. It was true for me – I had a much stronger relationship with alcohol than I did with any human being the last few years of my drinking. And even though it was literally killing me, and I knew I would get nothing out of my life if I didn’t quit, I still grieved the loss of it. I imagine it’s similar to someone getting out of a bad marriage. They know it’s bad, they know it’s better to be out of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that their feelings aren’t complicated. Knapp did a good job of portraying that particular part of getting sober, which, in my experience, is one of the more baffling things for non-alcoholics to understand.

The writing was fine. It wasn’t amazing but it didn’t really get in the way either. When I finished the book and researched Knapp I was not surprised to learn that she’d written extensively for many women’s magazines. Her writing had a sort of cheesy, overly simplified, repetitive quality that didn’t make me want to throw the book across the room or anything, but wasn’t particularly appealing either.

I can see why many people found this book fascinating and insightful, but it wasn’t for me. I’ve been sober for a little over three years and the entire time I read this I kept wondering if I would have felt differently about this book if I’d read it in my first year of sobriety. To me it was just another alcoholic telling their story. I hear stories exactly like this every week and they’re important for me to hear, and I care deeply for the stories I hear, but when reading cold words on a page it just didn’t get to me.

I also wasn’t sure how I felt about her writing the thing in the first place. People who aren’t familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous often think that the Anonymous part means we can’t disclose the fact that we’re in recovery. My interpretation is that it means A) we must respect the anonymity of others, which basically means if I see someone from a meeting out in the wild I won’t let whoever they’re with, or I’m with, for that matter, know they’re in the program and B) as the traditions state, “remain anonymous at the level of press, radio, and film.” I think writing a book about it falls under “press?” That’s my feeling, at least.

As I understand it, the reason that tradition exists is because there are about a billion different ways for people to interpret AA – and not a single one of them is correct. One of the strengths of the program is that everyone can work their program the way they see fit. When a person in the public eye starts talking about what AA is like, they’re not actually talking about what it’s like – they’re talking about what it’s like for them. This is problematic, in my opinion. I don’t like one person giving AA lessons to the world at large, which is largely what this book felt like to me.

So! As you can see, my own personal biases played a big role in my feelings on this book. If it’s someone’s first experience hearing the story of a person getting sober then it may be more interesting. I think if I’d read it in my first year or so of sobriety, when I wanted as many stories as I could get, it may have had more of an impact. As it was, it felt tedious to get through this thing and I was grateful when I finally finished it.

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