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Drinking: A Love Story

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The roots of alcoholism in the life of a brilliant daughter of an upper-class family are explored in this stylistic, literary memoir of drinking by a Massachusetts journalist.

Caroline Knapp describes how the distorted world of her well-to-do parents pushed her toward anorexia and alcoholism. Fittingly, it was literature that saved her: she found inspiration in Pete Hamill's 'A Drinking Life' and sobered up. Her tale is spiced up with the characters she has known along the way.

A journalist describes her twenty years as a functioning alcoholic, explaining how she used alcohol to escape personal relationships and the realities of life until a series of personal crises forced her to confront her problem.

286 pages, Paperback

First published May 2, 1996

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About the author

Caroline Knapp

13 books227 followers
Caroline Knapp was an American writer and columnist whose candid best-selling memoir Drinking: A Love Story recounted her 20-year battle with alcoholism.

From 1988-95, she was a columnist for the Boston Phoenix, where her column "Out There" often featured the fictional "Alice K." In 1994, those columns were collected in her first book, Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes.

Knapp won wide acclaim for Drinking: A Love Story (1996), which described her life as a "high-functioning alcoholic" and remained on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks. She followed Drinking with Pack of Two, also a best-seller, which recounted her relationship with her dog Lucille and humans' relationships with dogs in general.

(from Wikipedia)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,242 reviews
Profile Image for Jimmy.
150 reviews182 followers
July 2, 2010
I wanted to avoid this, to simply rate this touching book and be done with it. I wanted to just ignore my compulsion toward emotionally disemboweling myself on the internet. And I've never really been one to write an autobiographical book review, but ... here we are, or here I am. Here I am, in my claustrophobic room; books scattered about, the television set on the main menu of Oshima Nagisa's Three Resurrected Drunkards (the irony there is very much unintentional), dim lamp light, Beethoven sonata renditions by Andras Schiff murmur in the background, and the end of my evening languidly approaches. Here I am. I'm so goddamn sober right now.

I hate this for a number of reasons. The first and foremost reason being that I'm in my element, my room being very much like the inside of my head. Every activity that I can think of engaging in right now entails some process or relative amount of reflection and deep thought. If I pick up that Isozaki book (which I must because it's due back at the library tomorrow), then my head will be swimming all night, attempting to imagine what the Katsura village truly looks like, and also what the covert process of the rebuilding and relocation of the Ise shrine actually looks like, as very few people in the world are able to witness it. If I walk, I walk with a head full of thoughts about tomorrow, about desiring a female presence in my life, about the future, and most importantly about the moment, and how I ruin it with self-defeating doubt and endless questioning. Alright, I'm beginning to sound way too ponderous here. Sorry.

It's only really been a week so far. I mean, I've gone six months in the past, started just last July actually, relapsed in December. God, has it been another six months already? And what did I miss? I missed being suicidally paranoid, out of shape, financially destitute, and just generally miserable? Really? But throughout that lapse of debauchery, I had been capable of temporarily anesthetizing myself with booze. I always felt like shit the next day, not to mention inescapably depressed, but I managed to put off those horrible feelings for awhile, to procrastinate actually confronting them and resolving them in a healthy way. And they are pretty horrible. Kate Gompert, one of the characters (my favorite) in Infinite Jest describes something like it in the early part of the book, "All over. My head, throat, butt. In my stomach. It's all over everywhere. I don't know what I could call it. It's like I can't get enough outside it to call it anything. It's like horror more than sadness. It's more like horror. It's like something horrible is about to happen, the most horrible thing you can imagine - no, worse than you can imagine because there's this feeling that there's something you have to do right away to stop it but you don't know what it is you have to do, and then it's happening, too, the whole horrible time, it's about to happen and also it's happening, all at the same time." Earth-shattering hangovers always equal suicidal depression in my world.

Depression is an ineffable feeling for me. I could, if you asked me to, cite a few external stimuli that make me sad. I could tell you why I was crying, if I was doing so in your presence. I could also confidently map out the highs and lows of the cyclical pattern of the chemicals in my brain throughout a given week, and the way in which they are altered by drink, and the amount of time it takes for the guilt, anxiety, remorse, self-loathing, and ... well ... depression to wear off. Usually two days after a bender, or a night of binge drinking. Oh, did I mention that yet?

The phrase "casual drink" is not in my lifestyle dictionary, anywhere. A cheesy way of putting it, sure, but I can't remember the last time that I just "had a few beers". I drink cheap, and I drink with clear intentions. I drink to deliberately become black out drunk with such self-destructive force and determination that I scare myself the next day when I wake up sober. In a matter of seconds I can go from quietly reading a Pynchon novel in the bar, to a raving lunatic throwing drinks at passing cars, and spitting in peoples faces (lucky for me, actual physical fights are more or less non-existent in Portland). It wasn't always like this. Then again, about four years ago, when I was twenty-three, I was still enjoying my life; having fun sleeping around, telling stories, and meeting people. These days I actually prefer to drink alone at bars. Whiskey and beer is really the only combination that I drink. And it's like bottom shelf, rot-gut bourbon, and basically just PBR (or Hamm's, or Rainer, or Olympia). I mean I like my Johnny Walker Black, and my Glenlivet as much as the next fellow, but I'm just too poor to drink that way. Too poor to drink the way that I do as it is anyway. I get to the bar and order a shot and a beer (referred to, in some corners of the world as a boilermaker, in others, as an ex-husband). I really love this combination. And I will not start talking, or doing anything really, until I have ingested my shot and chased it with beer. That characteristic whiskey burn is bliss really (in the case of Wild Turkey, not as much, but hey, it's still bourbon), followed by that is the feeling when the booze hits my stomach. Any anxiety that I might have been feeling throughout the day - whether it stemmed from a hangover from the previous evening, or that general sense of existential malaise referred to earlier - is now gone. And I'm animated, so ebullient, just happy to be alive. I can play a game of pool, talk to women, discuss the films of Jacques Tati (I love him) ... anything. This is all, of course, very temporary. That initial feeling of excitement and general enthusiasm for life distracts me from paying attention to how much I'm consuming, and from there on out, it's just mindless inebriation. Static bliss. And then the shit just really hits the fan.

I could regale you all with stories here. I wouldn't even really know where to begin. I was going to tell a few about my drinking habits during last summer, a point at which I truly hit rock bottom, but I fear that they may incriminate me in ways which may threaten my livelihood. Sounds melodramatic, I know, but trust me, it's probably a bad idea.

So why am I telling you all of this? It's weird. I don't consider myself brave or anything like that for doing so, and I'm like an awkwardly open person toward friends, co-workers, and family anyway, so it's more or less typical that I would vomit my crimes and misdemeanors out onto the interconnected canvas of voyeurism that is the internet. Really, I just don't have anything to hide. Also, because I should be telling the stories that I've just alluded to, to a room full of recovering alcoholics. Truth is, I'm just not ready to take that step yet, but I do know at this point that alcohol, in any shape or form, is basically detrimental to my livelihood, and the concept of moderation in this context is a goddamn joke. That's the part that really sucks, the last one about moderation just not being a possibility.

This complication shows up in Knapp's book (yes I finally mentioned the book that I'm supposedly writing about), as well as in a few of the other recovery memoirs that I've read. You listen to grown adults - some journalists, some lawyers, and every other walk of life you can envision - talk about how hard it is to live with the fact that they can't simply relax and have a good time with a drink like the rest of the world. They are broken and damaged human beings who sweat bullets every time their sober-ass sits in a room with four-walls and even one drink in it. Oh and how we lament this reality. Oh how I'm doing it right now. This little rant is a living testament to how badly I want a drink right now. Quitting last time around was a breeze. This time, no joke, I can't think about anything else. So I thought that I'd write about it. It's not like I'm going to utilize Goodreads as a platform for my own personal recovery blog, but I just needed this one time in which to just gut myself in front of everyone. Also, Knapp's book was truly moving, and it helped to remind me of exactly how unmanageable my life is right now. That part really hit home; the thought that when one drinks so often that they begin to basically ignore their entire life and the rational and responsible choices that sustain such a life. This I understand, and I'm really not articulating it too well right now. But I feel like I'm at least hinting at it pretty well. And this was just pretty much cathartic.
Profile Image for Ade Bailey.
298 reviews164 followers
March 20, 2009
I just pulled my previous review after discovering the author died at the age of 42 from lung cancer. I'd been wanting to find out how she was getting on after ceasing drinking in 1995. She did maintain sobriety from what I know and continued a successful career until her untimely death in 2002.

It is a very well written book, by a skilled journalist, and charts her slow and painful descent into alcohol dependence. As a very insightful account of her relationship with her father it is outstanding. (Incidentally, he was a wellknown psychoanalyst who told her once that insight usually was a rearranging of the facts. After his death she had confirmed her suspicion that he was an alcoholic). For the general reader, because such an intelligent, educated and deeply experiential account of her emotional and mental anguish, the book offers, as do any other accounts of socalled mental/emotional disorders, tremendous insight into the workings of the human mind that is deemed nonpathological.
She never reached the most dreadful stages of alcoholic damage in terms of physiological damage, but the story she tells is the same for all those who are being drawn towards the abyss. She dispels once and for all the stereotypes of the alcoholic, the most grotesque cases whereby others judge themselves not to have a drink problem. In this, I think she is right that there are more high functioning alcoholics like her than those skid row. The book may literally save some readers' lives by drawing to their attention the horror that lurks beneath their denial or ignorance that they do not have a serious problem.
The book is a valuable contribution to narratives of addiction and recovery. It is also a mirror to all of us and the times we live in.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,079 reviews2,605 followers
August 14, 2013
I have an addiction to addiction memoirs, especially if the person is in recovery and is in a reflective mood. After all, who doesn't love a good redemption story?

Caroline Knapp's memoir of her alcoholism is one of the best addiction memoirs I've ever read. She described herself as a "high-functioning alcoholic," which meant she was mostly able to balance her journalism career with her excessive drinking. I read this in 2000, but the writing was so good that I still remember several scenes from it vividly.

One such scene was when she was trying to juggle two boyfriends at the same time. In hindsight, she recognized that alcohol seriously impaired her judgment (no kidding) and that she was frequently making things more difficult for herself. So she was in a situation where she had two boyfriends and was trying to sneak around to spend time with each of them, but she didn't know how to stop the madness. This seems to be a common problem for addicts: making poor decisions and not knowing how to fix it because they are so involved in their quest to stay drunk or high.

I was sad to learn that Knapp died of lung cancer in 2002. I think she would be comforted to know that her memoir has helped other addicts, and I would highly recommend the book to anyone dealing with alcoholism or those who have relationships with an alcoholic.
Profile Image for Kathy.
994 reviews
March 26, 2013
My mother understood that drinking was more dangerous [than smoking] and she understood why: smoking could ruin my body; drinking could ruin my mind and my future. It could eat its way through my life in exactly the same way a physical cancer eats its way through bones and blood and tissue, destroying everything.

Beneath my own witty, professional façade were oceans of fear, whole rivers of self-doubt. I once heard alcoholism described in an AA meeting, with eminent simplicity, as “fear of life,” and that seems to sum up the condition quite nicely.

One of the first things you hear in AA – one if the first things that makes core, gut-level sense – is that in some deep and important personal respects you stop growing when you start drinking alcoholically. The drink stunts you, prevents you from walking through the kinds of fearful life experiences that bring you from point A to point B on the maturity scale. When you drink in order to transform yourself, when you drink and become someone you’re not, when you do this over and over and over, your relationship to the world becomes muddied and unclear. You lose your bearings, the ground underneath you begins to feel shaky. After a while you don’t even know the most basic things about yourself – what you’re afraid of, what feels good and bad, what you need in order to feel comforted and calm – because you’ve never given yourself a chance, a clear sober chance, to find out.

No is an extraordinarily complicated word when you’re drunk. This isn’t just because drinking impairs your judgment in specific situations, like parties or dates (which it certainly may); it’s because drinking interferes with the larger, murkier business of identity, of forming a sense of the self as strong and capable and aware. This is a difficult task for all human beings, but it’s particularly difficult for women and it’s close to impossible for women who drink.

I was too cautious and inhibited and scared to give in to extremism of any kind in sobriety, emotional or otherwise. But when I drank, it happened. When I drank, the part that felt dangerous and needy grew bright and strong and real. The part that coveted love kicked into gear. The yes grew louder than the no.

Drinking alone is enormously self-protective, at least in theory. The solitude relives you of human contact, which can feel burdensome to even the most gregarious alcoholic, and the alcohol relives you of your own thoughts, of the dark pressure of your own company. Drinking alone is what you do when you can’t stand the feeling of living in your own skin.

There’s something about sober living and sober thinking, about facing long afternoons without the numbing distraction of anesthesia, that disabuses you of the belief in externals, shows you that strength and hope come not from circumstances or the acquisition of things but from the simple accumulation of active experience, from gritting the teeth and checking the items off the list, one by one, even though it’s painful and you’re afraid.

Booze: the liquid security blanket; the substance that muffles emptiness and anger like a clod snow.

I understood that a beer, and the one after that and the bottle of wine after that, served a very specific purpose: it kept me from that piercing conscience of self, kept me from the task of learning to tolerate my own company.
Without liquor I’d feel like a trapped animal, which is why I always had it. Without liquor I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I mean that in the most literal sense, as though my thoughts and my limbs were foreign to me and I’d missed some key instructions about how to use them.

A lot of alcoholics use the cucumber to pickle analogy to describe a phenomenon: a true alcoholic is someone who’s turned from a cucumber into a pickle; you can try to stop a cucumber from turning into a pickle, but there’s no way you can turn a pickle back into a cucumber.

You know that bumper sticker that says SHIT HAPPENS? That pretty much sums it up for me. Shit happens. So what? Why analyze it? I just don’t want to analyze it anymore.

Attaching all your hopes and fantasies to something – or someone – outside yourself almost always has disastrous results.

Al-Anon estimates that every alcoholic’s drinking affects at least four other people.

Alcoholics drink in order to ease the very pain that the drinking helps create. That’s another one of the great puzzles behind liquor, the great paradoxes. You hurt, you drink; you hurt some more, you take up the intake. I the process, of course, you lose any chance you might have had to heal authentically.

Instead of making the painful choice, instead of walking away or standing up for myself, or figuring out what I really needed, I’d drink, and the drink would make me succumb to the dynamic, succumb to the relationship and the anger.

Fact One: I drank too much.
Fact Two: I was desperately unhappy.
I had always thought : I drink because I’m unhappy. Just then, I shifted the equation, rearranged the words: Maybe, just maybe, I’m unhappy because I drink.

Better. The word seems thin, even a little deceptive. Sobriety is less about “getting better” in a clear, linear sense than it is about subjecting yourself to change, to the inevitable ups and downs, fears and feelings, victories and failures, that accompany growth. You do get better – or at least you can – but that happens almost by default, by the simple fact of being present in your own life, of being aware and able, finally, to act on the connections you make.

When you’re actively alcoholic, you don’t bother to solve problems, even petty ones, in part because you have no faith in your ability to make changes and in part because even the smallest changes seem improbable and risky. You begin to feel like you’re trapped in quicksand: any move you make threatens to drag you down farther so after a while you just stop, resign yourself to the most complete form of inertia. You get so used to being a passive participant in your own life, so used to being entrenched in the same gray rituals and patterns, that even the most trivial action seems useless and overwhelming.

Passivity is corrosive to the soul; it feeds on feelings of integrity and pride, and it can be as tempting as a drug.

Not drinking is a choice one makes every day, sometimes many times a day. The immediate decision is clear: either you pick up the glass or you don’t.

Alcohol is what shielded me all those years from the messy business of standing in that room with my emotions, coming to terms with my own quiet, restrained, complicated heritage, finding ways to tend to my own needs, instead of waiting for others to jump in and tend to them for me. In a word, alcohol is what protected me from growing up.

My terror that I’d be bored and lonely in sobriety abated almost immediately. In fact, as time goes on, I become more aware of how bored and lonely I was while I was drinking, and how much more textured and varied my life seems without it.

When you’re drinking, you’re too cloudy and too angry to step back. You can’t see clearly and you certainly can’t see that you have choices in how to deal with people, how to negotiate relationships.
Profile Image for Juan Valdivia.
Author 2 books13 followers
March 20, 2018
I seriously considered putting this book down around the 144 page mark—which I rarely ever do—but I managed to get through it.

Okay, first of all, I have much respect for what Knapp put down for this book. I know from experience that it's not fun to write about such difficult personal moments for others to read. Revisiting and reliving those memories is a difficult task of its own. That said, I found the book frustrating, at times agonizing to read, once I got to the halfway point of the memoir. It was painfully repetitive by then—the writer telling us in a sweeping, definitive, almost preacher tone, yet again, how drinking fed denial in life; how it prevented her from growing as a person; how it numbed her feelings; how she took to drinking to numb her many anxieties about life. I would read it, eventually skim over those paragraphs, thinking, "I get it...cuz you already fucking mentioned it three or four times!" Grrgh! Plus, her generalizations about alcoholics sometimes made me roll my eyes (though I've never read such a perfect description of a hangover, or what you think about after a night of blackout drinking).

The prose itself was excellent, made it easier to digest this book despite its difficult terrain. For me, it was doubly hard to get through this book because it just wasn't funny. At all. Though brutally honest, it became too much of a predictable one-note, my-life-was-harrowing-and-it-was-my-damn-fault story (though the last two chapters provided some hard-earned respite). It's hard to read that, page after page without some relief, some laughter, or something hopeful to lift the reader.

And though it sounds strange to say since we're with Knapp throughout a nearly 300-page book, but while I read the book and after I finished it I felt like I didn't really get to know her. This probably further made it difficult for me to sympathize with her as much as I would have hoped to.
Profile Image for Michele.
Author 5 books93 followers
October 18, 2007
Inside Information
This book is so well written, and is so honest and informative, it is perhaps the most compelling (and useful) story about addiction I've ever read. Caroline Knapp, an Ivy-League educated columnist and editor, shares the story of her slide into alcoholism and her road to recovery with brutal honesty. Her down-to-earth, conversational tone pulls you in, and paints a very credible picture of someone who goes beyond the singular, self-serving notion of merely writing a memoir. Recovery has brought out the best in her, and her writing is filled with gratitude and a deep sense of caring for the health of all those around her with or without addiction issues.

The love story metaphor plays all the way through and works well. I particularly liked the way she continues the analogy through her recovery and labels her relationship with alcohol "a divorce." She not only divorced alcohol, for the first year she "took out a restraining order," and avoided "alcohol the way you'd avoid running into an ex-lover at a restaurant."

Some of us have a difficult time understanding the disease of alcoholism and, more to the point, what goes on in the mind of an alcoholic or addict that keeps him/her on this self-destructive path. Knapp lays it bare. She comes across as someone you would want to know.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding the nature of both the active alcoholic and the recovering alcoholic. These pages are like a 280+ AA meeting, offering insight, understanding--even comfort--and most importantly, honesty.

Well done.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,399 reviews8,118 followers
August 2, 2014
3.5 stars

Caroline Knapp's Appetites stole my heart earlier this summer; if I could I would quote every single page of that book. Drinking, Knapp's earlier memoir, has a similar strength in its empowering vulnerability regarding Knapp's alcoholism. While this book lacks some of the insights within Appetites, it gives a searing look into the life of a former high-functioning alcoholic.

Of course, there is no simple answer. Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It's too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you're both aware and unaware of it almost all the time; all you know is you'd die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It's a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.

Knapp does a wonderful job deconstructing the stereotype-driven image of an alcoholic. She describes that alcohol affects a variety of people, not just white, middle-aged men. Her writing corroborates this point - it possesses a level of intellect that pushes her thought process forward while remaining relatable. She includes statistics about alcohol use and even touches upon the history of alcohol and some of the science surrounding it.

We see, we watch, we know, and together the wine, beer, and liquor industries spend more than $1 billion each year reinforcing this knowledge: drinking will transform us.

And it does, for a little while. It melts down the pieces of us that hurt or feel distress; it makes room for some other self to emerge, a version that's new and improved and decidedly less conflicted. And after a while it becomes central to the development of that version, as integral to forward motion as the accelerator on a car. Without the drink you are version A. With the drink, version B. And you can't get from A to B without the right equipment.

Knapp reveals a lot about her personal life too, ranging from an affair with one of her professors at Brown to her twisted, dark relationship with her father. Her familial introspection might deter some readers, but for those who enjoy reading self-reflection, Knapp holds no qualms about sharing it all: she shows just how much alcohol harmed her personal relationships and how it acted as a self-destructive force within her life. The personal anecdotes in Drinking give Knapp's analysis life and meaning beyond statistics about alcoholism on a spreadsheet.

In reality, though, the drinking merely complicated the sense of fragmentation, contributed to the gradual loss of control. And that's precisely how drinking works. Your life gets ugly and you drink more. You drink more and your life gets uglier still. The cycle goes on and on and on, and in the process you become increasingly isolated and lost, stuck in your own circle of duplicity and rationalization and confusion, the gap between your facades and your inner world growing wider and wider and more complete.

Overall, recommended for anyone interested in reading a memoir about a former high-functioning alcoholic. While I found parts of the book repetitive and some of Knapp's narrative choices strange, Drinking succeeds in placing you in the mindset of someone who has succumbed to drink as a romantic other. If you liked this book, I would recommend you check out Knapp's posthumously published memoir Appetites.
Profile Image for Sophie.
12 reviews5 followers
October 19, 2007
Almost done. Picked this up in my supervisor's office to read when i don't have any calls to make or meetings to run. It had some okay parts, but on the whole Knapp's broad generalizations about alcoholics "Alcoholics do this, alcoholics do that, we do this, blah blah blah" got really irritating. So she was/is an alcoholic--that means she can speak from her own experience, but not from EVERY alcoholic's. Plus her writing was just so... trendy.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
461 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2008
I thought this was well done. The book addresses one's relationship with alcohol and the difference between not being able to quit and not wanting to. I think the title is excellent.
Sadly the author's personality led her to various addictions including anorexia and smoking. This supports recent studies noting that many people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery later struggle with alcohol and other addictions, often leading to depression.
Knapp died too young, from lung cancer secondary to years of smoking. Tragic.
Profile Image for Alexis.
Author 6 books129 followers
December 11, 2016
Possibly the best book about alcoholism that I've ever read. Caroline Knapp drank for 20 years. She chronicles how and why she started. Her writing is clear, raw and personal. This explains the fear that alcoholics deal with, and helped me understand the alcoholic mindset. The writing was really good and there were tons of facts in here that helped me learn things like-

1. An alcoholic's life generally has a major negative impact on the lives of at least 4 other people
2. 11 % of the US population drink 50% of the US alcohol

She describes how her drinking affected all of her relationships, her health and her choices and ties it it with her eating disorder and her personal revelations and why she eventually stopped drinking. I also learned a lot about how excessive drinking can cause isolation and wasted opportunities and bad relationship choices.

Knapp was a journalist, and that was obvious to me because of the way the book was written.

One word of caution- I would NEVER recommend this book to someone who was dealing with sobriety issues. The fetishization of alcohol at the beginning of the book is extremely seductive. While reading it, I craved a glass of white wine, and I don't even really like white wine.

Knapp was sober when she died of lung cancer in 2002. She was 42 years old. She wrote three other books, including one about the human relationship with dogs. I'll definitely be checking those out. I think it's a shame that she died so young.

Re-read in 2016. An amazing book. Knapp is a great writer.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,507 reviews2,506 followers
February 11, 2019
A bit of background: I first ‘met’ Caroline Knapp through Let’s Take the Long Way Home, a memoir by her best friend, Gail Caldwell*. They met via puppy ownership in Cambridge, Massachusetts and connected because they were both single, childless, full-time authors with a history of alcoholism. Ironically, the cigarettes that Knapp had smoked all along and relied on even more heavily to help her kick the alcohol habit would kill her: in 2002 she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, an inoperable type that had already metastasized, and was dead a matter of weeks later.

Drinking: A Love Story is an excellent addiction memoir that stands out for its smooth and candid writing. Knapp’s overwhelmed parents decided they’d take one twin each, as it were, so while her sister Becca became her mother’s special project, she was the domain of her psychoanalyst father, who also drank. He didn’t show fatherly love so much as scholarly interest, desperately trying to mine his daughter’s emotional life.

For nearly 20 years, Knapp was a high-functioning alcoholic who maintained jobs in Boston-area journalism and never let anyone know how reliant she was on those after-work drinks, which before long were supplemented by another bottle of wine and some whiskey once she got home. Because she was quiet and intelligent, and appeared to have it all together, no one knew how bad things were – except perhaps her on-off boyfriends and her sister, who’d become a doctor.

“Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air,” Knapp writes. “It’s too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you’re both aware and unaware of it almost all the time; all you know is you’d die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It’s a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.”

Alcoholics trick themselves with a game of comparisons, Knapp says. They think, “oh, I’m not nearly as bad off as so-and-so” or “I would never do that” – referring to things like drunk driving that put other people’s lives in danger. But it’s a slippery slope of bending one’s own rules more and more. Knapp finally knew she needed outside help when she was drunkenly letting her friend’s kids climb all over her and fell, nearly bashing one child’s head into the ground; her own knee took the damage instead.

The rehab part of the story is often the least exciting part of any addiction memoir, but I appreciated how Knapp characterized it as the tortured end of a love affair. “I felt like I was giving up the one link I had to peace and solace, my truest friend, my lover. I felt like I was trading in one form of misery for another, like I was about to leap into a void, like my life was ending.” Like Bill Clegg, she acknowledges that recovery is never complete; “Not drinking is a choice one makes every day, sometimes many times a day.”

Readalike: Blackout by Sarah Hepola

*Knapp mentions “My friend Gail” on page 154.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,063 reviews7 followers
August 30, 2015
“Anyone who's ever shifted from general affection and enthusiasm for a lover to outright obsession knows what I mean: the relationship is just there occupying a small corner of your heart, and then you wake up one morning and some indefinable tide has turned forever and you can't go back. You need it; it's a central part of who you are.”

Alcoholism happens to the privileged, to the rich, to the very successful. It is not a picky lover.

This very touching memoir describes in painful detail the highs and lows of alcoholism. It gives a most insightful look at the emotional and physical damage this disease causes to the alcoholic and loved ones closest to them. The author also focuses on the misconceptions out there of what a true alcoholic looks like, especially when it’s a female.

The psychological and emotional components of addiction are the same, whether the focus is alcohol, drugs, or food. Knapp describes her own bout with anorexia and bulimia during her drinking days and how she just swopped one addiction for another, thinking she was getting better.

I have read a few books on addiction but unlike books such as Smacked where the shock value and complete foreignness of crack addiction made for interesting reading, this book allowed for introspection.

It does not try to be funny like Dry, (which I didn’t really enjoy), but rather shows how she continued to maintain a highly functional life and career, which only helped to reinforce the denial that drinking was a problem.

Anyone who's ever had a hangover will appreciate the details ☺

Some of the stats quoted were quite shocking (11% of Americans consume 50% of the alcohol in the USA) and how the majority of rehab patients relapse again and again. I was also quite stunned at some of the stories of other recovering alcoholics recalling their worst drinking experiences.

There is an expected amount of disappointment and sadness however I am glad that she eventually found peace as she has apparently passed away at the age of 42.

This is a difficult book to recommend outright but I found it fascinating.
Profile Image for Sheila.
27 reviews
August 26, 2008
In vino veritas the saying goes. Being a wine drinker for years, I can agree and disagree with the common saying. When one drinks to excess, we certainly get very free with our feelings and emotions. I can also disagree with the saying as I didn’t always remember what I said at a certain point.

Ms. Knapp’s book was certainly a rude awakening for me. So many of her stories were simply me. Where will I get that next glass of wine, if I went out to dinner I would have wine before and after the meal so people wouldn’t know how much I was drinking. My fear of never being able to have another glass of wine which Caroline so vividly expressed..

Her book was truly inspiring and I was saddened to hear that she died in 2004 of lung cancer (when I saw that she had passed away, I was saying a prayer that it wasn’t alcohol related).

Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,637 followers
July 13, 2021
Reading this memoir helped me understand the idea of "functional alcoholic" --people who can lead successful lives for years and fool everyone, including themselves, about their alcoholism, all the way until the day they drink themselves to death. The story is carefully written, without excuses. It feels so true. It begins with a terrifying near-accident when Knapp finally realizes she's going to die, or kill someone else, if she keeps drinking the way she is. She then goes on to amend her life with the help of AA.

What I'd love to read, though, is a memoir by an alcoholic who came to that inevitable moment when a near-fatal fallout from their drinking woke them up from their stupor--where they could see for the first time they're going to die, or kill other people, if they kept on drinking--and they kept on drinking.

But no one is around to write that memoir.
July 7, 2019
It is so moving, it made me cry. This is such a smart and talented woman and yet she is tortured by her shyness, by her parents death, by her inability to cope, by her family, by life. She deserved better and overcame her addiction. She did very well in life, even if it always lagged at her. Love her, love her books, and so sad she passed.
Profile Image for Muhammad.
47 reviews35 followers
May 8, 2021
Drinking: A Love Story; is Caroline Knapp’s elegantly written memoir of her journey with alcoholism, right off the bat, the thing I liked about this book, is describing the relationship with drinking as a love story, I assume it’s a very accurate way to talk about drinking, and it’s an interesting way to approach the subject, but on the other side, I found the book very hard to get through, and by that I mean, it did not engage me enough, I was only absorbed in few places here and there, but overall, it’s a repetitive portrayal of what drinking does to you, i did not feel the steep decline that led to recovery eventually, I did not feel the pain and degradation, yes all of that was described, but in a very monotonous manner, and for a book that is almost 300 pages, a book that is taking you through a very personal journey of struggle, I did not feel that the writer really got me inside her mind and soul, I cannot say I know her, it’s strange that the most interesting and most engaging parts of the book are when she is discussing her parents, her relationship with them, specially her father, it is what kept me going, looking for more of that.

Also, I think there was a sense of exclusivity of awareness and knowledge of how alcoholics feel and behave, she used “we alcoholics” way too much, I did not like that at all, even if it was true for the most part!

It’s good that the book is discussing something important, that the general population of the world probably not taking the dangers of alcoholism as serious as drugs for an example, but it is no joke, and I keep thinking about that whenever I think of Anthony Bourdain. Regardless of the few things I liked about this book, overall, I did not really love it, and for something that I thought would be intense and strong, it just felt watered down...
Profile Image for Kate.
101 reviews
September 26, 2012
If you're from another planet, just a visitor who's never been to Earth before, this book might be interesting to you.

If you're a teetotaler who has never had a drink in your life, and you've also lived all alone in a cabin in the woods for your entire existence, this book might be informative and enthralling to you.

But if you've ever watched a movie or read a book or imbibed alcohol or met someone who has imbibed alcohol, this book is one big DUH.

You mean to tell me that alcohol makes people less shy?! And alcohol makes people call their friends late at night?! And drunk people sometimes black out and don't remember what they did the night before?!

I just kept waiting for something, ANYTHING, interesting or unique to happen, anything that didn't make me say, "WELL, DUH!" out loud. Why is this woman writing this book? Where is the impetus that makes people decide to publish their life story?

I don't want to make light of alcoholism or make it seem like being an alcoholic isn't a big deal -- I know it is. And maybe I've just known too many alcoholics and heavy drinkers, and most people will find this story fascinating and surprising in some way that I can't.

I really tried to like it. The title is great, and I'd heard so many wonderful things about it. But honestly if they take out the parts that are the super boring details of her personal life, they could use this to teach elementary school kids about the effects of alcohol. Yes, it makes you drunk. Yes, sometimes it makes you laugh, and sometimes it makes you angry. Yes, your decision making skills are hampered when you drink a lot. DUH. Nothing but duhs, duhs all around.

(In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I found the book so boring and frustrating that I couldn't even get through the whole thing. I stopped several times while reading it and kept trying to come back to it, and each time I'd think, "Why don't I just read the back of this cereal box instead?" or "I'd rather sit here and watch this Tide commercial, it's really good," until finally I gave up. In the end, I made it all the way to page 219, and I have to say, it's one of my prouder accomplishments in life.)
Profile Image for LauraBeth.
38 reviews24 followers
February 4, 2019
As a child of two alcoholic parents, I wanted to read this book to gain a better understanding of what drives people to have such a love affair with alcohol. This book was a brutally honest memoir but I will admit it was difficult for me to actually read it.
Profile Image for Jenn Sadai.
Author 7 books154 followers
September 9, 2016
Well-written, informative and emotional story about one women's struggle with alcoholism.
Profile Image for David Groves.
Author 1 book6 followers
July 9, 2012
I had the good fortune of reading, before "Drinking," the two contemporary classics of memoir, "Lit" and "Liars Club," both by Mary Karr and both about the subject upon which Caroline Knapp essays. It is interesting to compare them, because they take very different tacks to the same subject.

Knapp is an excellent prose stylist. Her sentences pull you along and keep you glued to the page. There are virtually no stylistic mistakes or even awkwardnesses. This is not a first draft or even a fifth draft, but something that was polished and honed until it was perfect.

Karr's prose, on the other hand, is a couple clicks less readable. It's strange, since "The Liars Club" (1995) is now considered a classic of the genre. Still, it's more difficult to skate along while reading that book, and you sometimes wonder whether it's your own comprehension skills or the author's writing skills. This problem is even more severe in "Lit," which has considerably more stylistic and compositional flaws, and was disappointing in that way.

"Drinking" calls up none of those concerns. There is a basic story--how Caroline became an alcoholic and how she got sober--and that carries you swiftly through the narrative. She holds the phenomenon up to the light and turns it this way and that, detailing its many different facets, illuminating the spectrum for the non-alkie (me).

What makes "The Liars Club" and "Lit" more highly regarded, I suspect, is the manner in which the subject is considered. Karr recounts her life more as story, whereas Knapp recounts hers more in the context of AA and psychiatric theory. Knapp is used to considering her subjects from a reporter's pov, putting a huge frame around her story, while Karr's frame is much more minimal. Not to say that Knapp's approach is wrong, only that there is a characteristic difference between the two approaches.

Knapp's story is interesting, to be sure. She hid her drinking in various ways. She juggled two boyfriends for years. Her father had a fascinating secret. Her twin ached over her decline. She was always losing track of where she had parked her car the evening before. Still, this is not a story in which a wife was accidentally shot in the head with a crossbow or she went postal in any other way. For Knapp, hitting bottom occurred when she stumbled while she was giving her friends' child a piggyback ride. The child was not hurt. And she went into recovery only once and didn't backslide.

Still, the memoir does beg to be read until the end. The intellectualizations certainly cast light onto the subject, even if they sometimes sound like AA commercials. And the joy of reading Knapp's prose is something that makes me want to read it all over again.
Profile Image for Eliza.
236 reviews7 followers
January 16, 2021
This practically ancient bestseller (1996) might seem like a strange choice for a committed teetotaler like myself. But over the years, and especially lately, I have noticed and been intrigued by this category of sobriety memoir and/or addiction memoir. I know and love at least one alcoholic myself and certainly know plenty of heavy drinkers. And although i fall into neither of these categories, I have some genetic predisposition to addictive or compulsive behavior which I see in my life sometimes in the need to finish off the carton of Ben & Jerry’s that I know will leave me with a stomachache, or the need to keep the house clean, sometimes at the peril of my relationship with my kids.

The book is story-heavy, and I skimmed maybe a third of it. I thought about abandoning it halfway through and am glad I didn’t.

Caroline Knapp (who died of lung cancer at the age of 42, six years after the book ends) presents as a thoughtful, intelligent and wholeheartedly “normal” woman who existed for 20+ years as a functioning alcoholic. She is also a chronic smoker and struggles through anorexia. She weaves strands of her AA friends’ stories into the narrative, some so wildly dramatic that you wonder if they could be true, and by contrast, her upbringing and background and day-to-day life seem downright tranquil and privileged. Privileged perhaps in the economic sense, but as she digs deeper into her history, her love life and her own psyche, you find that her life and background were and are nowhere near tranquil.

The reader’s discovery is a very effective writing structure that mirrors the alcoholic’s own discovery. She tells herself that everything is fine, she has control, she is no victim. Until it becomes clear that everything is not fine. She is out of control. She was and has been and is a victim—of social norms in the 70s and 80s, of the men she meets, of her father’s actions, of her grandmother’s actions. After years of denial, the light clicks on and she finally sees what her mother and sister and boyfriend, those who truly love her, have seen all along.

That “click” had to come to her and her alone, in order for her to take action and change her own life. How do you convince someone you love to change their own life? To redirect their choices and environment, to get out of danger? I don’t know. I dearly wish to know. For now, the best tools I have are to love that person, to tell them the truth when I think they might be able to hear it, to keep loving them when they don’t hear it after all, and to be ready to tell them again and again when the time seems right, to learn when the time is not right, and to love them, and love them, and love them.
Profile Image for Stacy Lorence.
40 reviews1 follower
December 25, 2015
“The real struggle is about you: you, a person who has to learn to live in the real world, to inhabit her own skin, to know her own heart, to stop waiting for life to begin.”
Profile Image for Lucy.
25 reviews
December 12, 2020
Hands down the best book I've read in 2020. Knapp's tight and eloquent prose made an addiction that is foreign to me remarkably relatable.
Profile Image for Ellie Midwood.
Author 39 books748 followers
June 22, 2018
I rarely come across books like this one, which I instantly fall in love with and which are destined to be re-read in the future. “Drinking” was one of such books. It’s a brutally honest memoir of a successful columnist/writer who has one little secret: she’s a functioning alcoholic. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, functioning alcoholics are the ones who lead double lives and masterfully hide their problem from the outside world much like the protagonist of this story did: during the day she was an excellent worker, winning awards and climbing the career ladder; during the evening, she drank herself to oblivion. The book is extremely interesting because the author (who’s been sober for quite a few years now) analyzes every single detail concerning her previous lifestyle with surgical precision, trying to find the root of her turning to alcohol in the first place and why it was so difficult to quit. She admits it herself, unlike the others, she didn’t have “a story” - no past trauma or history of abuse; on the contrary, she came from an upper-middle-class family that always valued education and culture above all. So, what happened then? And what happened to many more professional people like her - lawyers, financial workers, art dealers - who also shared her plight? It was indeed a fascinating, even though scary at times, read. A true eye-opener.
Profile Image for Gerry Pirani.
Author 2 books7 followers
September 1, 2015
Fabulous on many levels, this book will take you on the nightmarish journey resulting from alcoholism. Articulate, brilliant, talented Knapp brings you through the bowels of hell and back with her as she struggles to overcome the addiction. Powerful writing detailing the pain of this path. A must read for anyone inflicted with alcoholism and for anyone still trying to figure out who's in charge - the alcohol or you.
Profile Image for Gretchen.
907 reviews17 followers
July 14, 2016
I'm deep into a self help/memoir kick and I'm not the least bit sorry. I've been thinking more about my own drinking lately and what it means and I've always tended to read/research a problem to death. This book was lovely and introspective but also somewhat dated at this point. I found much more to identify with in Blackout (parts of this were just completely foreign to me). It's still a valuable story and a compelling read.
Profile Image for Ted Haussman.
340 reviews1 follower
March 29, 2016

This book was fantastic. Best addiction genre autobiography I have read. Knapp wrote with such perception and insight about her disease and how she fought the demon until she surrendered. What I found so sad is that while she got sober and seemed to find serenity, an outgrowth of her addiction ultimately killed her. She was a heavy smoker until she contracted lung cancer and died at 42.
326 reviews
May 10, 2016
This is the most powerful book I have read about alcoholism. It is down-to-earth and poignant. I not only felt I got to know the author, but I grew to understand myself and my own history with alcohol, which assisted in positive changes in my life. I was sad to read later than Caroline Knapp died at only 42 years of age. I would have liked to thank her.
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