A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley: Before his writing powers were sapped by the paranoia and delusions that accompany long-term commitment to the bottle, Exley may have been—for this novel, at least—the finest writer of English in the world.
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac: By the time he wrote this under-appreciated novel, Kerouac was dubbed “King of the Beats”—a title he neither sought nor wanted. This was the other side of the satori, the dharma bummer, if you will. It’s as close as readers can get to delirium tremens without experiencing it for themselves.
Post Office by Charles Bukowski: Factotum has more righteous imbibing in it, but this was Bukowski’s best sustained, most focused and funniest narrative. My own mailman vouches for its authenticity.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates: A beautifully-written novel set in Connecticut about the dissolution of a married couple who are as alcohol-soused as the author. The most honest character is the mentally-ill son of a Realtor. Ah, suburbia!
The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson: This 1944 novel, based on firsthand experience, is a note-perfect chronicle of a five-day binge. It’s filled with memorable bits of drinkers’ wisdom, like “One’s too many and a hundred’s not enough.” Though Jackson got sober, he was driven by demons and committed suicide in New York City in 1968.
Sweet Adversity by Donald Newlove: Under this title, Newlove united two novels about, um, excessive behavior. The first chronicles the small-town childhood of (yes!) Siamese twins named Leo and Theodore; the second, entitled The Drunks, descends into the gin mills and detox units of the big city. Newlove also wrote a candid memoir, Those Drinking Days (1981). All of his writing glows with the benevolence of someone who can’t believe he survived.
Collected Poems by Dylan Thomas: The finest verse in modern English was written by someone too drunk to remember writing it. Does it still count? You make the call. (The same entry could be written for Collected Stories by John Cheever).
John Barleycorn by Jack London: It’s hard to believe this vivid account of the author’s binge drinking was written in 1913, because it presages every boozy memoir written since. London’s binge culminated with him waking up in Baltimore with a shaven head and not knowing how it happened. Ladies and gents, America’s first punk rocker!
Where Have I Been by Sid Caesar: The master of live TV comedy had a dark side, too, and he tells all in this gut-check of a 1983 memoir. It’s wicked funny too.
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry: A beautiful mess of a novel, no doubt just like the author’s life (at least through his own bleary eyes). Like Exley, Lowry pretty much shot his wad in this book.