Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (Picador, $14). The marvel of these stories, all about a drug-addicted loser named "F---head," is right there in the title: to be God's grandson, but also a bastard. Never has anyone written with more fevered precision about a walk through hell.
How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z by Ann Marlowe (Anchor, $17). With this memoir of her life as a Wall Street analyst and heroin addict, Marlowe helped me to understand that every drug addict is a control freak. Heroin gives Marlowe problems to focus on that are not as challenging as her real problems.
A New Pair of Glasses by Chuck "C" (out of print). While getting sober, I must have read this book 50 times. An AA old-timer and popular Southern California speaker, Chuck shares his insights on how to practice the principles of recovery "in all our affairs." I have memorized sections of this book and am grateful for every folksy sentence.
A Fan's Note by Frederick Exley (Vintage, $16). If you want to know how it feels to be an active alcoholic, read this "fictional memoir." Exley had a gift for describing his own insanity. The ugliness and stupidity of his alcoholism are mitigated only by the great work of art A Fan's Notes becomes.
Jamesland by Michelle Huneven (Vintage, $17). A novel about a group of friends who are growing, together, in hipster Los Angeles. The issues here are so completely the issues of recovery: how to live in community, how to love unselfishly, how to find your right livelihood. As one character keeps asking himself, "How do people live in this world?" Huneven's book even features the ghost of William James, the godfather of the recovery movement.
Lit by Mary Karr (Harper Perennial, $15). Karr's brilliant memoir is about her growth toward both sobriety and literary fame. She is ruthless with herself in the most wonderful ways. I was disappointed when her story ended with her embrace of Roman Catholicism, but I won't hold it against her: She writes better than anyone about how selfishness can become something much more than selfishness.