Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh was like that. The Chicago projects were not an interest. I’m not a sociologist. And suddenly I care passionately how crack operates in this neighborhood, because a big-hearted young author is taking me with him on an invitation so compelling I can’t refuse.
I’ve just been snagged by another one.
I have absolutely no business reading Michael Stein’s The Addict: One Patient, One Doctor, One Year, and yet I can’t put it down. His gripping new memoir, which comes out in April, is about treating a young woman addicted to Vicodin. From the first page, the style of writing are simple, straightforward, clear, and somehow slightly passionate – in other words, hypnotic to me. I remember the same thing happened with his earlier book, The Lonely Patient. I had just been misdiagnosed with colon cancer, and the feelings of helplessness, the fears of facing choices you don’t understand that he describes so well in his book, were still fresh in my mind.
His new book is just as instantly relevant. For one thing, it’s personal. I have a cherished friend going down this route of prescription painkillers. It’s appalling to watch him erasing himself. I desperately need to understand this pill thing.
But on a different level, as Stein candidly tells us, we’re all addicted to something. It’s the natural human impulse to want more pleasure. And all of us have addiction in our lives. Someone we know – all of us – has a cousin or a son or a neighbor who’s developed a problem with one drug or another. Stein says we live in the age of addiction, and this rings true.
What makes the book fascinating besides its subject matter is Stein himself. When an angry patient candidly tells Stein that he needs more Percocet, and the guy is jumpy, and won’t sit down, and moves ominously between Stein and the door, as reader I’m getting nervous. I want Stein to think defensively. Instead, Stein calmly and quietly explains to you what’s happening, and says the right thing to defuse the situation. It’s fascinating, and you can’t help but respect this modest doctor and his very compassionate crusade.
You feel in your gut that Stein is being honest with you. When he tells you, with scarcely concealed grief, that his own teenage sons have become mysteries to him, that we can understand so little of anyone, you know you can trust this guy.
I’m also amazed at the amount of attention the book generates. Everyone who sees me reading it comments or asks questions about it. This might be the perfect direction to go for our April book at University Book Store. I’ll bet we might attract a few new members who would never take a chance on our usual fare of international fiction. Recovery is a key word of the new Obama era. A personal, well-written book on recovery might be an invigorating breath of fresh air.