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In his memoir, “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man,” Bill Clegg describes the few times he tried to prepare his own crack. “I wasted the coke.
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He found that getting wasted gave him "a toehold in a blurry, blissful place.

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg (ebook)

A place where he doesn't have to bring himself along. What he also loves is the dark project of it. He had also discovered crack cocaine. The memoir focuses on this later period, during which Clegg became fully enslaved to the drug. The narrative has a floating quality that manages to be at once brutally specific and oddly poetic, but the substance reads almost like an anatomy of crack addiction. His book is filled with vignettes of smoking crack, in the back of cabs with and without the drivers and in numerous hotel rooms.

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Clegg's descent is a skillfully conjured, slow-motion wreck from which it's impossible to look away. His handling of time, especially wasted time, has an undulating, telescoping quality. I raced through the book in an evening. Writing this book must have been like dancing with a dragon. People in recovery are told not to entertain their addictions, not to lavish them with attention and not to feed them with indulgent "war stories" about how much they used or what kinds of upside down happened when they used it.

Romancing one's addiction is a good way to get loaded. While Portrait of an Addict doesn't romanticize crack cocaine, it is filled with abundant, unstinting and carefully wrought detail about the particulars of smoking it, and whatever Clegg experienced in the writing, it's not a book I'd recommend to newly recovering addicts.

I found myself wondering whether beautiful writing may obscure, rather than illuminate, the destruction. After all, how many descriptions of scorched stems and huge hits can one ponder before they start calling one's name? Some of the addicts I know get triggered just looking at an open flame.

Handing them a book that goes into such excruciating detail about the process of scoring and using would be like handing them a grenade with the pin out. If, however, you are curious about what a well-funded, life-threatening crack bender looks like, you'll find no better portrayal. For me, the book became most effective on page , when the author talks about asking for help and ponders the lives affected by his addiction. It made me wish it were more than pages long. That Clegg survived and is well enough to write a book this good is incredible, and I wanted to know more about what helped him to get clean and stay that way.

Every drug these days has its chronicler, and Bill Clegg has painstakingly documented the furtive and desperate business that is crack addiction, the scrabbling on the floor for dropped crumbs, the endlessness and voraciousness and ruthlessness. I'm dying to get into that guy's noggin. Aug 28, Christine rated it really liked it. I first read an excerpt from this drug-addiction memoir in New York Magazine earlier this summer. While I've had my fill of drug-addiction memoirs and memoirs about nervous breakdowns, in case you care and thus find any craving of such subject matter more than quenched, I found myself totally enthralled by the text, and in particular, Bill Clegg's voice.

Plus, the guy was a wildly successful literary agent, an insider, whose decline was marked by an addiction to crack. I wanted more. I put my I first read an excerpt from this drug-addiction memoir in New York Magazine earlier this summer. I put my waitlist for the book at the library. More than two months later, the book became available to me.

The book isn't about recovery--it's about addiction told in a most unfiltered, unblinking narrative.


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There's a craft essay on Brevity by Kerry Cohen that emphasizes the importance and necessity to "sit with your flawed, imperfect self, silence your internal judge, and allow yourself to write toward meaning. The other craft element I found valuable was the structure of this memoir. The book flips back and forth between the main timeline of Clegg's addiction, and snippets of childhood, aptly written in third person.

There is no overt connection between the two narratives, and yet there is connection between the shame in his childhood and the shame that drives him to self-destruction in his adulthood.

Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man

The structure of this memoir is duly noted in my mind. Also, for the record, this is the first book I've read since Vonnegut's Sirens of Titans--for some reason, I haven't been able to finish a book since Vonnegut. I have tried and tried to read other books, resulting in a stack of books on my nightstand, all with bookmarks at some halfway mark.

This book? If I could give this book 3.

Thus, the 4 stars. First few lines: "I can't leave and there isn't enough. Mark is at full tilt, barking hear-it-here-first wisdom from the edge of his black vinyl sofa. He looks like a translator for the deaf moving at triple speed--hands flapping, arms and shoulders jerking. His legs move, too, but only to fold and refold at regular intervals beneath his tall, skeletal frame. The leg crossing is the only thing about mark with any order. The rest is a riot of sudden movements and spasms--he's a marionette at the mercy of a brutal puppeteer.

His eyes, like mine, are dull black marbles. I knew about Bill Clegg as a high powered literary agent Nicole Krauss and Diane Keaton are two of his many notable clients; Keaton dedicated her own memoirs to him before I knew of him as a crack addict. Indeed in this memoir he is both. He actually has a follow-up coming out this month and a review of it is what prompted me to read this first I'd long since meant to pick it up but hadn't yet.


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  6. In any case, this is a harrowing, paranoid tale of a multi-month bender. I truly cannot comprehen I knew about Bill Clegg as a high powered literary agent Nicole Krauss and Diane Keaton are two of his many notable clients; Keaton dedicated her own memoirs to him before I knew of him as a crack addict.

    I truly cannot comprehend the stress his loved ones and business partner! I guess that can be said about the loved ones of any addict. I'm immensely grateful to have never been in their shoes. His boyfriend was a goddamned saint. Anyway, this is well-written and fierce and he touches on some truly heartbreaking childhood moments.

    The paranoia got to be a little much at times, but I suppose that is kind of the point.

    I did appreciate that he frequently admits not knowing the order of things, which is rare for a memoir but shouldn't be. Then again, the man was on his last dollars, totally strung out, and was still checking into fancy hotels.

    What's Inside

    Aside from the boyfriend he got all his old stuff back money, prestige, job which is somewhat bothersome but I suppose honest. Jan 28, Jeannie rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: anyone who can handle it. Shelves: i-own. Reading this book was like being on a runaway train that you know is going to crash. Like seeing a tornado heading your way and not being able to get out of its path.

    His writing was so deep it had my mind on overdrive.

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    I got sucked into his story from the very first chapter. I was headed down this path at one time so I can understand the allure of crack, the rush of that first hit, the need to chase it, the horrible craving and searching for more ,not caring how I looked or acted, not caring who Reading this book was like being on a runaway train that you know is going to crash.

    I was headed down this path at one time so I can understand the allure of crack, the rush of that first hit, the need to chase it, the horrible craving and searching for more ,not caring how I looked or acted, not caring who I hurt. It was hard to read because for me it brought back all those horrible feelings that I know I never want to feel again.

    Thankfully I saw this addiction for what it was and was able to walk away from it and where I knew it was taking me. I can understand why his family and friends stood by him through all this, that is what you do for someone you truly love and are trying to help. My sister did the same for me and I am forever grateful.

    My heart went out to him, he was such a lost soul and he only hints at why.

    Author Bill Clegg: New Visions Award Nominee

    That really had me intrigued so I just kept turning the pages hoping to find the answer. He seems to be deeply troubled over a childhood problem that was left untreated. I don't believe he's out of the woods yet, but I pray and hope he is. Some of his perceptions on life were so deep and personal for me that I actually got stuck in them and found myself reading certain paragraphs over and over while my brain was trying to process them.

    This was a book that made me remember some bad experiences in my life, some of his thoughts and feelings used to be mine so I truly felt a connection with him.