The best books about drug addicts and lost souls

Who am I?

I've always been interested in books about lost souls and broken people. Before I got clean it was the story of my life and they’re stories that continue to resonate with lots of readers. I think my being drawn to those kinds of stories was a reaction to the stories I read and tv and movies I saw growing up. The image-conscious suburban American Dream stuff. I grew up without all those illusions and naturally gravitated to gritty realism because it mirrored my experience. My book is less interested in the day-to-day mechanics of the lives of drug addicts and lost souls, but rather how they came to be what they are. 


I wrote...

American Junkie

By Tom Hansen,

Book cover of American Junkie

What is my book about?

In American Junkie, Tom Hansen maps his heroin addiction, from the promise of a young life to the prison of a mattress, from budding musician to broken down junkie, drowning in syringes and cigarette butts, shooting heroin into wounds the size of softballs, and ultimately, a ride to a hospital for a six-month stay and a painful self-discovery that cuts down to the bone. Through it all he never really loses his step, never lets go of his smarts, and always projects quintessential American reason, humor, and hope to make a story not only about drugs, but a compelling study of vulnerability and toughness.

The books I picked & why

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Angels: A Novel

By Denis Johnson,

Book cover of Angels: A Novel

Why this book?

Most people probably know Denis Johnson from his short story collection Jesus Son but this was his first novel and holds a special place in my heart. Jaime is a young woman fleeing an abusive marriage with her two young children. Bill Houston is a bad guy wandering the American Southwest looking for an easy score to get rich. These two characters meet on a bus and partly because of Johnson’s beautiful spare prose we eagerly follow their tragic and doomed trajectory. A very American novel.

Angels: A Novel

By Denis Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Angels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A dazzling and savage first novel' New York Times

Angels tells the story of two born losers. Jamie has ditched her husband and is running away with her two baby girls. Bill is dreaming of making it big in a life of crime. They meet on a Greyhound bus and decide to team up.

So begins a stunning, tragic odyssey through the dark underbelly of America - the bars, bus stations, mental wards and prisons that play host to Jamie and Bill as they find themselves trapped in a downward spiral though rape, alcohol, drugs and crime, to madness and…


A Hell of a Woman

By Jim Thompson,

Book cover of A Hell of a Woman

Why this book?

One of the great tragedies of the literary world is that Jim Thompson never achieved fame and fortune when he was alive. The NYC literati deemed his books and characters too uncouth and depraved for polite society. His books weren’t populated by well-dressed Robin Hood-type criminals, they were mostly just weak men who followed some good intentions down the road to hell. Frank “Dolly” Dillon epitomizes the Thompson character. An unhappily married door-to-door salesman, he intends to help an underage girl escape her aunt who is pimping her out and holding her captive. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong and ends with Dillon in a cheap hotel with the girl and lots of drugs. The last few pages are the most mind-blowing writing about using drugs I have ever read, even more, impressive since it was written in 1954.

A Hell of a Woman

By Jim Thompson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Hell of a Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frank "Dolly" Dillon has a job he hates, working sales and collections for Pay-E-Zee Stores, a wife named Joyce he can't stand, and an account balance that barely allows him to pay the bills each month. Working door-to-door one day, trying to eke money out of folk with even less of it than he has, Dolly crosses paths with a beautiful young woman named Mona Farrell. Mona's being forced by her aunt to do things she doesn't like, with men she doesn't know -- she wants out, any way she can get it. And to a man who wants nothing…


Baise-Moi

By Virginie Despentes, Bruce Benderson (translator),

Book cover of Baise-Moi

Why this book?

Baise-Moi won the Prix Goncourt in France, their equivalent of our National Book Award, and was made into a film. It’s the story of Manu and Nadine, a couple of young women who have had it with the people (mostly men) in their lives, take revenge, meet by chance and go on a cross-country crime spree. Sound familiar? It should. Baise-Moi is like Thelma and Louise minus the saccharine sentimentality and the silly fairy tale ending. 

Baise-Moi

By Virginie Despentes, Bruce Benderson (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Baise-Moi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A sticky, smashed, sweaty, laughing too loud, broken teeth, drunker than drunk adventure” from the filmmaker and author of the Vernon Subutex novels (Bust Magazine).

Baise-Moi is one of the most controversial French novels of recent years, a punk fantasy that takes female rage to its outer limits. The basis for a hit underground film which was banned in France, Baise-Moi is a searing story of two women on a rampage that is part Thelma and Louise, part Viking conquest.

Manu and Nadine have had all they can take. Manu has been brutally raped and determines it's not worth leaving…


Christiane F.: Autobiography of a Girl of the Streets and Heroin Addict

By Christiane F., Susanne Flatauer (translator),

Book cover of Christiane F.: Autobiography of a Girl of the Streets and Heroin Addict

Why this book?

In the 70’s, two journalists from a prominent Berlin newspaper went to Zoo Station, a section of the city where hookers and junkies hung out where they met Christiane F. Over months they documented her story and helped her get it into book form. It’s a typical tale, abusive and/or indifferent parents, marijuana at 12, heroin addict and prostitute by 13. Her story is compellingly told and more tragic than most as we get to know the other 13-year-old boys and girls she hangs out with who also sell themselves for their next fix. The original mass market paperback came out in 1982 and was never reissued. Used copies are over $100. Fortunately, a new translation came out a few years ago under the title Zoo Station a memoir by Christane F that is readily available. 

Christiane F.: Autobiography of a Girl of the Streets and Heroin Addict

By Christiane F., Susanne Flatauer (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Christiane F. as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1 POCKET-SIZE SOFTCOVER BOOK


Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction

By Luke Davies,

Book cover of Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction

Why this book?

Davies was a poet before he wrote Candy and it shows. The prose is beautiful. Candy is the story of the unnamed narrator, his girlfriend Candy and their love and addiction. This is another story of essentially good people who dabble in drugs and find themselves in Hell. 

Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction

By Luke Davies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Candy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Candy is beside me, drenched in sweat. She's breathing gently, long slow breaths. I imagine her soul going in and out: wanting to leave, wanting to come back, wanting to leave, wanting to come back. The day will soon harden into what we need to do. But for now we have each other. . . ."

He met Candy amid a lush Sydney summer. Gorgeous, sexy, free-spirited Candy. They fell in love fast, lots of laughter and lust, the days melting warmly into each other. He never planned to give her a habit. But she wanted a taste. And wasn't…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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