The best books for what addiction is really like (no punches pulled ed)

Joe Clifford Author Of Junkie Love: A Story of Recovery and Redemption
By Joe Clifford

Who am I?

I'm a mystery writer and teacher now. Back then, I spent 10 years homeless and addicted on the streets of San Francisco. I could always return to Mom in CT and get put in a cushy rehab. Until I couldn't. And then she was dying, and my younger brother was addicted and soon he'd be dead too. It got scary at the end because I wasn't just some white suburban kid playing a scumbag junkie. I was a scumbag junkie. But why do I have a passion for the topic? I guess it's because it isn't all bad. I know that sounds weird, but being homeless and addicted has moments of beauty and joy too. 

I wrote...

Junkie Love: A Story of Recovery and Redemption

By Joe Clifford,

Book cover of Junkie Love: A Story of Recovery and Redemption

What is my book about?

Junkie Love is my memoir in the 2nd ed, a novel in the first, because the publisher (Battered Suitcase) didn’t publish memoirs. It’s tricky with true stories because our memories are highly influenced. Add drugs? All bets are off. I can tell you this: I possess a remarkable retention, and though I write crime fiction now, I am not that creative. Save a few name changes and trip consolidation, that book is the truest story I’ll ever write. And I ain’t never going back. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Permanent Midnight: A Memoir

By Jerry Stahl,

Book cover of Permanent Midnight: A Memoir

Why this book?

The gold standard of recovery books. I found this gem literally in the gutter when I was homeless. Changed my life by showing me if I could get my shit together, I, too, could write a book about my experience, and, in the process, maybe help someone else who was suffering as well.


By Tom Pitts,

Book cover of Hustle

Why this book?

The brilliance of Hustle is the way it juxtaposes the everyday addict's life. Sure, there's the big crime and action, bad guys, car chases. Again, that part fiction. But Hustle lives and breathes in between. In the minutia. Of the doldrums of, as Lou Reed once so eloquently sang, waiting for the man. It's the quiet moments and small conversations between Big Rich and Donny, where we see their humanity. As warped and twisted as the world may be around them, they never lose that appeal: being victims of the human condition. And like I said, living this life with Tom (the drug part), I can honestly say it was those little conversations that give you something to laugh about and a little hope to hold onto. 

Orangutan: A Memoir

By Colin Broderick,

Book cover of Orangutan: A Memoir

Why this book?

Orangutan is a working-class opus. Broderick excels in his display of the grind and how some men can weather and accept, as the Boss sings, dying little by little, piece by piece, and how others need more help to make it through the day. The most compelling part of Broderick's writing is the way he is able to delineate between the haves and have-nots. And, no, I don't mean money. Some men can drink a six-pack on the weekend, even do some blow. They'll be fine. Others? Like Colin? A shot is too much of an allure. Not just to get drunk, wasted, blotto. It goes way deeper. It's a form of wakeful suicide. You get through the day. You get your paycheck. You survive. But the price is not living.

Some Things That Meant the World to Me

By Joshua Mohr,

Book cover of Some Things That Meant the World to Me

Why this book?

I’m starting to feel bad it’s all dudes (and white dudes) on my list, but I think that, despite the fact that these days I only read women-written domestic psychological thrillers (they’re just better at it), when I first got straight I sought out others just like me. I didn’t think recovery was possible. Josh’s book is as harrowing and poignant and gorgeously written as they come. I mean, I think Oprah picked it for a book of the month. What more can you ask for?

Some Things That Meant the World to Me is gritty with plenty of down and dirty. But at the center of Josh’s (and his stand-in Rhonda's) story is a poet's heart (as well as a love letter to my city too, San Francisco).

Wasting Talent

By Ryan Leone,

Book cover of Wasting Talent

Why this book?

This one hurts. Because when I was asked to write this list, Ryan’s book immediately came to mind. Part fiction, part memoir, all hell, Wasted Talent might be the most aptly titled book ever. See, Ryan, who was an amazing writer, talent, and friend, died last week. I don’t know what of. I’m not gonna speculate. But he was in his thirties and wasn’t hit by a car. Over the last few years, Ryan and I weren’t in touch as much, though I did put money on his books when he returned to prison. Ryan’s life and work are a testament to one irrefutable fact. I didn’t go the AA route. But, boy did they get the final destination right. Addiction ends one of three ways: jails, institutions, death. Wasted Talent is Ryan’s only novel. That he didn’t grace the world with more defends his titular choices.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in addiction, Irish Americans, and journalists?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about addiction, Irish Americans, and journalists.

Addiction Explore 31 books about addiction
Irish Americans Explore 14 books about Irish Americans
Journalists Explore 100 books about journalists

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Girl Walks Out of a Bar, Money, and Rachel's Holiday if you like this list.