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Dave Wood's Book Report, Jan. 21, 2009

Several years ago, my friend novelist Carolyn See wrote a tell-all book about her family's century-long love affair with alcohol addiction, written with her usual literary flair. See is a fine California novelist ("Rhine Maidens," "Making History") who doesn't get enough attention here in the Midwest.

She was coming to read at the Hungry Mind in St. Paul, so I wrote a column about here appearance and hied myself over to see her.

What a surprise! The place was packed with people - standing room only. This for a writer whose last novel had flopped in the Twin Cities.

Even Carolyn, who is never non-plused was a bit shocked as she began her talk. And when the questions started to come, it became evident that the crowd had little interest in literature, but were addiction junkies, if I might coin a phrase.

These are the people who have suffered from addiction or whose friends and relatives have and who reach out to anyone who might prefer a snort of cocaine or a bottle of Jack Daniels.

When she was finished a member of the audience asked Carolyn how these terrible addictions affected her family and her life.

Carolyn replied, with only a smidgen of irony, "Looking back, I guess I could say it was really a lot of fun."

So much for the big shindig at The Hungry Mind.

I am not a addiction junkie, but I occasionally read books about it and enjoy them, especially books like Carolyn See's.

I hereby add to that list "Wishful Drinking," by Carrie Fisher (Simon & Schuster, $21). Fisher, of course, is the writer/actor/wit and daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

She's written several books, including "Postcards from the Edge," which was made into a movie starring Shirley McClaine as Reynolds, Meryl Streep as Carrie and no one as Eddie Fisher. It's a bittersweet tale of a major star's daughter and her descent into addiction.

"Wishful Drinking" is not a fictional tale; it's the truth about Carrie Fisher, who achieved fame at an early age in the movie "Star Wars" and has spent much of the rest of the time since then trying to screw it up, then clawing her way back to sanity, all done with breezy good humor. Here's a sample:

"Now come back with me when I was first told that I was an alcoholic -- which greatly relieved me by the way, because I knew something was the matter with me, so I thought 'Great! That's it -- that's what I've been struggling with (and enjoying) all this time!


"But what they (the diagnosticians) do -- to soften the blow of this arguably awkward new way of looking at yourself -- they enumerate a number of other famous and accomplished folks who have also struggled with (and enjoyed) alcoholism.

"There was Scott Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson, Dylan Thomas, Ireland, Rush Limbaugh, Lindsay Lohan, Russia and George W. Bush.

"I think their point - don't feel bad. You're joining an illustrious group. Great people have been alcoholics. Oh, be one, it's fun! ... so relax and join the great drunks who staggered the Earth before you."

Wait, gentle reader, there's more, as Fisher continues:

"So when I was told I was a manic depressive there was a whole new list waiting for me. There was Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Kristy McNichol, Sir Isaac Newton, Mark Twain, St. Francis, St. Theresa, Jonathan Winters, Brittany Spears and George W. Bush."

Dave Wood is past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Call him at 715-426-9554.