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Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget Hardcover – June 23, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of June 2015: Bracing and heartbreakingly honest, Sarah Hepola’s memoir Blackout tears off the Band-Aid of her alcohol addiction and takes a whole lot of skin with it, too. Thirty-something and a successful writer in Manhattan, Hepola turns at night to the embrace of alcohol. When her drinking transforms from a gentle suitor into an uncontrollable beast, Hepola begins to black out regularly, operating for all the world as if she’s fully aware and conscious but with no memory later of what she did. Her blackouts lead to sex with strange men and force longtime friends to take a cautious step back, and after several unsuccessful starts, Hepola finally completes the grueling process of getting clean. Hepola’s wry voice stays on the sane side of raw but doesn’t relinquish any power of authenticity as she casts a light on her own bad decisions as well the fact we now live in a culture where women getting tipsy or drunk is considered a sign of female empowerment. You don’t need to be enthralled by alcohol to be deeply affected by Blackout. But for those who do worry—or know—that they have similar struggles, Hepola’s ultimately uplifting story could help lead the way out of the rabbit hole of alcohol abuse. --Adrian Liang
"Simply extraordinary. Ms. Hepola's electric prose marks her as a flamingo among this genre's geese. She has direct access to the midnight gods of torch songs, neon signs, tap beer at a reasonable price, cigarettes and untrammeled longing. . . . As a form, addiction memoirs are permanently interesting because they're an excuse to crack open a life. Ms. Hepola's book moves to a top shelf in this arena. . . . It's a win-win. She got a better life. We have this book."―Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"It's hard to think of another memoir that burrows inside an addict's brain like this one does. . . . Her writing lights up the pages, and she infuses the chapters describing her resolute slog toward sobriety with warmth and sprightly humor. [Grade:] A."―Entertainment Weekly
"You don't need to be a reformed problem drinker to appreciate Hepola's gripping memoir about the years she lost to alcohol-and the self she rediscovered once she quit."―People, "Summer's Best Books"
"Brutally funny and alarmingly honest."―Entertainment Weekly, "Must List"
"Hepola unstintingly documents both her addiction's giddy pleasures and its grim tolls. Her account will leave you breathless-and impressed."―People, "Smart New Memoirs"
"Alcohol was the fuel of choice during Hepola's early years as a writer, but after too many nights spent falling down staircases, sleeping with men she didn't remember the next day, and narrowly surviving countless other near disasters, she fought her way clear of addiction and dared to face life without a drink in hand."―O Magazine, "The Season's Best Biographies and Memoirs"
"Wry, spirited. . . . Hepola avoids the tropes of the 'getting sober' confessional and takes us into unexplored territory, revealing what it's like to begin again-and actually like the person you see in the mirror."―MORE Magazine
"Hepola is an enchanting storyteller who writes in a chummy voice. She's that smart, witty friend you want to have dinner with. . . . Like Caroline Knapp's powerful 1996 memoir 'Drinking: A Love Story,' 'Blackout is not preachy or predictable: It's an insightful, subtly inspiring reflection by a woman who came undone and learned the very hard way how to put herself back together."―Washington Post
"A memoir that's good and true is a work of art that stands the literary test of time and also serves a purpose in the present. It mines intimate, personal experiences to raise bigger questions, tell a bigger story, help readers understand themselves, their circumstances, their world. Like the best sermon, the best memoir comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. This rare bird is the Southern belle of literature: forceful, punctilious, beautiful. BLACKOUT, the debut memoir by Salon editor Sarah Hepola, is one such memoir. It's as lyrically written as a literary novel, as tightly wound as a thriller, as well-researched as a work of investigative journalism, and as impossible to put down as, well, a cold beer on a hot day."―Chicago Tribune
"Hepola refuses to uncomplicate the complicated, one of her memoir's greatest strengths. Yes, we see the familiar recovery story arc-I drank too much, I hit bottom, I found AA-but with it comes a deep dive into the shame, fear and perfectionism that tilt so many women toward defiant self-destruction with the goal of annihilating the confused flawed self to emerge different, better. Invincible. Reflecting on the fantasies that suffused her drinking years, a newly sober Hepola comes to see that they 'all had one thing in common: I was always someone else in them.'"―Los Angeles Times
"Riveting. . . .Tough and street-smart (and a little vulnerable), honest (as far as I can tell), she's sassy and funny, mouthy and flip, hard on herself and without a shred of self-pity."―Minneapolis Star Tribune
"An incisive, funny look backward at life."―Dallas Observer
"I love a recovery memoir, just in general, but Sarah Hepola's 'Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget', is an absolute stand-out in the genre. Her writing is superb, but her emotional insight is even greater."―Lenny
"Hepola delves into her own lush life as the merry lit gal about town with unique intensity...In this valiant, gracious work of powerful honesty, Hepola confronts head-on the minefield of self-sabotage that binge drinking caused in her work, relationships, and health before she eventually turned her life around."―Publisher's Weekly
"A poignant and revealing look into the mind of an alcoholic . . . . one of the best memoirs I've read. . . . [a] tour de force."―The Huffington Post
"This is a must-read for recovering addicts; for women susceptible to the glamour of being modern and independent; for anyone who has had a difficult past, and who wants to heal, but who wants mostly to laugh at themselves. Basically, we should all be reading Blackout this summer (and wishing the incredibly smart and candid Hepola was our BFF)."―Bustle
"Alcoholism is a difficult subject to tackle, but Sarah Hepola does so with grace and candor in this memoir about her own struggle with addiction. . . . Captivating and inspiring."―Bookish
"The writing is incredibly smart and maintains a level of intensity you don't often find in long-form memoirs....BLACKOUT is an enthralling interrogation of a life. Even the most banal moments are beautiful, elevated, and resonate across the human experience."―The Rumpus
"The book makes a case for toughness as both a valuable alternate default for women as well as a terrific conduit to self-destruction-just as much as vulnerability, and perhaps even more so. . . . Her style is bright, salty, cutting."―Jezebel
"Revelatory. . . . [Hepola] isn't trying to shock us, though her book is one part gross to four parts engrossing; she is merely painting an honest Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Drunk. And then, without the help of either Prince Charming or Jesus, she saves herself, for no other reason than because it's time."―Flavorwire
"A razor-sharp memoir that reveals the woman behind the wine glass. . . . Modern, raw, and painfully real-and even hilarious. As much as readers will cry over the author's boozy misadventures-bruising falls down marble staircases, grim encounters with strangers in hotel rooms, entire evenings' escapades missing from memory-they will laugh as Hepola laughs at herself, at the wrongheaded logic of the active alcoholic who rationalizes it all as an excuse for one more drink. . . . Hepola moves beyond the analysis of her addiction, making this the story of every woman's fight to be seen for who she really is. . . . Her honesty, and her ultimate success, will inspire anyone who knows a change is needed but thinks it may be impossible. A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze."―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Her true bravery emerges in this memoir's witty candor. . . . her own sobriety is as funny and fearless as her drinking days. . . . A rollicking and raw account of binge-drinking, blacking out and getting sober."―BookPage
"Bitingly funny, while at the same time its painful, unflinching details about alcoholism make your skin crawl...brash enough to pummel you into the ground, but honest enough to pick you back up after that pummeling...The pairing of disarmingly poignant moments with Hepola's unwavering dedication to telling the complete truth about her story--both the triumphs and the humiliations--makes BLACKOUT one of the most affecting memoirs I've read...Fundamentally, this is a story about overcoming the roadblocks in life that are specifically self-constructed. Hepola's writing is bombastic and graceful at once, making BLACKOUT a must-read."―BookTrib
"The story of a rising star's journey of self-destruction and realization, BLACKOUT is gripping, alternately excruciating and funny, scary and hopeful, and beautifully written. I loved it."―Anne Lamott, author of Small Victories and Traveling Mercies
"Sarah Hepola is my favorite kind of memoirist. She is a reporter with a poet's instincts, an anthropologist of her own soul. BLACKOUT is a book about drinking and eventual sobriety, but it's also an exploration of the fleeting nature of the comfort we all constantly seek--comfort with the self, with others, with the whole maddening, confusing, exhilarating world. What's more, Hepola's ability to bring such precise and evocative life to the blank spaces that were her drinking blackouts is downright stunning in places. I admire this book tremendously."―Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
"This is a book about welcoming yourself back from a long absence. It's a memoir, but its author is not its main character; she is a new person sprung from the ashes of another one whose alcoholic self-erasure she describes with painful honesty and charming humor. A book about freedom that will help set others free as well."―Walter Kirn, author of Blood Will Out and Up In the Air
"Sarah Hepola's BLACKOUT is the best kind of memoir: fiercely funny, full of hard-won wisdom, marked by a writer with phenomenal gifts of observation and insight. The book engages universal questions--Where do I belong? What fulfills me?--that will engage any reader."―Emily Rapp, author of The Still Point of the Turning World
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Top Customer Reviews
Reading about people's struggles with--and triumphs over--addiction is especially fascinating to me. In the world of drug and alcohol abuse, everyone's story is so similar; but at the same time, everyone's story is so unique. When someone is brave enough to put their temporary train wreck of a life down on paper for the world to see, I can't help but get sucked in. Such was the case with Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola.
Hepola started drinking at an early age and fell in love with alcohol. This object of her affection eventually took control of her life, and for years she would drink to the point of blacking out. As you can probably guess from the title, that is the focus of much of this book. And Hepola holds nothing back.
"A blackout is the untangling of a mystery. It's detective work on your own life. A blackout is: What happened last night?"
In reality, as Hepola explains, a blackout happens when your blood becomes so saturated with alcohol that the part of your brain responsible for long-term memory--the hippocampus--shuts down. Your short-term memory still works, but with the long-term variety on strike, remembering what you did when you were blackout drunk becomes impossible.
"It's such a savage thing to lose your memory, but the crazy thing is, it doesn't hurt one bit. A blackout doesn't sting, or stab, or leave a scar when it robs you. Close your eyes and open them again. That's what a blackout feels like."
To say Blackout is a brutally honest memoir would be a bit of an understatement. Kind of like saying Taylor Swift has sold a few records. In her book, Hepola details--to the best of her recollection--numerous incidents from her drinking past, several of which end with her lying next to a stranger in bed.
Blackout is not all about Hepola sleeping with strangers, though. It's so much more than that. It's a poignant and revealing look into the mind of an alcoholic that lets the reader experience all of the raw emotions the author feels during her struggles. It's a tale of friendships and how they evolve--and devolve--over the years. Best of all, though, it's a success story.
The second part of this book is about Hepola's sobriety and the realizations that come along with it. "I finally understood alcohol was not a cure for pain; it was merely a postponement," she writes. It may have taken her years to get to that point, and there were many stops along the way; but recovery is a journey, and Hepola found her way.
The new sober life that she is living is challenging, but Hepola is happy. "Maybe at some advanced age, we get the gift of being happy where we are," she says. "Or maybe where I am right now got a whole lot easier to take."
Blackout is one of the best memoirs I've read. Like Kristen Johnston's Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, it treats a sensitive subject with unbridled honesty and humor. Yes, Blackout is a touching and, at times, heartbreaking story. It will likely make you cry. But it will also make you laugh out loud.
Sarah Hepola is the personal essays editor at Salon and has written for numerous other publications. But I have no doubt that Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is her tour de force. At least for now.
Read this book. You won't be disappointed.
"The nights I can't remember are the nights I can never forget." --Sarah Hepola
I'm going to quote her, because like Carrie Fisher's book Wishful Drinking, no one can use ordinary words to such amazing affect. "This is true strength. To want what you have, and not what someone else is holding." page 209
"Maybe you're one of those lucky fellows who can slurp your whisky all afternoon and never disappear into the drink." page 2 When Sarah talks about her blackouts, she puts the feeling perfectly.
"My evenings come with trapdoors." page 2 "Women now empowered by every thing a woman does." page 10 How perfectly put. We women want power so badly that we grasp at bad habits like drinking and smoking as symbols of empowerment, when they are really things that will bring us down.
Sarah is reading a questionnaire to see if she's an alcoholic. "Next question: Do you ever drink to get drunk? Good lord. Why else would a person drink? To cure cancer?" page 11
"People on the winning team rarely nice that game is rigged." page 144 Sarah has just explained politics in one sentence.
And here's one of my favorite lines. "Now I realized what sadistic game drinking played. It built up your confidence at the very moment you were looking your worst." page 191 That one stung. What hasn't either been the one who drank to much and did a karaoke-pole-dance, or watched someone bring out their inner performer-minus the talent after a few shots?
And lastly, Sarah gives us the reason so many of us are afraid to quit drinking. "People who quit drinking become terrified they will lose their power. They believe booze make them the people they want to be. A better mother. A better lover. A better friend. Alcohol is one hell of a pitchman, and perhaps the greats lie is convincing us we need him, even as he tears us apart." page 204 No one could have said it better.
Thank you Sarah, for you wit and wisdom and courage to quite drinking so I can enjoy your writing for a long time.
As a college student who is surrounded by the usual college drinking hookup/blackout culture, this was an incredibly interesting book to read. I love reading memoirs, so when this book came up on Amazon as a suggested book to read, I thought I would give it a try. Reading this book gave me insight into what it is like to have a drinking problem and definitely taught me important life lessons. Moreover, after reading this book, I recognized some of the alcoholic-like tendencies that the author had in some of my friends, and I believe it allowed me to understand that some of the their drinking habits are not normal/just okay to dismiss with a "oh, it's college, everyone does that," and I encouraged them to read this book.
Who should read this book?
1. Moms with kids who are teenagers/young adults
2. Teenagers/college students/young adults
3. People who love memoirs
I gave this book five stars because it is well-written and relatable.
I have recommended this to people who don't have a drinking problem, when they ask me why I drink. Some get it, other get hung up on the details of the story. But it helped me, and that's what counts