It’s April 2020, which means it’s supposed to be the best month of the century. 4/20 all month looong!!!
But in reality, it’s decidedly not going to be the best month of the century. Many people are facing layoffs, furloughs, and shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19. It’s an uncertain time. We need escapism ideas, stat.
So we’re bringing the first installment in a two-part list of stoner-approved reading.
The first list is all about entertainment. Let’s think about something outside of the current state of affairs, shall we?
Some of these books are lighthearted and fantastic, while others are serious and rooted in reality. But they’re all wonderfully written, smart, and compelling stories that will help get you through this madness.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Since we can’t go on any thrilling adventures right now, we might as well live vicariously through someone else. If you’ve never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth masterpiece, this is the perfect time. It’s long, brilliant, and familiar to anyone who’s seen the movies (which is nearly everyone, right?).
Don’t smoke too much of your Longbottom Leaf before you dig into these ones. The writing can be a bit dense in places, but the genius of the world-building makes the series worth a read.
Artificial Paradises by Charles P. Baudelaire
Syphilitic, violent, profligate, and addicted to opium. This was the life of the Romantic poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire. Although he was in thrall to his own addictions, he was still able to see them for what they were — an attempt to escape the painful reality of life.
In Artificial Paradises, Baudelaire describes the visions and hallucinations that he and others experienced during their extended use of hashish and opium. The essays bring us into the world of the mid-19th century addict. And they don’t shy away from the ensuing effects on the users’ health. Baudelaire himself had a debilitating stroke 5 years after this book was released, and died two years later at just 46.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s only completed novel confronts racism and personal identity as the African-American narrator moves through life in 1950s America. Ellison’s view from the outside looking into a society that deems him invisible has been relatable to fringe communities ever since.
Especially poignant is the narrator’s experience smoking while listening to Louis Armstrong at a deafening volume in his subterranean apartment.
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me by Richard Fariña
This mescaline and weed-fueled trip around Cuba, New York, and the American West is often considered a defining snapshot of the 1960s. The book’s selfish hero, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, goes to parties, uses women, and witnesses a nuclear explosion before finding himself the leader of a college uprising in a fictionalized Ithaca, NY. It’s a trip.
Unfortunately, Fariña never got to see the impact his work had. He died in a motorcycle accident just two days after the book’s 1966 release, making this his only completed novel.
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Any list of stoner books has to include at least one Kerouac book. And honestly, it was a toss up between The Dharma Bums and On the Road. But I feel like The Dharma Bums is a bit less well-known, so it won out.
Why did the beat generation gravitate so heavily towards Odyssean journeys? This one focuses on the journey of two young men from drug-fueled parties and hedonism to the search for seclusion and enlightenment. For many at the time, it provided a first introduction to the ideas of Buddhism. It may be just a soothing balm for these trying times.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
This book is infamous for the outrageous amount of drugs consumed within its pages. We’re talking “...two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers...and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.”
But nestled between the ensuing hallucinations over a weekend in Las Vegas rests a nostalgic goodbye to the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Whether you read it for the wild hedonism or the few moments of clarity, it’s worth a visit nonetheless.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
We started with fantasy escapism, moved into historical realism, and explored the excesses of the beat generation. Let’s go back to fantasy-land to round it out.
The Chronicles of Prydain was suggested for this list by one of our team members, and I think it’s definitely worthy of inclusion. While there may not be any drug-fueled carousing in this young adult fantasy series, it’s just downright delightful. Written in the 1960s, this adventure tale takes inspiration from Welsh mythology. Our main character, Taran, goes on a beautifully written hero’s journey that is just the kind of distraction we need right now.
Plus, they were written for kids, so you’ll still be able to follow along even after you’ve emptied a bowl.
Where to find these (and other) books
If you’re wondering how to get books right now, you have a few options. There’s always purchasing, which I suggest you do through your local independent bookstore. They’ll often provide shipping services, and the locals are hurting right now. Those with a Kindle or iPad also have access to ebooks for purchase, or you can rent books through a service like OverDrive. (You do need a library card to use OverDrive.)
And finally, there’s always your local community. Join your neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Project group on Facebook. Ask if anyone could lend you the book you want to read. Wipe the book down with a disinfecting cloth and let it sit for a day or two before you crack it open. Safety first!