Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Books

What's David Sheff reading?

Nightstand

David Sheff

On this Father's Day, author Sheff offers dads two pieces of advice. "First, if you think something is wrong, then something is wrong. Don't do what I did and be in denial, but along with that allow yourself to be what we all are — flawed,'' he said. Sheff's advice comes from his heart. In his 2009 book Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, he chronicles his struggles with son Nic, who was addicted to methamphetamines. Sheff released another book in April, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy, a result of his years of investigating the disease. In 2009, Sheff was named to the Time 100, Time magazine's list of the world's most influential people. He is also the recipient of the 2013 College of Problems on Drug Dependence media award.

What's on your nightstand?

I have a pile of books and some on my iPad, too.

First there's The Last Interview: and Other Conversations by David Foster Wallace. I've always adored him, although the ending of his life is so sad. He had such a beautiful mind and such a beautiful view of the world. After reading Infinite Jest I picked this one up. I also have Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P.D. Ouspensky. Its premise is, if only I could do my life over, knowing what I know now, how would I live with all this great ambition and corrections? Of course, he makes mistakes again. I also have Help at Any Cost by Maia Szalavitz. It's about the desperate parents and the places they send their kids, places that say they can fix their kids. In fact, there are places that are really brutal and will end up killing the kids. And, my daughter is a vegetarian, so I'm reading a cookbook. It's hard to cook creatively with vegetarians. It's called Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. The cool thing is that the recipes are amazingly good and they can really come out looking like the pictures. Apparently the author has a crazy-good restaurant in London.

Can you go back to Wallace for a moment and describe what impressed you most about him?

The way he weaves plot together — outrageous plots but with a moral center — and the writing itself is like nobody else. It's both some kind of crazy and brilliant. You go on this journey that has to do with his language with the actual interweaving plots of his book, and the interviews show a different side of him. I also just read the graduation speech he made at Harvard. It just stayed with me, his gentleness. Part of the tragedy of his death is that he had such a healthy way of looking at the world, which is such a contrast to the inner turmoil. At the same time, maybe it's not completely surprising because he was so rawly sensitive. Because I've written so much about addiction, I saw how he captured rehab and recovery in all of its complexities.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer

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