8 Times Cannabis Spiced Up Your Bookshelf - Culture | MERRY JANE
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8 Times Cannabis Spiced Up Your Bookshelf

Alcohol might be more closely associated with the writerly set, but cannabis has long been the stuff imaginative literature is made of.

by Tim Baker

by Tim Baker

The Hasheesh Eater: Being passages from the Life of a Pythagorean

By Fitz Hugh Ludlow, 1857

When journalist and novelist Fitz Hugh Ludlow set about writing his autobiographical foray into cannabis extract experimentation, the project was as simple as walking to the local pharmacy and procuring as much as one might need. Ludlow’s flights of philosophical fancy and imaginative wordplay make The Hasheesh Eater a classic, but his wish to emulate his literary hero, opium-addicted Thomas De Quincey, caused him to overstate some effects of cannabis for effect.

 

Inherent Vice

By Thomas Pynchon, 2009

The 20th century’s master of literary obscurantism, Thomas Pynchon, brought his mysterious style of storytelling to 1970s Los Angeles and the Manson Family murders, wreathed in a cloud of pot smoke. Inherent Vice’s main character, Larry "Doc" Sportello, is a heavy smoker thrown into the middle of a detective story so intricate it makes The Big Sleep look linear. Incorporating plot lines from real-estate to Black Panther-style militancy to the LAPD, Inherent Vice might feature a lot of smoking, but it’s probably not the easiest to follow after indulging.

 

Invisible Man

By Ralph Ellison, 1952

Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue” is a recurring motif in Ellison’s essential portrait of African-American life in the early 20th century. The narrator imagines what it would be like to own five phonographs so that he can listen to five different versions of the song simultaneously, and when he smokes a joint, it’s the song he chooses to listen to, poignantly singing along—it’s one of the novel’s most important moments.

 

Chronic City

By Jonathan Lethem, 2009

Set on the Upper East Side of New York, Chronic City is the story of former child actor Chase Insteadman and his unlikely pal, washed-up film critic Perkus Tooth. Over joint after joint of a strain called “Ice” smoked in Perkus’s rent-controlled apartment, the pair discuss everything from Marlon Brando to Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid to the giant tiger roaming Manhattan after escaping from the zoo. Perkus’s paranoia, Chase’s open mind and the absurd world Lethem creates meld into an unforgettable portrait of an almost-tangible New York.

 

Artificial Paradises

By Charles Baudelaire, 1860

A dyed-in-the-wool bohemian and dedicated experimenter with anything that offered an altered state, French poet Charles Baudelaire belonged to a group of like-minded artistic-types called the Club des Hashischins, which met monthly to smoke hashish (sometimes throwing opium into the bargain as well) and conduct seances. Baudelaire’s experiences with cannabis are detailed in his typical florid prose and intense imagery in Artificial Paradises, a book that can make you confident in your cannabis use or make you want to swear it off for good.

 

Wonderboys

By Michael Chabon, 1995

Chabon turns to Pittsburgh for his cannabis-infused masterpiece, the story of a professor—Grady Tripp—in his 50s slowly growing older in the city Chabon knows so well. As he becomes further removed from his acclaimed novel, published seven years before the action begins, he befriends a young student and begins heavily self-medicating with, you guessed it, cannabis.

 

Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes

By Terry Southern, 1967

Terry Southern’s collection of short stories and essays is worth a read for a number of reasons—not least of all the inclusion of the essay “Twirlin’ at Ole Miss”—but one of the best is the focus paid to various manifestations of the early counterculture, including the titular foray into wild cannabis plants and the imaginative odysseys they can begin.

 

Infinite Jest

By David Foster Wallace, 1996

In a novel that clocks in at just under 1,000 pages (before you count nearly 400 endnotes), one of the most important recurring themes is main character Hal Incandenza’s ritual of sneaking off into the depths of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s labyrinthine corridors and getting stoned. As the North American continent cracks and splinters into dystopia, Hal attempts to block out the world with cannabis, residents of a nearby halfway house complain of being unable to sleep after quitting, and cannabis is constantly just outside the frame.


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Tim Baker

Tim Baker is a New York-based writer and sometimes editor whose work has appeared in Newsweek, TV Guide, CBS and Discovery Special Editions, and can regularly be found at thrillist.com. He has an MFA in creative writing from The New School and also attended Hunter College of the City University of New York.



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