Title: The Howard Marks Book of Dope Stories
Author: Howard Marks
Page Count/Review Word Count: 552
This book was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. I’d been looking forward to getting to it, but by the time that I’d reached page twenty, I’d realised that it wasn’t to be. That’s because of a simple but fundamental problem that I had with it.
You’d think from the title that you’re getting a short story anthology here, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Instead, you’re basically getting the equivalent of a book of quotes, because it only ever includes a page or two of each story, focussing specifically on whatever references drugs.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I love a good drug book. I’ve read quite a lot of them and I’m always on the lookout for my next one. I also enjoyed Marks’ Mr. Nice and Senor Nice, his two autobiographies/memoirs where he reflects on his time spent as a weed smuggler. Those were pretty good, even if only because he has quite an engaging writing style and he got up to all sorts of shenanigans, including working with the IRA.
That’s presumably why he was asked to oversee this anthology in the first place. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work, because it’s “stop and starty” and doesn’t actually allow you to get stuck in to any of the stories. It would have worked a lot better if he’d just chosen 20 or so stories that had dope as a theme instead of presenting us with about 500 different excerpts.
And so perhaps this book has been mismarketed, because I’d call it The Howard Marks Book of Dope Quotes. It’s being too generous to call a loosely grouped collection of excerpts a short story collection. You could never grasp the narrative of any of the stories because not enough of them is included for you to figure out what’s going on.
In the introduction, Marks said that he struggled to figure out what order to use and how to categorise the excerpts, and I can imagine that. It might have been easier if he’d used full length stories, but when it’s just a bunch of excerpts, it really doesn’t matter. In many ways, that’s a testament to how redundant the book feels. If you can literally shuffle the entire thing and it makes no difference whatsoever, you might be in trouble.
I can only assume that Marks was running short on money at the time and someone approached him with this book as a kind of literary get rich quick scheme. That’s definitely what it felt like. Even when the excerpts were from stories that I’d read and enjoyed before, I was left feeling underwhelmed. Only including a couple of paragraphs kind of sucked the joy and the life out of them.
Literally the only reason why I can imagine recommending this would be if someone was writing a dissertation on the representation of drugs in fiction, and even then it would mostly be useful for finding sources. In my case, it didn’t leave me wanting to read any of the books that were quoted because there wasn’t enough of any of them to pique my interest. What a wasted opportunity.