Six (More) Stoner Novels (And a Bonus Short Story)

A few years ago, to celebrate 4/20, Sam Munson at the Daily Beast wrote an article praising “The Best Stoner Novels.” Not a bad list—Wonder Boys, sure, Invisible Man, a bit of a stretch, The Savage Detectives, a very big stretch, but sure, why not. Anyway, six more stoner novels (not that we advocate the smoking of the weed)—

Junkie, William Burroughs

Burroughs’s (surprisingly lucid) early novel Junkie may take its name from heroin, but it’s full of weed smoking. Lesson: weed smoking leads to heroin. And the inevitable search for yage.

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon

Doc Sportello, the wonky PI at the off-center of Pynchon’s California noir, is always in the process of lighting another joint, if not burning his fingers on the edges of a roach. A fuzzy mystery with smoky corners.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Hal Incandenza, protagonist of Wallace’s opus, spends much of his time hiding in the tunnels of Enfield Tennis Academy, feeding his bizarre marijuana addiction, which is, in many ways, more of an addiction to a secret ritual than to a substance. Hal’s hardly the only character in IJ who likes his Mary Jane; there’s a difficult section near the novel’s beginning that features a minor character preparing to go on a major weed binge. His pre-smoking anxiety works as a challenge to any reader seeking to enter the world of Infinite Jest.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m pretty sure “pipe-weed” isn’t tobacco.

Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem

I kind of hated Chronic City, a novel where characters seem to light up joints on every other page. It seems to have been written in an ambling, rambling fog, absent of any sense of immediacy, urgency, or, uh, plot. Bloodless stuff, but, again, very smoky.

Stoner, John Williams

Okay. Stoner has nothing to do with marijuana. But, hey, it’s called Stoner, right?

Bonus short story: Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”

Carver’s classic story features a myopic narrator who comes up against his own shortcomings when he meets an old friend of his wife, a blind man who ironically sees deeper than he does. After drinking too much booze, they spark up, share a doob, and take in a documentary about European cathedrals. Great stuff.

20 thoughts on “Six (More) Stoner Novels (And a Bonus Short Story)”

  1. What about Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano? Ok, it’s not drugs per se but Lowry’s descriptions of alcoholism transcend the banal experience of indulging in one or two too many wines or the occasional joint. They not only transcend but they detonate societal cliches of dipsomania. His depiction of a hopeless drunk is so unlike anything I’ve read before. It is art, a painful intrusion into the core of a suffering soul.The reality-warping experience of Firmin’s drinking far surpasses the allusions to dope in the Invisible Man or The Savage Detectives (both of which I am a massive fan of).

    p.s. I have been drinking.


  2. I’m glad that Stoner is on here, because even though I know the type of book it was, I gave myself some real joy by buying it stoned.


    1. Hi, F.H. It’s the second episode in the book; it’s pg 17-27 in my copy. Its difficulty is really a matter of attention—no line breaks, big blocks of text text text, no dialogue—it also makes the reader attend very closely very early in the novel to a very minor character, Erdedy, who is preparing to go on this big marijuana binge, and the chapter basically relates all the intense, paranoid, meticulous prep work he’s put into this particularly binge. The style of the sentences is almost like Robbe-Grillet—very concrete, precise, direct, almost mechanical (but it’s still free indirect style). So it’s difficulty is really more a sense of frustration, anxiety, impatience, which are the emotions and experiences as Erdedy waits for his drugs.


      1. Where were you during the wasted adolescent years? Reading comic books, I suppose. Farina is Joan Baez’s brother.


  3. A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, Paul Bowles
    Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas DeQuincey
    Underworld of the East, James Lee
    The Third Policeman, Flan O’Brien
    Stoner, John Williams
    Stoner, John Williams


      1. Too much of a stretch? Perhaps. Tough to follow with a clear head, even. I once made the mistake of gifting it to a dyslexic.


      1. I kid. All recommended though. Items 1 & 3 are great quick reads, by the way, if anyone happens to be looking for that sort of thing. BK: I’m pretty sure you’d love The Third Policeman. It is excellent.


  4. The Third Policeman is unutterably awesome. Not sure I’d call it a stoner novel though. And if you think that’s good, try if you haven’t tried already At Swim Two Birds. Probably the funniest and cleverest novel I’ve ever read. Again though, not really a stoner piece.


  5. Cheers for all the recommendations on The Third Policeman, which I started this afternoon—surreal, funny, a bit dark—can’t believe I haven’t read it before.


    1. The Third Policeman certainly is O’Nolan’s finest novel, but if you can find the time give his first, At Swim-Two-Birds, a chance. Some of the sections satirizing Irish mythological figures (MacCool, mostly) are a bit boring—Hugh Kenner called the entire book a ‘preternaturally gifted undergraduate’s jape’—but on the whole the novel is very much worth reading.


  6. Looks like it came out after 4/20/2012, so maybe next year you should add Jamaican Flowers by Jim Moorman. It’s a total stoner novel. There’s no question about it.


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