Matt Forney
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The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll

Basketball-DiariesThis is the classic addiction memoir, a nice antidote to the James Freys and Nikki Sixxs pushing bathetic, crypto-Christian lies about the “evils” of drugs. An edited collection of the diaries Jim Carroll kept when he was a teenager, they detail his life growing up in mid-60’s New York City, shooting heroin, snatching purses and selling his ass to gay guys for drug money. Carroll is anchored by his skills at playing basketball, as an athletic scholarship lifts him out of the slums and into a posh private school, where he continues his hustling and smack-injecting ways:

So I buzz across 42nd to Grant’s for a birchbeer and then just roam around for a good movie. I get to this empty part of 45th St. and near the side door of some theater is this great chick about thirty years old or so, but really foxy. She gives me the hook and I stroll over and see what’s happening. She’s heavy made-up and all but she doesn’t come on like a hustler; she suggests she join me at the movies and then we go over to her place. “I got grass, sweetie, you like grass.” Sure I dig it, and we find a movie, of all things, Born Free. What nonsense, but this chick has led me up into thin air in the balcony and there isn’t another person in the whole section. “This is why I picked this flick,” she says, “privacy.” And with that she lays her hand right across my cock and squeezes. I dig the balcony nooky so I sock my tongue into her mouth and get it on. Everything is humming nice when I reach on up her leg and work my way to her thing when, holy shit, I feel it and realize this freak HAS A COCK. I though I would freak out on the spot so I jump up and make a mad dash down the stairs and take five about six blocks away from the crazy theater, still shaking…

Carroll’s prose style is relentlessly frank and fast, spilling every detail of his hustles, highs and bangs in delicious detail. However, his rapid fire, Kerouac-esque method of writing in huge multi-page paragraphs got on my nerves after a while. Like Kerouac’s On the RoadThe Basketball Diaries is intended to be read while you’re still young and searching for a philosophical pier to anchor your boat to. When I first read it as a teenager, I blew through it in a couple of days, thanks to hilarious observations like this:

Today at school we had our annual Thanksgiving fast for the benefit of the poor and hungry blacks we hear of scattered throughout the South. Anyone who sympathizes with the injustice of poverty in the South does not eat his meal as a symbol of this injustice. I’m sure it interests a starving black in Mississippi that I am not eating my lunch today. Frankly, I was too embarrassed to be the only cat in the school to eat his meal so I snuck down to the corner and copped a cheeseburger. Symbolic gestures are certainly self-satisfying but they are not too nourishing for anyone anywhere. Somebody is conning everyone else and themselves with plain dumb ideas as performed here today. What happens to the food they prepared today? All that turkey and mashed potatoes would probably seem pretty dried out if we shipped it down South, even by air mail. It would have been interesting to point out that there are a lot of hungry dudes walking down Columbus Ave. that could have dug a free meal. But some of them might be drug addicts and shit and they’d no doubt make a big mess of the lunch room that all the black cleaning women would have a hard time cleaning up. I suggest that tomorrow somebody symbolically stick a stale drumstick of today’s lunch up the ass of whoever was humane enough to organize this farce.

Additionally, the book doesn’t really end, but trails off into nothingness as Carroll spirals into robbing people at knifepoint to pay for his heroin addiction.

Even with these flaws, though, The Basketball Diaries is a classic of American literature for a reason. If you’re looking for an honest and gritty memoir of teenage alienation and struggle, check this one out.

Click here to buy The Basketball Diaries.

Read Next: The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad

  • GW

    Huge fan of that book. He grew up in the same neighborhood as myself – Inwood.

  • Zeno Izen

    Never read this, but I did read “Forced Entries” by JC many years ago. Enjoyed. Jim Carroll is/was one of the better post-beat junkie confessional writers. Not that that is saying much…