Someone once said at a meeting that reading books was not his “style,” by which he meant that he preferred general discussion meetings where people just “talked.” Big Book or 12&12 discussion meetings were not his “thing.” That sentiment is probably widespread. As another person pointed out, however, it presents a problem. And this is the fact that, while going to meetings can make us feel better, it does not necessarily help us get better. It may not help us fully recover.
For that we need to work the program. And the program is written down. It is laid out, explained, elucidated, elaborated and expounded upon in books. If we don’t read those books, we are getting the program secondhand. We may not even be getting the program at all. Or we may be getting only bits and pieces of it, enough to keep us dry for a while.
It seems that, for many of us, AA is only a fellowship. It is the rooms. But AA is more than that. It is both a fellowship and a program. The fellowship provides the spiritual environment to help us work the program and pass our experience on to others. Yet it is possible to have the fellowship and not have the program. It is possible to subscribe to the “Don’t drink and go to meetings” mantra for the long term, making that, in effect, an “easier, softer way.”
AAs are like most people, and most people don’t read. If that happens to be our case, then reading may be one of those “lengths” (Big Book pp. 76, 79) to which we have to be willing to go if we are to recover—assuming that recovery means more than abstinence to us. Then, too, there are some of us who are more than willing. We are driven. We desperately need to continue to grow, and we are prepared to do whatever it takes. We will read whatever books we have to read, as many times as we have to.
Whichever type of person we may identify with, our point of departure is still the same: the Big Book and the 12&12. These two are the essential, indispensable books. They constitute the program's foundation. But as necessary as they are, they will only help us lay out that foundation. We will need to read on if we are to build on it.
AA itself provides us with a series of readings which can help us do that. And so we start our list of best recovery books with those “official” AA texts we have found the most helpful. This will be followed by other lists, including books related to but not official AA works, books from other 12-Step fellowships, books related to recovery but not approved by any fellowship, books on the emotions and emotional sobriety, and books on the basic principles underlying the Steps, the spiritual disciplines and virtues.