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June 15, 2014

More Profound, Drastic “Big Book” Criticism

by Brendan

Lately, I’ve been present when people in meetings roundly criticized the A.A. “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous, written mostly by A.A. co-found Bill Wilson and first published in 1938.  The wonderful Lorena, in fact, as part of a rant about how the book was shoved down her throat repeatedly when she first joined A.A., called it the “worst book ever.”  After the meeting, first congratulating her for an interesting, fun contribution to the meeting after, I had to tell Lorena that competition for worst book ever was pretty stiff, so Wilson’s book is probably out of the running.

Last couple of days, one friend has shared in a meeting that she was offended by not only the stilted language but also the sexism and (to her) overwhelming plethora of God references.  Another friend, in a meeting the next night, also objected to the ideas and wording.

Now, I’m always ready to jump aboard with profound and drastic criticisms of the “Big Book.”   For one, it’s just too big — so much better if it were about a third smaller, eliminating the all-too-frequent wordy elaborations that Wilson can’t seem to help even after his point is made. (In the first chapter of John M. Lannon’s Technical Communication, a book I taught from for 8-10 years when I was an English professor at Santa Fe College, he warns about burying the essential point under too many words — I try to always remember that in my writing.)

But, this time I raised my hand and said there’s a context we should consider: the book was largely written by a White, male, Protestant New Englander who was born in 1895.  Those circumstances explain a lot — and what’s left can be explained by noting that Bill Wilson, though an educated man, was not a professional writer but instead a businessman.

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