A Few Kind Words About Bill W.
Recently, I’ve been a bit critical of the A.A. “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous), published in 1938 and written primarily by Bill Wilson, A.A.’s co-founder.
However, there are times in the “Big Book” that Wilson catches a wave, much like the prophet Isaiah does around Chapter 43 of his book (“Those who wait on the Lord\Shall renew their strength”). Wilson writes about the typical alcoholic’s reluctance to believe, at first, that he is mentally or physically different from others in regard to drinking, and his continual experiments with alcohol. These experiments never works, finally leading to “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” That couldn’t possibly be better expressed — the words “incomprehensible demoralization” heavy with sorrow, as is “pitiful.” To anyone who has been there, the words (as I heard read tonight at the start of our meeting) are always moving.
One other felicitous Wilson phrase: “the burden of self.” At times he suffers from metaphoresis (too much metaphor), but “the burden of self” works well. It comes in what’s know as the Third Step Prayer: “Relieve me of the burden of self, that I may better do Thy will.”
I should also note that IMO Wilson’s writing gets better as he becomes more practiced — Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written in the early 1950’s, is in many respects better than his first book. It’s taut and to the point, somewhat “nuts and boltsy”; he and his cohorts have been building the A.A. program for 15-20 years, and they have practical advice on what works and what doesn’t, and why.
As Bill Sees It, a collection of his writings from the two aforementioned books, from his Grapevine pieces, and especially from his letters, has many gems. He was no saint, but he was a major figure in the 20th Century, we have much to thank him for, and it’s a fun thing to see him develop as a writer (at least to this former writing teacher).