10 Highbrow Books for Smart Stoners


Rejoice, habitual imbibers of the magic herb. This year, the smoke-filled 4/20 falls on a Saturday, so you can celebrate the holiday unencumbered by the work day (if you still have one). If you’d like to supplement tomorrow’s afternoon festivities with a little bit of quality reading but can’t bear the obvious drug-addled narratives or trippy lit, we’ve got you covered with a list of highbrow books for smarty-pants stoners. Check out your options, and while you’ve still got your wits about you, add to our list in the comments.

The Savage Detectives , Roberto Bolaño

No, this novel isn’t a trippy escape down the rabbit hole — unless you count all the various voices of the polyphonic narrative echoing around in your head. Then there’s the “visceral realists,” a phrase that might appeal to the stoner in you, the sometime poets who wander around the desert in a ’75 Impala and fund their magazine, Lee Harvey Oswald, by selling high-grade marijuana.

Oblomov , Ivan Goncharov

We don’t have any hard evidence that Oblomov is a pothead, but he is a major slacker who refuses to leave his bed for the first 150 pages of the novel, and in our experience, the two often go hand in hand. After all, is he a genius philosopher or a waste of life when, while contemplating Hamlet’s eternal question, “To be or not to be,” Oblomov “rose from his chair, but, failing at once to insert his foot into a slipper, sat down again”? We have an inkling.

Inherent Vice , Thomas Pynchon

Michiko Kakutani described Pynchon’s slim 2009 effort as “a simple shaggy-dog detective story that pits likable dopers against the Los Angeles Police Department and its ‘countersubversive’ agents, a novel in which paranoia is less a political or metaphysical state than a byproduct of smoking too much weed.” That seems about right.

Chronic City , Jonathan Lethem

If the color (and if you squint your eyes, the texture) of this novel mean anything to you, well, you’ve probably read it already. Filled with marijuana menus and stoned digressions in glossy burger joints, it also happens to be one of Lethem’s best.

Artificial Paradises , Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire’s treatise/memoir about the effects of long-term wine, opium, and hashish use on his mind is sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing, and will either make you want to light up immediately or swear off the stuff forever, depending on your temperament.

Infinite Jest , David Foster Wallace

Not only will this novel totally expand your mind, man, but it’s also directly engaged with the topic: the halfway house in Infinite Jest is full of addicts, including several of the herbal variety, and Wallace goes into their mindsets (and withdrawal) in great detail. Plus, the kind of intensity and powers of concentration that might engage you in staring at the back of a dollar bill for hours on end can only aid in your consumption of this footnote-riddled monstrosity.

The Hasheesh Eater , Fitz Hugh Ludlow

Originally published in 1857, Ludlow’s book, filled with stories of his hasheesh-induced visions, was the first full-length American drug narrative and has influenced everyone writing in the genre (whether they knew it or not) since.

Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes , Terry Southern

Sure, the master satirist and new journalist writes about drugs and the Greenwich Village underground in this collection, but his essays also sound like something a hyper-intelligent stoner might muse about: Freud and Kafka in conversation, the baton-twirling subculture, necrophilia involving Hoover and JFK. We’re with you, man.

Wonder Boys , Michael Chabon

For the middle-aged, pot-addicted novelist in you.

Stoner , John Williams

This quiet novel about a mediocre 19th-century professor has no marijuana in it. But it’s wonderful. And plus, literary irony is totally highbrow, so read it tomorrow and chuckle/pat yourself on the back.