I forgot all about Augusten Burroughs who, I admit, can be an acquired taste, until I saw his book This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More at the library.
I liked the subtitle very much, and the fact that the book wasn’t written by a known self-help author, so I listened to the audiobook, which Burroughs reads himself.
It’s quite entertaining and, while I found some of the advice a bit reductive, especially when Burroughs himself is opining rather than speaking from experience, I still enjoyed it. I really like his reading voice.
Here’s a sample of some of the wisdom:
Having one’s mother or father or past abuser admit to their crimes or even apologize for them changes nothing–certainly not what they did. Rather, such an apology would give you the psychological permission to “move on” with your life.
But you do not need anybody’s permisson to move on with your life.
It does not matter whether or not those responsible for harming you ever understand what they did, care about what they did, or apologize for it.
It does not matter.
All that matters is your ability to stop fondling the experience with your brain. Which you can do right now.
He’s not wrong. On the other hand, there’s a section where Burroughs tells the story of a woman who raises her hand to ask a question while he’s giving a reading. She tells him that her son died while on a drinking binge and she feels guilty for somehow not being able to save him. Burroughs basically tells her, don’t worry. I used to be a drunk and there’s nothing I loved more than being drunk. Your son essentially died doing what he loved. He probably felt awesome.
I…don’t know about that. I mean, yeah, the mother should not feel guilty over something she couldn’t control—her adult son, drinking himself to death was not within her pervue. Adults have to take care of themselves. And addicts are pretty much impossible to budge unless they actually want to give up their addiction. But that doesn’t mean that as a mother I wouldn’t feel the very same way. You always feel there’s more you can do for your child. But the point is, I think Burrough’s response, while possibly helpful, was reductive. I would have said that woman needs therapy to understand her own feelings and find some peace over her son’s death. Not, don’t worry, he died doing what he loved (drinking).
Perhaps my review is a bit reductive, but I’m just trying to give you a sense of the pros (sage advice) and cons (overstepping his bounds due to inflated confidence, perhaps).
And yet, this book reminded me how much I enjoy Burroughs and so I re-read, well, listened to, the audiobook version of Running with Scissors. I’d forgotten what a crazy-ass childhood Burroughs had.
In a nutshell, his mother was mentally ill and pawned Burroughs off on her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, who officially adopted him into his large and very bizarre family.
Both incredibly sad and funny, Burroughs details the daily life, arguments, hopes, dreams, and overall craziness of the family into which he’s thrown at age 12. Highlights include: the doctor’s “masturbatorium”; a turd that apparently predicts the future; and the kids in the house playing with an old electroshock therapy machine.
The humorous episodes are tempered by sadness: Burrough’s mother’s increasing mental instability; his parents’ divorce; Burrough’s loneliness; and his “love affair” with the pedophile who lived in the barn on the Finches’ property.
It’s an emotional read and I wonder at Burroughs’ drive and success after having grown up in such a nuthouse. Definitely a victory over a bizarre childhood.
I followed this memoir with another of Burroughs’ called Dry. As you probably guessed, it is his memoir of alcoholism and getting sober.
Burroughs tells the story of his life as a young ad man in Manhattan. Being in marketing myself, it was fun to hear about some of the ins and outs of his work. Of course, the story centered on his professional failings as his drinking took over his life, but there are some good tidbits in there discussing creative work and client and coworker interactions.
Among other issues caused by his drinking, Burroughs misses a client meeting, which leads to an intervention by his coworker and two bosses, after which Burroughs agrees to go to rehab.
Then follows the story of Burroughs’ attempts to get sober, his experiences in rehab, his stint in AA, and, interwoven is the story of his friendship with a man he calls Pighead, who is dying of AIDs.
I cried listening to this one. The ending is bittersweet as Burroughs finds freedom from booze but suffers a great loss.
And thus ends my Augusten Burroughs kick. I’ve moved on to other things. Tell me what you’re reading right now – would love to hear!