Books: Augusten Burroughs’ This is How

I love Augusten Burroughs. He’s written a few novels which I’ve enjoyed but he is a towering personality in his superbly-written memoirs: Running with Scissors and Dry, and also in his essays collections, Magical Thinking and Possible Side Effects. He is always brutally honest, totally unsparing of himself and others and always laugh-so-hard-you-weep funny. With every book that comes out I am amazed afresh at his ability to deliver the truth in beautifully written and penetrating prose. It’s never this received-wisdom-cliché stuff that we often call truth, it’s always fresh and surprising, as though he has a special lens through which to see the world which is denied the rest of us, yet once we’ve read his description we too can see through this lens and be enlightened. Every book of his I read changes the way I think.

This is How is a series of essays, a sort of instruction manual for important moments in life: how to overcome alcoholism (“How to Finish Your Drink”) or obesity (“How to Be Fat”), how to present yourself at a job interview (“How to Get the Job”), and an incredible essay on grief and how to be with a dying loved one (“How to Lose Someone You Love”) which took my breath away. I tried to read some of this brilliant chapter to Justin, and I broke down and cried so hard I could hardly speak. I am not the weepy type, so when I say I actually cried, and I don’t mean a single glistening tear kind of crying, but actual needing-a-Kleenex, embarrassing gulping kind of crying, it is really something. It is so real, so true – Burroughs has clearly gone through this immense pain more than once. There are funny parts where he counsels the use of good food to counteract the shock of bad news. Doctor wants to talk to you about your test results? You get fries. Doctor wants to talk to you in person and not on the phone? Cheese fries. (I’m paraphrasing, not directly quoting because Justin is using my Reader to read Rick Riordan to the girls right now.) I just love that. But he’s not being facetious or flip; he’s funny, but he’s not kidding. This book is full of thoughtful, truthful and touching advice that I have taken to my heart. And it was great fun to read; even when I was crying I was smiling with the joy that his writing gives me. Pure gold.

Enough gushing – read it. He is my god.

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