Friday, September 01, 2006

Augusten Burroughs is a good listen

I have been meaning to pick up Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs ( ever since it was published in 2002. This summer, after seeing the trailer for the movie adaptation of this memoir due out this fall, I was motivated to finally read this astonishing book. While I am not sure if listening to an audiobook actually counts as reading, I would say that listening to this particular audiobook, read by its author, was more sublime than mere page turning.

Basically, the book chronicles Augusten’s childhood in New England but don’t be expecting it to be anything like a Louisa May Alcott novel. The story is not for the faint of heart or those who are squeamish about homosexuality (though this is not the focus of the memoir, there are some passages that may be offensive and/or disturbing to some). Essentially, Augusten’s young life takes an interesting turn when his poet mother signs him over to her beyond eccentric shrink. While some memoirists may have chosen to paint this story in maudlin self-pity, Burroughs uses wit, black humor and snarky sarcasm to write his surreal coming of age story. But this isn’t just a true story based on actual events. Burroughs brings to life not only outrageous characters from his past but also the 1970’s and 1980’s.

And, again, despite the fact that Augusten’s early life was fraught with abuse (from drug to sexual abuse and lots in between), the memoir never loses its humorous tone. One offbeat anecdote details the doctor’s family’s practice of “Bible dipping”, which basically entails asking the Bible a question a la’ Magic 8 Ball and then turning to a random page, pointing to a word and trying to interpret the word as some kind of answer. Even more bizarre was the doctor’s reading of bowel movements in the same manner. The house where Augusten lived with the doctor and his family was in constant chaos. Augusten and the doctor’s youngest daughter one day decided that the kitchen needed more light so they made their own skylight by breaking through the ceiling and the roof. Rather than being enraged as most homeowner fathers would be, the doctor merely responded that the renovation let in much needed light. Obviously when it comes to this memoir, the old adage is accurate. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Once I finished the audiobook, I literally could not get enough. Lucky for me, Henderson Libraries holds Burroughs’ follow-up memoirs Dry (2003) and Possible Side Effects (2006) on audiobook, again read by the author. I am currently reading Magical Thinking (2004) and let me say that it is just not the same as listening, though I have noticed that my interior reading voice does tend to resemble Augusten’s, which is just a little unsettling.

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