Thursday, May 31, 2012

THIS IS HOW by Augusten Burroughs, St Martin's Press (2012), 230 pages

Last night I was among the ebullient crowd of hundreds assembled in the Brigantine Room at Harbourfront Centre to hear Augusten Burroughs in conversation with Toronto's Bert Archer about his most recent memoir THIS IS HOW. Already predisposed to like his style, having read RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, DRY and MAGICAL THINKING and already having some sense of Burroughs's accomplished self-deprecating humour, I was not quite prepared for the grace and candour with which he presented himself. As I said to him during while he was signing the copies I acquired as book prizes for my @TeenBoyLitCrit students, spending that ninety minutes in his munificent, frank company was better than therapy.

The full title of the book is as entertainingly rambling as Burroughs's stream-of-consciousness both on stage and on the page: THIS IS HOW: HELP FOR THE SELF: PROVEN AID IN OVERCOMING SHYNESS, MOLESTATION, FATNESS, SPINSTERHOOD, GRIEF, DISEASE, LUSHERY, DECREPITUDE & MORE FOR YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE. Unsurprisingly, he waxes eloquently and frankly on all of these subjects, from his unique survivor's perspective.

The two epigraphs couldn't be more apt. First, there's George Orwell's suggestion that "To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle." And next, there's Galileo's wisdom: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them." Becoming yourself requires work.

You can dip in to any chapter of THIS IS HOW and lift a gem, like, "The truth is humbling, terrifying and often exhilarating. It blows the doors off the hinges and fills the world with fresh air." (HOW TO RIDE AN ELEVATOR) Or, what about this welcome slap upside the head: "The truth behind the truth is this: even if you are a victim, you must never be a victim. Even if you deserve to be one. Because while you wait for somebody to come along and set things right, life has moved forward without you." (HOW TO FEEL SORRY FOR YOURSELF) On every page you'll find a thought or phrase that you may have begun to form in your own head, that Burroughs has so beautifully articulated.

When addressing his past alcoholism from the stage last night, Burroughs said, "I liked writing more than I liked drinking. It was a raft to sobriety." That raft saved his life and by extension through his books might just save someone else's. What is indelible is this caveat: "The truth is expensive. But all of the best things are."