“Wipe that fucking smile off your face.”
So begins the new book by Augusten Burroughs, a darkly comedic and sincere self-help book titled This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t (Picador, 230 pages, $15).
In it, Burroughs, best known for his confessional memoirs Running With Scissors and Dry, offers readers advice on dealing with diets, relationships, suicidal thoughts and letting go of loved ones.
Burroughs’ short, often-fragmentary sentences make this guide to personal crises a fast read, as his advice is backed by a relatable and often funny narrative. He talks about meeting a parrot with depression and blowing up at a person who reaches for the same avocado at the farmers market.
But the sheer amount of advice offered to readers gets a little wearisome. The sentences are often made up of bits of wisdom and advice that we’ve heard before in other self-help books (“be yourself,” “live in the moment,” “find out what you need and go after it,” etc.) and gets repetitive.
Occasionally, contradictory advice also is frustrating: Burroughs tells readers to give up their dreams if they suck at them, but later adds: “If you can’t let go of the dream, don’t.” This might be less frustrating if you were actually considering whether to throw in the towel on the marine veterinary science program instead of just trying to read a book.
Burroughs’ best chapter is a thought-provoking look at the time he spent contemplating suicide. “I realized something. It wasn’t that I wanted to kill myself,” he writes. “What I really wanted was to end my life.” He goes on to recount how he made the distinction between killing yourself and giving up the life you’ve created to start over in a new city with a new name and lifestyle. This is exactly what Burroughs of New York—formerly Chris Robison of Massachusetts—says he did, adding gravity by demonstrating how he followed his own advice.
This is how to read This Is How: Try picking the crisis you’re the most interested in and flip to it. You won’t find a lot that’s new here, but Burroughs has enough interesting imagery and humor to survive that.
GO: Augusten Burroughs will be at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Sunday, April 28. 2 pm. Free.