Review | Tuesday 29 May 2012
After six autobiographies, Augusten Burroughs has written a self-help book. Psychology, for better or worse, was a fundamental part of his upbringing, so perhaps it is no surprise that This Is How came to be written. Chapter headings include typical self-help subjects like ‘How to find love’, ‘How to get the job’ and ‘How to be confident’.
But in true Burroughs fashion he has set out to write a self-help book with a difference so you’ll also find ‘How to be fat’, ‘How to remain unhealed’ and ‘How to end your life’. Burroughs doesn’t think much of a lot of pop-psychology and writes that ‘affirmations are dishonest. They are a form of self-betrayal based on bogus, side-of-the-cereal-box psychology’. Instead he believes the key to overcoming life’s many challenges is by telling the ugly truth.
The more successful and original chapters in this book involve episodes from his own life and his skill as an autobiographical writer come to the fore. Burroughs’s honesty and brutal dark humour when applied to reflections on his battle with alcoholism or attempts to quit smoking are appealing.
Unfortunately if self-help books aren’t for you, this book won’t necessarily warm you to the genre. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Burroughs explains that he’s ‘kind of saying the same thing over and over and over again. I have to hit that nail with different sized hammers and different shaped hammers so that I get something that’s going to ring true’. There is a fair amount of repetition in this book and perhaps it is not intended to be read from beginning to end. If you’re a Burroughs fan, you’ll read it anyway and if you’re not a fan then this probably isn’t the kind of book you would have read in the first place.