This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike

By Augusten Burroughs

(St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 240 pages)

Who is this author?

The former Christopher Robison, who grew up in the Pioneer Valley, changed his name at age 18 to Augusten Burroughs, as a way to sever ties to his difficult (to put it mildly) family: his father, a professor, was an alcoholic; his mother was a manic-depressive poet and his brother had undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. Burroughs himself was a garden of neuroses, fertilized by being sent by his mom to live with a loopy psychiatrist and his oddball family. All of this was shockingly and deliciously revealed in his second book, the startling memoir “Running With Scissors.” That book led to a lawsuit by members of the family that took him in (in several senses of that phrase), which was settled after a great deal of bad publicity. Burroughs also wrote an earlier satirical novel, “Sellavision,” based on his experiences in the advertising world, five more memoirs, including “Dry” and “A Wolf at the Table” and several essay collections. He contributes to newspapers and magazines and National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.”

What is this book about?

Burroughs has had plenty of experience with life’s difficulties (see above) and managed to achieve sobriety after years of serious drinking. Without losing any of his sharp, sardonic humor, he here tries his hand at being inspirational. Need advice? This book is only too happy to offer some on topics ranging from the mundane to the sublime:  “How to feel like crap, how to feel sorry for yourself, how to get the job, how to end your life, how to finish your drink and how to regret as little as possible…” Surely some of these will pique your interest.

Why you’ll like it:

Burroughs is smart as well as a smart ass; both wise and weird; unabashedly snarky yet unafraid to be sweet and sympathetic – and most of all, he can be very, very funny. Think of this book as the acerbic antidote to slurping up too much Chicken Soup for the Soul. If you, like me, are turned off by saccharine self-help books, you may find refreshment here.

What others are saying:

Amazon’s Best Books of the Month, May 2012: “…After turning his profoundly messed-up early life and its alcoholic aftermath into six harrowing, uplifting memoirs–including “Running with Scissors” and “Dry”–Burroughs lost interest in writing about himself. He kept meeting people who were locked in the same struggles he’d overcome and decided they needed to know they had options for fixing their lives. In “This Is How,” Burroughs delivers prescriptions for handling life’s most pernicious problems. Don’t let the snake-oil-salesmannish title put you off: this is raw, hard-knock-life advice, veering from brutal to hilarious to deeply compassionate. Burroughs doesn’t really believe in “happiness” or “healing.” He’s honest about the limits of recovery, but even those in the depths of despair will be energized by his exhortations to claw their way back to OK, even if it means leaving the life they’ve known in the dust.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “In this hilarious and searingly straightforward memoir, Burroughs turns the self-help genre upside down with his advice on matters ranging broadly from “how to be fat” and “how to lose someone you love” to “how to hold onto your dream or maybe not” and “how to finish your drink.” On “how to find love,” for example, he counsels, “be the person you are, not the person you think you should be… if you want to have a chance at meeting somebody with whom you are genuinely compatible, never put your best foot forward… be exactly the person you would be if you were alone or with somebody it was safe to fart around.” …in “How to End Your Life,” Burroughs, recalling his own teenage experience, distinguishes between suicide and ending life. After his brush with suicide, he realizes that he really didn’t want to kill himself; what he really wanted was to end his life, which he accomplishes simply by changing his name and walking out the door and starting a new life. As always, Burroughs is smart and energetically forthright about living and loving.

 “It is hard to know what to do with anger, pain, and obsession, Burroughs acknowledges, but he offers a kind of remedy: learn to live with it, to transform it, to move forward. This is about how to create a life from the circumstances of the present moment. The book has a soft ending, but readers won’t mind because it’s been a great ride,” says Library Journal.

“…With a cinematic novel and a series of bestselling memoirs under his belt, the author now presents life advice that’s as unconventionally scattered as one would expect. His tongue-in-cheek guidance, predictably couched in personal anecdotes, opens with a chapter on rejecting the “superupbeat umbrella” of positive affirmations, and proceeds to deliver the straight, though clichéd, dope on bad love (“Abusive people never change”), the search for romantic connections (“get out of your own way”)…Most sections straddle the line between supportive empowerment and tough love and are written with the author’s characteristic dark humor, which consistently entertains and, as the pages turn, earnestly educates. …Despite pages of platitudes, Burroughs provides plenty of worthy material on the absurdity of the human condition and the unpredictability of contemporary life,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

How to find this book? Look on the new book shelves at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Albany, Barbour, Blue Hills, Camp Field, Goodwin and Mark Twain branches.

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