Welcome to the first posting of The Progressive Book Club 2014. Whether you’re a participant or not, I invite you to review the list below and allow the group to shine a light on some of our best reads of the past thirty days. Each month is open to new members, with selections as diverse as the people writing the posts.
Released in 2003, it only took a decade before I finally got around to reading Augusten Burroughs’, Running with Scissors. I could kick myself for waiting so long.
The story, a memoir of his life from ages 12-16, should be required reading for any teenager who thinks their parents lack in the child-rearing department more than his. Impossible.
Unless, of course, their parents are riding off the rails of the Crazy Train. All aboard!
It could be also used as an effective tool for handling misbehaving kids: “If you don’t straighten up, I’ll send you to live with Dr. Finch!” Believe me, that alone is worse than any threat military school could ever pose.
Dr. Finch is one of the antagonists of the story, the Bad Santa of the psychiatric world, a robust and jolly man who believes children should live their lives as they see fit, eat candy for breakfast, put holes in roofs, run with scissors. It doesn’t take a psychiatric degree to know something afoul will eftsoon follow.
And that stench was Burroughs’ life during his adolescent years.
A product of divorce, he was cast off by his mother, an intense Anne Sexton wannabe teetering on the threshhold of psychosis, to live with this man, her psychiatrist, for a week or two until she got her act together. It never happened. One week became a month, became a year, became a nightmare.
Running with Scissors is an account of that period, aided by years of journals Burroughs kept—most likely out of a desperate need to reach out to someone, anyone, even a nameless, faceless page—in order to not feel abandoned, which in essence, he was.
The memoir is darkly humorous in a way that makes the reader giggle uncomfortably, but giggle nonetheless. Actually, page 88 had me rolling. There I was, in the parking lot waiting for my sister to get off work, when I reached that point a third of the way into the book.
I read it again.
The people in the car beside me looked over and I held it to the window. “Good book,” I said, then returned to the page, found my place at the bottom, re-read it, but this time, laughed uncontrollably. They looked at me as if I was the crazy one and drove off. How could I tell them I was reading the following line?
How could she expect me to think about school at a time like this? Furthermore, if I had just stayed in school, look what I would have missed. Fern, the minister’s wife, was not only a card-carrying lesbian, but my mother’s lover. Fern was a muff-diver. And she was diving on my mother’s muff.”
Excuse me for a moment while I finish my knee-slapping and gut-busting. That priceless line is indicative of the humor and absurd situations throughout the entire book, and chapter titles such as The Masturbatorium and Phlegmed Before a Live Audience promise the reader even more absurdity—or should I say insanity.
And that’s where this review stops. I could take it apart line-by-line and relish each word, nibble the sinfully delicious concoction of a well-written piece and regurgitate it for you, but I won’t. My recommendation? Buy the book. It’s worth every chew.
On a final note, one of the reasons I chose Running with Scissors is its unique voice. I love Burroughs’ writing. His voice is strong, independent, fiercely honest, and can only come from the life he led. And he’s true to that voice.
I’m reading a great deal of memoirs, partly because they interest me, but mainly to tap into my own strong, independent, fiercely honest voice with the same abandon as Burroughs, and in the process, grow more as a writer. Phoniness has a way of shining through. Burroughs, with all his damaged and mishandled baggage, teaches a lesson in fearlessness. Kudos, Augusten!
The Progressive Book Club meets the third Wednesday of each month. If you’d like to know more, click on the badge to link to the guidelines. Any book is welcome, and we’d love to have you—the more participants and titles, the greater the likelihood one will resonate with our readers. Hope to see you next month!
ML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.
An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.
He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.