Rating: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 (2012), 240 pages.
Fans of Dry, Running With Scissors, and A Wolf at the Table, who are expecting Augusten’s (after three memoirs, I feel we are on a first-name basis) usual biting sarcasm, are likely to be disappointed by this book—especially since the cover tells readers, as directly and clearly as it is possible for a cover to speak, that the self-help industry (of which Burroughs has more than a passing familiarity) is about to be viciously skewered.
Imagine my confusion when page after page I find instead a thoughtful, compassionate, sincere(!) Augusten dispensing wisdom and advice on how to live one’s life. He is not making fun of self-help books—he has actually tried to write one. And then, within a chapter or two, it dawns on me that not only is he being an Augusten I didn’t know existed, but that almost everything he is saying is absolutely true. Yes, true. He’s right. About nearly everything. And furthermore, he is saying things you won’t find in any of the other self-help books on your shelf. There are no pages of affirmations to tape to your mirror, no 10 Steps to Success lists, no attempts to become your best friend/cheerleader or to urge to attend the author’s thousand-dollar-weekend workshop. This book is just Augusten, telling the truth as he knows it, and getting it absolutely right.
He covers pretty much every topic one might have a problem with: feeling fat, lack of confidence, loss of a loved one, anorexia, addiction, suicide, unemployment, just to name a few. And best of all, he has subtracted the bitter wit from his writing without losing his sense of humor. This Is How is very, very funny.
All the other would-be self-help gurus may now put down their pens. The definitive book has been written. Nothing more need be said.
Augusten I love you. You’re brilliant. Thank you.
If affirmations were effective, a rape victim should be able to walk in her front door following the attack, go into the bathroom, and, with her silk blouse hanging in shredded strips from her collarbones, scratch marks bleeding on her breasts—one nipple missing—and her bangs pasted to her filthy forehead with dirt and dried semen, say to her reflection, “I am too strong and independent to be hurt by negativity. I feel unafraid and powerful. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had tonight to experience something new, learn a little more about myself, and triumph in the face of adversity,” and then feel perfectly okay, maybe even a little bit rushy on those feel-good endorphins runners are always going on and on about.
When in fact, what does help the person who has been raped is to chew it up and then spit it the hell out. And by chew it up I mean talk about it, write about it, paint it, make a movie about it, and then be done with it and move on. Because here’s the truth about rape: you do not have to be victimized by it forever. You can take this awful, bottomless horror the rapist has inflicted on you, and you can seize it and recycle it into something wonderful and helpful and useful. You can, in this way, transform what was “done” to you into something that was “given” to you in the form of brutally raw material. You can, in other words, accept this hideous thing and embrace it and take complete control of the experience and reshape it as you please. This is not to deny the experience and how devastating it is; it is to accept the experience on the deepest level as your own possession now.