Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Book Details
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
Paperback, 320 Pages
2003, Picador
ISBN: 031242227X

Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor’s bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock- therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy’s survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Running with Scissors was the first book I read by Augusten Burroughs and it's the only one I ever liked. Most of his books strike me as self-indulgent whining. The general theme of each is that he's strange and therefore his life has been hard. It's everyone's fault but his own.

In Running with Scissors, Burroughs tells of his thoroughly bizarre childhood. His mother and father are both shown to be as strange as he is, but in this book he presents it as just the way things were. I never had the feeling he was trying to vilify anyone and it never seemed like he was fishing for sympathy. Things were even more insane while he lived with his mother's psychiatrist, to the point where one had to wonder is this was really what he lived through or if he was embellishing for entertainments sake.

The description of the book states that this book is an "account of an ordinary boy's survival." This is kind of misleading. Burroughs is no ordinary boy. As I mentioned above, he's strange. As a child he had an obsession with neatness that went beyond the norm. He had a fixation where he needed to boil and shine any change he came across. As his family life deteriorated and he became more and more immersed into the psychiatrists lifestyle, he became manipulative. He engaged in a public sexual relationship with a 33 year old man when he was 13. He then used this relationship as a way to control the man. While the relationship shouldn't have been accepted to begin with, his reaction to the situation was not ordinary. Instead of acting like someone being abused, he became the abuser. What should have left me cheering for his empowerment made me think he was on the path to becoming a sociopath.

The book is entertaining and well written. As a novel, I couldn't praise it more. As a memoir, I find it mean spirited. Living through the hell he experienced, one would expect him to be damaged. And as far as I can see, he is. Instead of getting over the past and moving on, he churns out book after book bashing everyone who's ever done him wrong, becoming famous in the process. One has to wonder about someone who wants to be known for having a horrendous past. I never want to say harsh things about an author personally, but as he is the subject of the memoir, I can't help discussing him personally. I'm never made it a secret that I'm not a fan of Augusten Burroughs. Which is why it kind of embarrasses me when I have to admit that I really enjoyed Running with Scissors. If you ever have any interest in reading one of Burrough's memoirs, this is the one to pick up.


Augusten Burrough's website


  1. This was definitely a one star book for me. Just thinking about it creeps me out. Like, sorry a 13 year old should not date a 33 year old. That's gross. And illegal.


  2. Wow that sounds seriously creepy. Im not sure that I would want to read that one, despite you having enjoyed it so much

  3. I really want to read this one. I was wondering if you were influenced by so much media about him but then was happy you said you weren't a fan of him, great honest opinion.

    And I love that you still enjoyed this one. I read the Christmas one and knew I had to read another, this will be the one.

  4. I've heard very strange things about this book. I never knew that he wrote more about his life. Does seem a little weird to me.
    Thanks for the review!

  5. I read this one quite a while back and I really enjoyed it. I haven't read any of his others though.....

  6. @April - I abhor stories with pedophilia and/or incest, but since this was a memoir, I didn't feel I could rate it based on that. Leaving it out of the book would have been insincere.

    @Becky - Yeah, it's gross, whacked-out and definitely not for everyone.

    @Marce - Thanks, Marce! I struggled with the review because I dislike him as a person. I figured openly admitting it was the best course of action. This way people know it colors my opinion of his books and can make their own decisions.

    @Emily - Burroughs has written 5 or 6 memoirs as far as I am aware. I've read 3 others and hated each one more. While I enjoyed this book, the author seems to enjoy wallowing in sordid past so much that he doesn't veer onto other topics much.

    @Julie P - You may enjoy them, but to me they seem to be one continual diatribe of "look how f-ed up my life as been." It gets old.

  7. I read this book way before it became a movie and really enjoyed it. (Although enjoy seems like the wrong adjective to describe my feelings toward the memoir. Part of me was shocked, part of me was appalled, part of me was curious, ah hell, there were so many parts I thought that i was Sybil).

    I had my roommate and best friend in college read it as well. And then the movie came out and I went and saw it. LAME. Really lame If you haven't seen it yet, don't.

    I've tried reading his other memoirs. Okay. Well, that's a lie. I tried to read the second one and I was turned off. What happened? His voice wore on me. I grew agitated and irritated and every other -tated that could take place. I eventually discarded it and moved on.

    Still. This one. Thumbs up.

  8. @christina - I had exactly the same experience. I read a couple more and just the author just frustrated me to no end. But, yeah, Running with Scissors was good in a "wow that's crazy" type of way.