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Magical Thinking: True Stories Hardcover – October 5, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 237 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It’s best to know this from the start: Augusten Burroughs is mean. Augusten Burroughs is also outrageously X-rated. If you can get past those two things, Burroughs might just be the most refreshing voice in American books today, and his collection of acerbic essays will have you laughing out loud even while cringing in your seat. Whether he is stepping on the fingers of little children or giving you the blow-by-blow on a very unholy act, Burroughs manages to do it in a way that fills conflicted fans with both horror and glee.

Spanning from the surprisingly Machiavellian portrayal of his role in a Tang commercial at age seven to his more recent foray into dog ownership, Burroughs has what seems to be an endless supply of offbeat life experiences. Much like earlier David Sedaris collections (Barrel Fever or Naked), there are occasional fits and starts in the flow of the writing, but ultimately, Magical Thinking is worth reading (and re-reading). If you’re familiar with Burroughs's memoirs, Running with Scissors, and Dry, you may find parts of Magical Thinking repetitive, since these essays bounce around in time between the other two. In fact, in an ideal world, this collection would have come first, as it offers an excellent introduction to Burroughs's fascinating life. --Vicky Griffith

From Publishers Weekly

A psychological term, "magical thinking" describes the belief that one exerts more influence over events than one actually does. Burroughs, who spent childhood days stepping on cracks to see if his mother's back would break, possesses a wealth of magical thought. Like Dry and Running with Scissors, this collection showcases Burroughs's sharp, funny and sometimes brilliant writing. Burroughs views his life through a lens of self-deprecation, and the result is pieces like "My Last First Date," describing the first time he met his current boyfriend. After only a short conversation, he fumbles into joking about his life, to the horror of his date, and realizes, "I must ease people into the facts of me, not deposit large, undigested chunks of my history at their feet. Too much of me is toxic." Fortunately, his companion has a high threshold for toxicity, and most readers will, too. Burroughs's smooth prose, peppered with charming and awkward moments, is occasionally reminiscent of David Sedaris and David Rakoff. But he's no imitator of those essayists. Rather, Burroughs ambles toward insight in a continual state of self-examination and just happens to have peculiar adventures along the way, like drowning a mouse in his bathtub, attending the Barbizon School of Modeling and complaining that the "new gay thing in Manhattan" is adopting babies instead of buying shar-pei puppies.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312315945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312315948
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (237 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on December 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Having adored the off-beat, self-destructive, endangered life Burroughs wrote about in Running with Scissors and Dry, I was eager to pick up his third memoir. While his path of destruction made for scintillating and darkly comic reading in his first two books, here he writes from a balanced and centered place. He lives in the countryside of Massachusetts with a long-time partner. This is the place in his life were he was finally able to reflect on his earlier experiences and write his first two masterpieces.

Some reviewers seem to think the edge is gone, but I couldn't disagree more. Burroughs is able to make even the mundane fascinating--dealing with a rat in his bathtub, having a neurotic dog who has only ever urinated on NY concrete and can't handle the wide open grassiness of the new home in Massachusetts, dealing with a psychotic cleaning lady, talking to telemarketers, and trying to get his boyfriend to switch moisturizers. Burroughs inhabits a fabulous Magical Thinking world (in which the person believes he exerts more influence over events than he actually has), and he sucks the reader right into the rich and larger-than-life world.

Now that he's stable, I'd love to read more of Burroughs commenting on the ordinary, making it magical.
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Format: Paperback
Ooookay. I'm glad I checked this one out of the library instead of wasting money on it.

I've previously enjoyed Burroughs' work. (Sellevision, Dry, Running With Scissors.) So I recognized the first chapter, with the admen for Tang coming to Burroughs' school) as something previously published in another book. I feel a little ripped off when I invest money and/or time into consuming the same content in multiple works.

And then came the "Rat/Thing" chapter, in which Burroughs describes torturing a white mouse which was unfortunate enough to find itself in his apartment. As a citydweller, I know unwanted pests spread disease and nibble wiring that causes fires, and I sympathize with the need to exterminate the tiny squatters as necessary. But Burroughs seems to take pleasure in this -- detailing how he sprayed a can of RAID on the mouse, noting how the chemical burns dulled the animal's eyes and made it frantic with pain. He then filled the bathtub it was in with scalding water and, getting creative, started flashing a lightbulb like a strobe light in the mouse's face until it had a seizure and died. Y'know, I didn't think there was a way to make glue traps seem humane, but Augusten Burroughs found one.

This is comedy writing?

I'm disgusted.
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Format: Audible Audio Edition
I'm kinda down because maybe "Sellevision", "Dry", "Running With Scissors" by this writer are good books and I will never know it. I don't think what I'm going to write is a spoiler ...it's a warning for people like me, who feel like cruelty to animals is appalling, even to rats. The "author" describes how he blinds the eyes of a rat that he finds in his house. He uses insecticide. He didn't intend to blind the rat, "just" kill it. I don't even know if the rat died or was blinded - I quit listening ... It's the way that this man describes the "scene" (and his life seems to be depicted as scenes, moments lived for the approval or attention of other people)... the way that he describes the animal after being sprayed - that made me stop reading the book. If you have any compassion or maybe are overly compassionate, as I may be, regarding the treatment of animals, my unsolicited advice is to avoid this book like the plague, reference intended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After finishing Dry, which I enjoyed immensely, I eagerly opened up this book. This one was a bit of a disappointment. Actually, I'm reluctant to criticize these stories, because what I really like about Augusten Burroughs is exactly what I didn't like in this particular book. I like his caustic wit. I like his honesty. I like his neurosis. I like that he sees the trees instead of the forest sometimes. However, some of these stories are just really boring. Some of them are funny. Some of them are less funny but have some really hysterical parts. Some of these are just like journal entries. . . and these are the stories I found to be a waste of time.

For instance, when Augusten writes of Dennis, he writes with such love and affection that, had there been an actual story to tell, I would have really enjoyed reading that. But, at least two-- maybe three stories-- were just about the author's intense love and affection for this man. That's okay and all, and I'm happy that the author has found happiness, yet it is a bit boring to read for the reader!

Additionally, there was one story where Burroughs steps on a baby's hand and moves away without explaining to the mother why the baby is crying. The mother thinks the baby wants a toy and scolds her instead of comforting her. Maybe this is funny to Burroughs-- who openly admits he's a bit of a cad and not too paternal-- but it's really cruel. And, although it might be funny if seen on Seinfeld, it's definitely not endearing and definitely doesn't arouse any empathy for the author from the reader. Neither does the cruel way he kills a mouse. Although the comments he makes after talking to a plumber WERE hilarious.

I wouldn't recommend this book, but I do recommend Running with Scissors and Dry. I am awaiting my copy of Selevision, as well. I haven't given up on reading any other books he comes out with.
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