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Running with Scissors: A Memoir Hardcover – July 10, 2002

3.4 out of 5 stars 1,337 customer reviews

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Intrusion: A Novel
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There is a passage early in Augusten Burroughs's harrowing and highly entertaining memoir, Running with Scissors, that speaks volumes about the author. While going to the garbage dump with his father, young Augusten spots a chipped, glass-top coffee table that he longs to bring home. "I knew I could hide the chip by fanning a display of magazines on the surface, like in a doctor's office," he writes, "And it certainly wouldn't be dirty after I polished it with Windex for three hours." There were certainly numerous chips in the childhood Burroughs describes: an alcoholic father, an unstable mother who gives him up for adoption to her therapist, and an adolescence spent as part of the therapist's eccentric extended family, gobbling prescription meds and fooling around with both an old electroshock machine and a pedophile who lives in a shed out back. But just as he dreamed of doing with that old table, Burroughs employs a vigorous program of decoration and fervent polishing to a life that many would have simply thrown in a landfill. Despite her abandonment, he never gives up on his increasingly unbalanced mother. And rather than despair about his lot, he glamorizes it: planning a "beauty empire" and performing an a capella version of "You Light Up My Life" at a local mental ward. Burroughs's perspective achieves a crucial balance for a memoir: emotional but not self-involved, observant but not clinical, funny but not deliberately comic. And it's ultimately a feel-good story: as he steers through a challenging childhood, there's always a sense that Burroughs's survivor mentality will guide him through and that the coffee table will be salvaged after all. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly

"Bookman gave me attention. We would go for long walks and talk about all sorts of things. Like how awful the nuns were in his Catholic school when he was a kid and how you have to roll your lips over your teeth when you give a blowjob," writes Burroughs (Sellevision) about his affair, at age 13, with the 33-year-old son of his mother's psychiatrist. That his mother sent him to live with her shrink (who felt that the affair was good therapy for Burroughs) shows that this is not just another 1980s coming-of-age story. The son of a poet with a "wild mental imbalance" and a professor with a "pitch-black dark side," Burroughs is sent to live with Dr. Finch when his parents separate and his mother comes out as a lesbian. While life in the Finch household is often overwhelming (the doctor talks about masturbating to photos of Golda Meir while his wife rages about his adulterous behavior), Burroughs learns "your life [is] your own and no adult should be allowed to shape it for you." There are wonderful moments of paradoxical humor Burroughs, who accepts his homosexuality as a teen, rejects the squeaky-clean pop icon Anita Bryant because she was "tacky and classless" as well as some horrifying moments, as when one of Finch's daughters has a semi-breakdown and thinks that her cat has come back from the dead. Beautifully written with a finely tuned sense of style and wit the occasional clich‚ ("Life would be fabric-softener, tuna-salad-on-white, PTA-meeting normal") stands out anomalously this memoir of a nightmarish youth is both compulsively entertaining and tremendously provocative.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (July 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312283709
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312283704
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,337 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When he was a teenager in Massachusetts during the 1970s, Augusten Burroughs kept daily journals recording everything that happened to him. "Running with Scissors" is a result of those journals, but it's unlikely that anyone who suffered experiences like his would need a journal to recall them. Instead, his diaries both gave him the therapeutic outlet he needed while growing up and supplied this book with the rich detail that makes it, at times, so unbelievable.

Burrough's mother was a struggling poet who wanted to be like Anne Sexton, and, lacking any talent, she instead suffered Sexton's psychotic episodes. The father, unable to deal with his wife's instability, drank himself out of the relationship. Eventually, Burroughs is abandoned by his family and adopted by his mother's psychiatrist, a certifiable lunatic who dispenses drugs and sex far more diligently than sound advice and who believes discipline is an evil to be avoided at all costs. To complicate an already disastrous situation, other members of this adopted family include several deeply disturbed individuals, including a pedophile who finds a ready victim in the 14-year-old Burroughs.

I read this book two months ago, and, while I found it simultaneously appalling and enjoyable, I didn't know what to make of it. Since then, I've read several press reports that address some of the rumors generated by this book's publication. No, none of the people described in this book have sued (or threatened to sue) the author for libel. True, no child with the name "Augusten Burroughs" ever lived anywhere near Northampton--because Burroughs legally changed his name when he was 18. In sum, I've read nothing to indicate that Burroughs is making it all up.
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Format: Hardcover
I found myself laughing hysterically at this book while simultaneously shaking my head in horror. It's the story of Burrough's life from the age of roughly 13 to 16. Burrough's lived a middle-classed life, but the people around him were gradually losing it. His mother began to have "psychotic breaks" (although it sounds like she may have had bipolar disorder) and hooked up with a bizarre psychiatrist - Dr. Finch. Soon, every aspect of their lives are touched by Dr. Finch and his equally bizarre family. At times, the events are horrifying, such as Burrough's molestation by Dr. Finch's adopted son. Remarkably, Burrough's manages to find the humor even in these situations. People are likely to compare Burrough's to another gay humorist, David Sedaris; however, Burrough's stories are far darker than those of Sedaris, although both of them write great funny stories. This book was a tremendously quick read, and I laughed out loud more than any recent book I've read. Highly recommended on that basis, but some readers are likely to be highly offended by some of the content.
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Format: Paperback
I saw the cover and chuckled, thinking, aw, this will be a cute story. My God, how wrong was I? Augusten Burroughs writes a memoir of his young years growing up in not only one, but two totally disfunctional households. His parents despise each other and you begin to wonder on which page one might kill the other.
Mom is totally dependent on her psychiatrist, spending endless hours with him. He is portrayed as a Santa Claus-type person...
a right jolly old elf. When Augusten is left to stay with psychiatrist and family, we are plunged into a household that goes WAY beyond bizarre! You really have to read it to believe it. I honestly looked at his picture on the back cover at least
20 times while reading the book wondering how this guy could look so normal after what he had been through!
This is one mind-blowing read. I was so intrigued by his story that I went on NPR's web-site to listen to his interviews.
Gosh, he sounds so grounded...and yet how could it be?
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Format: Paperback
I wanted to like this book, and don't get me wrong, I did enjoy it on some level. Although some of the scenes are grotesque, they are certainly alive with detail and stick in your brain the way well-written scenes should. However, I feel like Burroughs had a great opportunity to write a truly moving memoir here and he passed it by. The amazing amount of material he had to work with- his insane mother, the intriguing Finch family, his affair with a pedophile- these things could have produced a deep and memorable book. But Burroughs doesn't go that far. I felt as though he skated the surface, anxious to fit in as many gross and weird scenes as possible, without delving into character development or drawing any conclusions from what occurred.

Examples of what I mean: Did anyone feel as though they knew Natalie? We don't even get a clear description of her until the last few chapters, yet she's a main character. Same with Hope, who starts out as the capable and sweet receptionist of the dr. and is later shown as religious and weird- during the cat scene, I actually had to flip to the front of the book and verify that this was the same Finch daughter, because she was acting so different from the original image of her we had been given. Ditto for the dr. and the revelations at the end of the book about him (I won't give it away)- and for Augusten himself. These characters slowly begin to show their colors in the first few chapters, then suddenly they do a bunch of weird stuff and act in ways we don't expect, and then the book is abruptly over, with a dissatisfying epilogue about where these people ended up. We never get to know them on more than a surface level.

This could have been a classic memoir- Burroughs certainly had the material for one.
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