By Alyssa Bereznak, Vanity Fair
After a brief hiatus from the literary spotlight, the controversial memoirist Augusten Burroughs has returned with a new self-help book entitled This Is How: Help for the Self. Here, VF Daily chats with the author formerly known as Christopher Robison about the recent breakup that inspired the book, his infamous lawsuit over Running with Scissors, and why he felt self-conscious giving life advice.
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VF Daily: There's a line in your new book that says, "Writing six autobiographical books is what freed me from my past." Is that why you decided to write a self-help book next?
Augusten Burroughs: After talking about all these things I'd survived, I wanted to talk about certain things I've learned, partly because of my very unusual childhood. I was raised without adults, and without school, and without the sort of normal paths of guidance. When you're a kid and you've got a conflict or an issue, typically you can go to someone and they'll say, "Well, stick at it! It gets better." I didn't have that, so I had to re-invent the wheel every time. I feel like some of my wheels turned out to really be better.
It's been about five years since your last memoir, You Better Not Cry. Why the gap?
I was in a relationship with someone that I wrote about in previous books, and I had my little perfect, normal life out in Massachusetts with two dogs and a dishwasher and a mudroom. Everyone has issues in their relationship... I was so blind to the holes in my own life, because I was focused on writing all these stories about my past. When I stopped and looked at my present, it was like, I have to start over.
I moved back into the city alone, and I went through a period of, How am I going to ever write another book? I felt like I'd never written any books. When I started to cope with my own grief and a billion feelings at once, it reminded me of being a kid, a teenager, like how I would face problems. That's when I fell back into myself. And the book wrote itself.
There's a certain stigma associated with self-help books; people don't want to be caught reading them. Did that cross your mind before you decided to write This Is How?
It seemed like it was tacky or opportunistic. I felt self-conscious about it. Would you read, like, Codependent No More on a plane? Then I realized I just don't have to think about that. So I wrote it. I'm kind of saying the same thing over and over and over again. I have to hit that nail with different sized hammers and different shaped hammers so that I get something that's going to ring true.
In your book, there are chapters titled "How to Feel Like Shit" and "How to End Your Life." This is not the typical language found in self-help books.
It's a very positive culture we live in, and the popular belief is that you should put on a happy face. But it's not helpful to tell yourself affirmations if you feel depressed. It feels unhelpful because you're lying to yourself . . . If affirmations were helpful, you should be able to stand in front of your mirror after you were beat[en], savagely raped, and be like, "I'm not a victim." It just doesn't work that way.
Read the full interview at VanityFair.com
This Is How: Help for the Self will be available May 8 from St. Martin's Press.
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