This is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t by Augusten Burroughs. Picador, 230 pp.
This book exists only because Augusten Burroughs has published bestsellers. Any expert in memoir or self-help—or book publishing—would have put the kibosh on it from you or from me. With one word: Don’t.
Yes, it seems like a natural pairing, self-help and memoir. That’s why others have thought of it—and been beaten all the way back to Dubuque by agents. But here are the category codes right on the back cover of Burroughs’s This is How: Self-Help / Memoir.
It does have a personal aspect, in that he tells stories from his life, and it does merit shelving in the self-help genre. But it’s actually advice. Wise, hard-earned advice from a smart guy who’s suffered—having had the most epically dysfunctional and lavishly documented childhood in history—and some of the writing is mesmerizing.
Like the story he tells about a friend. This guy was smart, funny, tremendously appealing. Yet he had no partner—for all his friends, he was very much alone. Turns out, after you knew him a while, he told his Story. He’d been grotesquely abused in childhood by his parents. Once he revealed this, his inner reality he’d been waiting to lay on you, it became a third wheel. And it derailed any relationship.