Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

book 9 of 24 books in 28 days: running with scissors

Filed in Books, Memoir, Writing :: February 15, 2010


What happened between the first time that I read Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors: A Memoir, when I admired its brave honesty and found it engaging and heart-rending, and this time, when I found it upsetting and somewhat annoying?  Maybe I've read too many memoirs lately, and I wanted more than this one could give (I'm starting to sound like I'm in a relationship with memoir, I know). 

I want to say, Augusten, you've gone so far in this thing, telling us all about the crazy dog-food-eating, kitchen-roof-removing, statutory-rape-condoning, bible-as-magic-8-ball-dipping, electric-shock-machine-toying, patient-adopting family of your mother's psychiatrist Dr. Finch; your poet-mother's psychotic episodes; your mathematician-father's refusal to take your calls; why don't you go a little farther and tell us what it means to you? 

In a scene, for example, when his mother is taken away from her home in handcuffs in the middle of a psychotic break, he writes, "I felt a horrific sadness watching her stripped of her dignity and her will.  I also thought, whatever happened to Christina Crawford?  I wonder if she's okay." His digression continues into a reverie about Marie Osmond and whether the cheap motel soap he's about to use will damage his hair.

I don't think this book is "about" his crazy life with the Finch family from the time he was twelve until he was seventeen.  So what do I think it's about?

Maybe it's about the tension between wanting "fabric-softener, tuna-salad-on-white, PTA-meeting normal" and wanting what he calls a "big life."  Or maybe it's about the downside of being told that he can make his own decisions at 13: "The problem with not having anybody to tell you what to do, I understood, is that there was nobody to tell you what not to do."

When he decides at the end of the book to separate from his family and the Finches to head to New York at 17 with a GED and a collection of notebooks and journals and a determination to be a writer (and knowing that he succeeds), he says, "Unwittingly, I had earned a PhD in survival." 

Okay, now I remember why I liked it the first time.

Filed in Books, Memoir, Writing


  1. TheWordWire

    It’s been a number of years since I read this book– I originally read Burroughs because someone told me it was comparable to an absolute favorite: David Sedaris. Not as funny, in my opinion, and quite a bit darker, but I did enjoy it. Thanks for a thoughtful review – makes me want to revisit it.

  2. Jennifer Prentice

    I appreciate your honesty in this review. Running with Scissors has been sitting on my book shelf–has been for years–and I think it’s finally time to open it up.

  3. Square-Peg Karen

    oh-oh-I have been loathe to admit it, but running with scissors was one of those memoirs that I felt was “somewhat annoying” too.
    I tried a couple times to get all the way thru it but something does not hit me right. Maybe it’s that the affect feels “off” for me – and yet, there are those bits of writing genius..sigh

  4. whollyjeanne

    well, call me a gawker, but i liked it the first time around. my little sheltered life self read it with jaw hanging wide open. found it disturbing and grossly entertaining. i mean, it wasn’t like i was able to get into this book the way i “get into” other memoirs. none of it save the big picture really stuck with me. haven’t been able to “get into” any of his other books, either. oh well.
    “whatever happened to christina crawford?” – you’re funny.