Saturday 1 January 2011

Post Seasonal Reading

I don't think anyone, least of all me, would be surprised to hear that my Christmas reading extended beyond Christmas and not just in the lead up. On a beautiful Australian Christmas Day when I feasted on prawns and salmon and slugged back some Ruinart (one of my favourite French bubblies) I started Augusten Burroughs's You Better Not Cry. A book about the most "dysfunctional day of the year".

My day didn't seem all that dysfunctional, it was rather orderly and placid really. Any day that starts with a bottle of French is going to go pretty well I reckon. I've not read any of Burroughs's writing before. I've heard of his many books, but tales of dysfunctional families aren't really my cup of tea. Well, not to read on purpose. Although I am quite happy to watch it on tele. I guess I hadn't avoided his books as such, but they'd never fallen into my path before. This one did, as I was browsing the small Christmas section of my local library, it all but leapt off the shelf into my arms. And casting around for something to start on Christmas day it again seemed the perfect thing. I've not long finished David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice, and this seemed to somehow continue the theme, with the promise of being light-hearted and fun (although perhaps I don't know what is about to befall me). A similar format- here with seven short stories, breaking the book up into bite-sized chunks perfect for whiling away those rest times before post-prandial naps take over. And a perfect size for testing the bookseat that my sister gave me for Christmas (on initial testing it does appear to have a major flaw in that it doesn't appear to keep the user awake whilst reading!).

You Better Not Cry is the titular first story. A highly amusing tale of young Augusten's confusion between Jesus and Santa. I haven't read enough of Augusten Burroughs's work to know how much of this might be true, and how much is artistic licence. It was easy and fun to read. It had never occured to me that young children my confuse Santa and Jesus- after all their one big day a year is on the same day. We get some early glimpses that everything isn't perfect in Augusten's house:

When Joseph just kind of vanished, I figured he was probably just in the basement drinking, just like my father. 

My Mother ..... was taking so much Mellaril that when she spoke, it sounded like her tongue had swollen to the size of a hog's and also like she'd been drinking since the day before yesterday. 

In And Two Eyes Made Out of Coal a young, enthusiastic Augusten sets out to make a gingerbread house as a surprise for his mother. Claus and Effect has a manipulative young Augusten working his parents to get all the stuff he wants for Christmas. His parents are still squabbling frantically with each other. "Christmas is for children, not sorry, raging alchoholics."

Ask Again Later is a sudden jolt into an adult Christmas world. Augusten wakes up on a Morning After the Night Before, and his Christmases will be changed for ever more. 

Why Do You Reward Me Thus starts off with an hilarious interpretation of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I've commented on a few interesting interpretations of this carol before, but Augusten Burroughs take on it is rather unique, and particularly funny. 

"And what's the message? Did you ever notice that a lot of the alleged 'gifts' are people? Eight maids-a-milking, so that's prepubescent girls forced into labor, probably inserting the underwire in bras. And then nine ladies dancing? That's the sex trade. I won't even go into the five golden rings. But somebody's paying somebody off for something.

"Human trafficking and birds? That's a good Christmas song? Oh, and swans, which are the drunk, violent ex-boyfriends of the bird world. Because what would any holiday be without a little domestic violence?"

I wonder what it is about that particular carol that captivates everyone so? Wiki says it is possibly French in origin, and was only brought to the US in 1910 (from England).

Why Do You Reward Me Thus is even more curmudgeonly than the preceding tales, and is I think my favourite story of the book. At one stage Augusten is receiving advice from a person who he has met over Christmas, who doesn't inhabit his typical world, she makes him "Promise me that you will- every once in a while- watch a movie that was made before you were born." I love that I already watch the occasional Movie That Was Made Before I was Born, and they always have a different perspective. I'll make more of an effort now too, and remember Shirley's advice to Augusten as I do it. Shirley goes on to do an amazing anti-drinking soliloquy on the next page. Very powerful. 

The Best and Only Everything seems more a relationship story that is only tangentially related to Christmas. I found it confusing and not as enjoyable as the book overall. Silent Night is the last story and is written by an adult, sober Augusten. "I'd even had my first colonscopy. It doesn't get more grown up than that." Augusten has made a new life, with a new partner and two dogs. He explains his rather inexplicable life-long love of Christmas:

"I have always loved Christmas. Even when I was in my twenties and trying to be very cool and anti-Christmas, secretly I still loved it. And I know that's kind of idiotic, but there you go. I mean, I buy all of it: the cheesy music, the gaudy lights, and the spray snow, especially the spray snow. So the thing is, I have loved Christmas my entire life, and yet? Every single one has really been kind of hideous. Or maybe hideous isn't the word. Maybe it's more like, catclysmic. It's like I have a genuine Christmas curse of something."

You Better Not Cry is not your average Big Crosby White Christmas kind of Christmas fare. But if you like you Christmas reading with alcoholic blackouts, sleazy Santa, and genuinely funny writing you might enjoy this book as much as I did. At the end it's padded out with two stories from Running With Scissors. Which is ok in a kids book, but really annoys me in an adult book- no, I don't know why that should be. Naturally though by the end of You Better Not Cry I was interested enough in Augusten's other books that I read it. And so now Running with Scissors has been lobbed onto the TBR too. 


Anonymous said...

When I saw Augusten Burroughs I though surely this is not going to be humorous like Sedaris - but clearly there's more to Burroughs than his life story. All I really know of him is what I saw in the biopic, Running with scissors. (For a rundown check out the Wikipedia article on the book: But, these stories sound great - and I do love your take on The twelve days of Xmas!

Louise said...

I really enjoyed this. I haven't read a lot of Burroughs or Sedaris, but at this stage I think I prefer Burroughs. I will read more of his work. Sadly, it wasn't my take on the 12 days, but Augusten Burroughs'. I'm not that clever

Hannah said...

Oh gosh, his take on The Twelve Days of Christmas is hilarious and eye-opening :P Funnily enough, I can't remember every having actually believed in Santa. I'm sure I must have at some point, though...

Louise said...

It is hilarious. He has a rather interesting perspective at times. I remember Santa bringing a swing set once but that's about it.

bermudaonion said...

I liked this book, but didn't quite love it. I think my complaint with it was that it just didn't feel Christmasy enough for me. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much.

Louise said...

I certainly understand the not-Christmasy-enough vibe. We don't have a typical Christmas in Australia, perhaps that's part of the appeal? I don't know. It was fun though, and I'm glad I found it.

Unknown said...

Fantastic review! I have only read one of Augusten Burroughs books, Running with Scissors, a memoir which is hilarious and very sad and everything in between. I don't know if he took any artistic license in writing it but he had a bizarre childhood.
You Better Not Cry sounds filled with stories I would very much enjoy. Thank you for your thorough and honest review. I really enjoyed it.

~ Amy

Louise said...

Thanks so much Amy. I certainly enjoyed reading the book, and writing the review. If you've already enjoyed some of his writing, I'm sure you'd like this. It's obviously not for everyone. But it is great.