Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"This is How: Help for the Self" by Augusten Burroughs

My no-fail book selection method has failed me.

When I'm browsing for books (not looking for a specific title or author, but just wandering the bookshop aisles rapturously), first it's up to the cover to catch my eye. It may be the colors, or the artwork, or the words, or all of it together. Next I look at the price. I'm a sucker for a cheap book, and it's pretty unusual for me to pay full price. Then I read the back cover (or the inside flap--wherever the blurb is to be found).

If the book has passed all of these tests to my satisfaction, the last challenge is the Random Text Selection. I open the book to a page decided by fate (though I assiduously avoid the ending--even endings of chapters--in hopes of dodging spoilers) and sample the prose style.  This is mainly to ensure that the writing doesn't suck. I've ruled out book purchases thanks to this sucky-writing-avoidance technique, and in the best cases I am then even more eager to read the book so I can put what I've just read into context. 

Once I've made my choice to buy a book, I feel like I generally have a pretty good idea about what sort of book it is, even if I don't know much about the story or what direction it will go.

I applied all of my usual methods to This is How. And somehow I came away from Books-A-Million with this book and the idea that it was comedy. I thought it was a parody of a self-help book. I thought it mocked the dire situations people can find themselves in.

was wrong. 

This is really and truly a self-help book. I'm sure the cover should have revealed that fact to me--it's pretty plain there--but I thought it was a sarcastic representation. 

It's not. 

So, expectations aside, what did I think of this book? I tend not to appreciate self-help books. I may have an unnecessarily negative view of them, but it seems to me that the majority are very repetitive (to the point that they could easily be distilled into a motivational poster) with an annoyingly and cloyingly perky attitude. Not to mention that they often seem to be full of crap.

This is How is neither easily distilled nor perky. What it has to say is varied and unique. It actually seems to contain some fairly good advice. AND it is humorous in bits, in that dry sarcastic sense that I remember from Running With Scissors. Only problem is that I'm not in any of the horrible situations described in it, and by the time that I am, I won't be able to remember the advice. 

I don't necessarily regret reading this book; it was interesting, and it went by quickly. But, had I recognized it for what it was, I probably never would have bought it, despite its low price and old-West-snake-oil-salesman title font. I should have listened to my husband, who frowned and said, "That's for people who aren't happy." Maybe I would have listened to him if the edition I held had this cover, which looks much more faithful to its contents, if you ask me:

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