Running with Scissors: A Memoir

by Augusten Burroughs

Paperback, 2003

Call number




Picador (2003), Edition: 1st, 320 pages


This is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead-ringer for Santa and a lunatic in the bargain. Suddenly, at age twelve, the author found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian in perfect squalor. The doctor's bizarre family, a few patients, and a pedophile living in the backyard shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules, there was no school. The Christmas tree stayed up until summer, and Valium was eaten like Pez. And when things got dull, there was always the vintage electroshock therapy machine under the stairs. It is at turns foul and harrowing, compelling and maniacally funny, but above all, it chronicles an ordinary boy's survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.… (more)

Media reviews

You will either love Running With Scissors or you will hate it. I loved it. OK, there are tedious passages, when you feel Burroughs is doing the writerly equivalent of adding extra stuffing to a perfectly comfortable beanbag. But it is impossible not to laugh at all the jokes; to admire the
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sardonic, fetid tone; to wonder, slack-jawed and agog, at the sheer looniness of the vista he conjures up.
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The book, which promotes visceral responses (of laughter, wincing, retching) on nearly every page, contains the kind of scenes that are often called harrowing but which are also plainly funny and rich with child's-eye details of adults who have gone off the rails.

User reviews

LibraryThing member riofriotex
I read this "memoir" with a mixture of disbelief and disgust. I would have stopped reading before finishing it if not for my long-time book club. I hated this book. It comes across as making the mentally-ill mother look even worse because she trusts an even-more mentally-ill psychiatrist. According
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to Wikipedia, parts of the book may be untrue (shades of Frey's A Million Little Pieces?). Perhaps some memoirs should not be advertised as such, and should be marketed as fiction, when that is what they are. There are some similarities to Eugenides' Middlesex, but I thought the latter book was FAR better.
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LibraryThing member tikilights
The positive reviews of this book have commented that "prudish" people shouldn't read it. If it's prudish to think that pedophilia is disgusting, should be severely punished, and isn't humorous, I'll gladly take that label. Apparently fans of this book didn't find the author's graphic molestation
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descriptions that terrible because that alone should have turned people off from even finishing this piece of trash. It was a complete waste of time and that's not even dealing with the issue of his 10-year-old writing style. His lack of an education is glaring and the memories he considered funny turned out to be disturbing and more in the line of bathroom humor.
It's a mess all around.
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LibraryThing member goodinthestacks
I only read through the first few chapters because this book was so unbelievably trite and pretentious and I couldn't go on. This was the first and only time that I did not finish reading a book because it was so bad. I cannot believed this man gets paid to write.
LibraryThing member StoutHearted
In the grand tradition of memoirs about dysfunctional childhoods comes Augusten Burrough's Running With Scissors. I heard a lot of hype about this one, and looked forward to reading it. However, I was shocked at how disjointed and poorly written it was. The chronology is vague and characters are
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introduced late in the game and then inexplicably never mentioned again. After a hundred pages in, we learn Augusten has a brother. According to a Vanity Fair article, the brother witnessed many of events in the memoir, but he is only mentioned once or twice in passing after his late introduction in the memoir. The prose is entirely story-driven, with no remarkable style to call the author's own, except a turn of phrase here and there.

Fans of the dysfunctional family memoir, however, will get their fill on Augusten's memories of the past. Born to a distant father and a mother who was more interested in fulfilling her dreams of being the next Anne Sexton than being a mom, the family gives the unorthodox methods of Dr. Finch a try in order to solve their problems. It's a decision that forever affects their lives: Augusten's parents divorce, and he is handed over to be raised by the Finch family, who live in ambivalent squalor, eating dog food and plucking candy canes from the dried-out Christmas tree in May, among many other oddities. Since the Finches believe that 13 is the age of adulthood, the kids were allowed to do as they please, with whomever they please. Augusten falls into a predatory relationship with one of the doctor's other adopted patients, despite there being nearly a thirty-year age difference between them. Augusten is often conflicting about how his behavior was recieved by the Finches. He notes their lax attitudes towards discipline, but notes that he was more open to hang with his older boyfriend and smoke around his mother.

While the Finches are oftentimes dirty and eccentric, Augusten misses many chances to humanize them. Hope comes close with her empathy, but even the Finch he was closest to, Natalie, gets treated like a filthy, foul-mouthed hobo. Augusten's purpose in telling this story seems to be to say, "Look at these people! Weren't they weird?" Well, yeah, they were, but this style lacks any empathy or warmth. It's a coming-of-age novel without any lessons learned, just a shell-shocked "Oh, these people were awful! Let me tell you about them."
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LibraryThing member lildrafire
It is extremely hard for me to believe that everything that this man claims to have happened really happened. If it is, in fact, accurately a portrayal of his childhood then it is a miracle he was able to even write this memoir. Very bizarre, graphic X rated, disturbing.
LibraryThing member jeniwren
This is well written despite its very disturbing themes and at times I was asking myself why keep reading? It is strangely compelling and I felt it my duty to see it through at least for Augusten's sake and he deserves to make some money from what was a serious case of childhood neglect and abuse.
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It is also hilariously funny which lightens the tone of the subject matter and his follow up book 'Dry' would be worth a look.
To sum up the story when Augusten was twelve his mother gave him away to her psychiatrist and this is his story of the bizarre years he spent in the doctor's dilapidated and filthy mansion getting to know his crazy family and inpatients especially one a paedophile who lives in the garden shed.

Favourite quote:
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

This sums up Augustens life beautifully about the years he writes about in this memoir.
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LibraryThing member smalljr
This is the first review I have written, albeit short. I found very few reasons, if any, to recommend this book. I didn't find the writing style to be strong, the story didn't flow and wasn't entertaining, and the issues honestly didn't make me think. I must admit, and call me prudish if you want,
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this book is the worst book I have read in a long time.
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LibraryThing member Zetetic
This is not as humorous as his other works, and certainly not on par with Sedaris' comedy.

A lot of the anecdotes were jarring, gritty, and unbearable. You want to eviscerate characters that crop up on a page.

A terribly maddening book.
LibraryThing member PortiaLong
Eew, ick, yuck. Read this a few years ago. Given this book by a friend who read it and had the same reaction. Didn't like it at all but couldn't just stop reading it - like watching a grisly accident in progress...
LibraryThing member Letter4No1
Welcome to the life of one Augusten Burroughs. He has a crazy mother, an alcoholic father, a boyfriend more than twice his age and is living in a house full of the oddest people imaginable. However in this coming of age memoir, Augusten takes everything in stride. When forced to live with his
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mothers therapist he grows to love the family, even if they are strange. Really Augusten is a teenage boy doing teenage things, only he has no boundaries.

I had been thinking about picking up Running with Scissors when I realized I haven't read anything truly funny in a while. I'm a huge fan of David Sedaris and thought the logical step, since I have read everything he's currently published, to move on to Augusten Burroughs. I had always heard good things about him, and people seemed to be laughing out loud as they were turning the pages of his books.

Burroughs has a way with words. He writes like an honest man, stating things as they are and not shying away from difficult subject matter. He deals with his mothers numerous breakdowns the same way he deals with his obsessive boyfriend, his deadbeat father and the crazy therapist he is living with. He writes like a straight man in a comedy troop. His scenarios are already funny, but his deadpan style makes them something special.

While i didn't enjoy everything about Running with Scissors, I appreciate it for what it was. Its easy to get caught up in the weirdness of his early life, but once you put all the weirdness (and poop) into perspective it's a really enjoyable read. I think I still prefer Sedaris to Burroughs but I don't regret picking this one up.
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LibraryThing member KLmesoftly
This was an enjoyable read, definitely, but the controversy around it is one of the many reasons I dislike the "memoir" genre. Burroughs has certainly fictionalized and exaggerated large chunks of the life story he presents in this book, and I hated to read articles later on about the real people
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he hurt by misrepresenting.

So: read this, enjoy it, but take it all with a grain of salt. Memoirs are all about sculpting one's life events into a cohesive story, and in Burroughs case, it seems to have taken more than a little fiction to do so.
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LibraryThing member elliepotten
W-o-w. I must say, I am ashamed of myself for letting this one slide down TBR Mountain for so long. I'm not sure quite how to review it, except to say that this is one of those books, those turbulent memoirs, that has to be read to be believed. If you can believe it in its entirety at all, that
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Augusten Burroughs was a strange child. He liked shiny things, making his hair lie flat, and generally being fabulous. His mother was a poet dangling over the precipice of insanity, and his father turned to alcohol to cope. Out of his life fell his father, and into his life wandered Dr Finch, his mother's psychiatrist, in more than a little need of therapy himself. While his mum hails Dr Finch as her saviour and his dubious methods as genius, Augusten is drawn slowly away from her into the madness of the Finch household. Hope worships her father and believes that her cat is talking to her in dreams. Agnes eats dog biscuits and has to put up with her husband's patients taking over her house. Neil, a patient of Dr Finch's, wastes no time in setting up a bizarre gay relationship with 13-year-old Augusten. A lady with OCD lives in a room upstairs and never comes out. And Natalie, cynical and driven to madness by her family, becomes his new best friend.

This world - and the book itself - is by turns repulsive and attractive, brilliant and insane, hopeful and hopeless, hilarious and deadly sober. It is incredible, it is bizarre, and the memorable childhood translates into a memorable autobiography. I liked it so much that I just ordered the movie version (starring Annette Bening and Brian Cox) and I'll be looking for 'Dry' - the follow up and by all accounts just as good - very soon!
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LibraryThing member C.Ibarra
I’d heard so many good things about this book that I ran out and bought a copy. I guess I can see the appeal but it did nothing for me. It took me weeks to actually finish it because it didn't hold my interest.
LibraryThing member bjeans
Yeah, Runing with Scissors is a bad idea. Sort of like reading this book.
LibraryThing member EmThomas
Oh my god, I think my sense of humor ran off. I just finished Running with Scissors and don't recall finding it even a little funny, yet it's got review after review on the back cover claiming how hilarious it is. He is a good writer; I enjoyed Dry and Running wasn't *unenjoyable* but I guess there
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are too many mentally ill people in my own family to find that kind of thing "hilarious." I dunno. I found it sad and appalling more than anything. *bes a stick in the mud*
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LibraryThing member Big_Bang_Gorilla
Interesting reading, but of doubtful veracity.
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
An alcoholic father, a psychotic mother, a neglectful therapist/foster parent and a pedophile are only a few of the odd characters in Running with Scissors. Augusten Burroughs memoir is filled with deeply disturbing passages made light through his sense of humor. I'm not sure whether I enjoyed the
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book, or was just revolted by the adults in his life. Overall, this book is well written and an engaging look at family dysfunction.
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LibraryThing member mwtemple
Burroughs' memoir of growing up in the household of a crazy psychiatrist and his equally nutty family is hilarious but also touching and sad. This all took place when Burroughs was undoubtedly at a crossroads between youth and adulthood, and here he is neglected by both his parents, exposed to some
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ridiculous (and some god-awful) things in the psychiatrist's household, and ends up in a physical relationship with a man who is most likely taking advantage of Burroughs' fledgling homosexuality and vulnerability. Nonetheless, Burroughs writes in an entertaining fashion that will have you laughing and crying at the same time.
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LibraryThing member kvrfan
Augustan Burroughs certainly is justified in writing a memoir, his teenage years being quite unlike those of anyone else I've known. His mother, suffering from mental illness, sends him to live with the family of her psychiatrist (!), most members of which--the psychiatrist included--proving to be
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as unbalanced as she is.

There is an interesting balance the memoir must maintain. Some of the eccentricities are so "out there," a reader cannot help but laugh. On the other hand, there is a deep affliction of mental illness underlying everything--and some manifestations of it are downright ugly--and there is nothing funny about that at all.

It's because of my ambivalence over this kind of presentation that I award three stars. I was absorbed by the story, but perhaps not as disturbed by it as I feel I should be, because so much of told was in a rather light-hearted way.
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LibraryThing member MrJgyFly
Depending on your experience with memoirs, you'll either love this book or find yourself appalled by it. Fortunately, Burroughs knows exactly how to ease his readers into the insanity of his childhood without turning too many heads. While the book is ripe with graphic depictions of pedophilia,
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Burroughs presents his story in such away that helps his reader understand how he was both captivated and repulsed by the characters of his past, without asking for a single ounce of pity.

The book is poetic, without being pretentious. The depiction of a young Burroughs being sloughed off by his biological parents and forced to live with a quack psychologist who is constantly risking the mental and physical health of his family is as disturbing as it is hilarious. It is certainly one of the funniest books I've ever read. Burroughs is grateful at many points for such a screwed up childhood, subtly pointing out to the reader how it shaped who he is today.

The book leaves you with a sense of wonder at how Burroughs didn't end up killing himself or being committed. His reflections on his oppression are brilliant, blunting showing the reader that while being able to do anything in the world he desired to do, he grew up without the knowledge of how to act in certain situations because of this freedom. This becomes abundantly clear when discovering his sexuality.

While the accuracy of Burroughs' remembrances are sometimes questionable (there are a few scenes where he's not present), his honesty and unique eye for observation make up for any faults. This book will more than likely make you want to read everything he has to offer.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
Oh. My. Gosh. I'm not too sure where to start with this one. This was probably the most shocking, crude, and disturbing memoir that I've ever read. Burroughs, without a doubt, has one of the weirdest childhoods I've ever heard of - dysfunctional is quite the understatement. The book begins with the
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divorce of his wacko father and mentally ill mother, and the scary situation gets much worse, when Augusten is sent to live with his mother's shrink, a crooked MD who looks like Santa Claus. The remainder of the book tells about his life with the Finch family, including his initiation into homosexuality at age 13 by a family member 20 years his senior. The Finch household has absolutely no boundaries, but what it does have is dirt, mayhem, pills, roaches, beer, a Christmas tree in May, broken furniture, and lots of very colorful, surreal, and BIZARRE characters. Amazingly, the author makes light of every horrible situation, and I found myself laughing out loud often. The prudish and/or squemish should not read this book; if you have issues reading graphic descriptions of gay pedophilic sex or toilet poop fortunes, this is not a good choice. "Running With Scissors" is like a traffic accident - absolutely awful, but you can't help looking. It makes for a fast and thoroughly engaging read.
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LibraryThing member mediapuzzle
Highly readable series of episodes in a pretty weird childhood. The book has a very positive spirit given the subject matter and I think it could have easily been written in a much darker way. There is an absence of pain, doubt and terror which makes me question the authenticy but I found it an
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entertaining read.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
Growing up with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father, Augusten Burroughs's life was anything but "normal" to begin with, but things get even more dysfunctional when his mother gives Augusten away to her eccentric psychiatrist to be raised with his family. Managing to find humor in the
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absurdity of his abusive past, Burroughs recounts his more than atypical upbringing in this memoir.

To preface this review, I must say that I read this book when it came out more than a decade ago. My memory being what it is, that means I'm a bit fuzzy on all the details of this book. Nevertheless, I do remember being greatly absorbed by this book at the time, and my past self dog-eared many pages for my present self to revisit and find examples of quotable moments when Burroughs provides some insightful thought amongst the chaos of his life. Burroughs's writing style is very compelling - it's simple and concise enough to be read quickly and easily, but it's not simplistic. He has colorful metaphors and allusions as well as the aforementioned ability to find the dark humor in his pitiful situation.

Nevertheless, I recognize this book is not for everyone. Burroughs's life is pockmarked with neglect, abuse, sexual abuse, and all kinds of things that don't belong to genteel life. Reading about his life can certainly be uncomfortable at times, but again, I found that Burroughs was able to write in such a way that even the horrible things were somewhat tempered. As I mentioned earlier, Burroughs was also able to provide enough insights for the reader to feel hopeful about his own future prospects, with the book itself ending on a cautiously optimistic note.
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LibraryThing member leslieg
I didn't come from the best of backgrounds, so I worried how much this book might "trigger" me. Surprisingly, it did very little. Mr. Burroughs gives just enough emotion to his tales to let the reader know he was distrubed by many of them, but keeps enough distance to allow the reader to be an
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Augusten says repeatedly in the book that a goal of his was to acheive fame, and that alone made me wonder about whether he was stretching the truth. I was also curious about the "Finch" family's reaction and lawsuit, so I read an interview from Vanity Fair and later interviews with Mr. Burroughs. I still don't have a good idea about how many of the stories were severely elaborated upon, but I feel sorry for Augusten.

Augusten thought that the "Finch" family, especially Natalie, would like what he wrote, but they were horrified by it, and he was hurt by their reaction. What they didn't see is that he loved their crasser parts, and many of the descriptions they (now) find horrible, he admired. He didn't hurt them out of spite, but out of ignorance.
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LibraryThing member pewterbreath
I really think the book does a disservice by emphasizing how funny it is. The book is a harrowing abuse memoir with some dark humor to make it bearable. I am glad that there's no victim mentality here, but still it's pretty icky, particularly with the pedophilia part.


Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — Adult Nonfiction — 2003)




031242227X / 9780312422271
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