Between the Covers

You Better Not Cry

Augusten Burroughs

I fancied a Christmas-flavoured book to review at this time of the year, and found this gem, where the author manages to cover a great deal of his life through the prism of Christmas. From the intense excitement of a childhood spent obsessively counting down the days, to the depths of grief as AIDS reaches in to shape his life as an adult gay man living in New York, Burroughs exposes his relationships with his parents and his lovers. He’s surprisingly romantic: “…And I began to let him go. Hour by hour. Days into months. It was a physical sensation, like letting out the string of a kite. Except that the string was coming from my centre…”

The early section on Burroughs’ childhood confusion between Jesus and Santa, so wonderfully evocative of the way children see things, had me screaming with laughter. It was also a clever way to comment indirectly on the commercialisation of Christmas. I share his sentiments, and personally think the celebration of family with Santa and an exchange of gifts has become something in itself, and should be separated entirely from the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. Let’s face it, for children especially, the religious aspect has been well and truly overshadowed by tinsel, coloured lights, and PRESENTS, as so eloquently illustrated here.

While this is a quick read, it contains some profound insights: “…attraction is our most ancient drive, it is why we are. Attraction is the very point of gravity; timespace itself bends to allow it. It is attraction in its pure form that holds the galaxy together. Attraction is our glue.”

Burroughs’ life is so entertaining, and his internal workings exposed in such excruciating detail, it’s hard to believe this is a memoir. The writing is powerfully understated. His moment of awareness of his alcoholism stabbed like a shaft of light through his darkness, seeming to physically touch me.

The incidental humour was a joy to read: “The apron (of the pine Christmas tree) was exactly symmetrical, as though it had been formed by a meticulously calibrated robotic extrusion nozzle and not the random, seemingly drunken hand of Mother Nature herself. That crazy old bitch gave us the California redwoods; true. But right along with it she whipped up some naked mole rat.” Wonderful.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.


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