Category Archives: Augusten Burroughs

You Better Not Cry – Augusten Burroughs

I had completely forgotten about ‘You Better Not Cry’ until I was delving through some of my books, currently residing in a lovely garage, for my new book groups next choice and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to read it. I will admit the cover made me snigger and that was what definitely sold it to me, you want a good laugh at Christmas don’t you, especially when things start to get a little fraught over turkey’s or charades! Well if you ever think that your Christmases get stressful or strange then really you need to read this collection of tales by Augusten Burroughs to put everything into perspective.

‘You Better Not Cry’ is like a festive special of some of the memoriesof Augusten Burroughs at various points in his life. From his childhood, which you may have already read about in the brilliant ‘Running with Scissors’ – if you haven’t read it then do, to his adulthood we get a glimpse of some of the most vivid and often rather hilarious but tragic Christmas moments. Stories like when his Grandmother had to point out the difference between Santa and Jesus as a younger Augusten thought they were one and the same person (which had caused some rather confused childhood moments), to waking up during his drink filled years to find a Santa suit and a naked Santa look-a-like in his bed (which had me laughing a lot) and to the year he realised he hadn’t celebrated Christmas for a decade, well not properly.

I really enjoyed this collection it has to be said, and started to rather annoy my family members as I was croakily giggling between chocolates on the sofa during this Christmas. I loved hearing more about his drug addled mother and alcoholic father and how they tried to make Christmas perfect… and failed slightly. In some ways the fact this book was over his lifetime so far at different points made it all the more interesting, it was less concentrated that some of his other books which whilst funny can really get to you at the same point.

Most of the stories are very funny though there is always a slight tinge of sadness around each of the tales in this collection, it’s not all ‘look at how hilarious and crazy my life has been and oh how we laughed’ it has a sensitive and often poignant side too reminding you what Christmas is all about… family and loved ones, no matter how much they can sometimes be a burden. There is also one utterly heartbreaking tale which I will admit had me on the verge of tears, yet left me thinking just how lucky I am this Christmas too! 8.5/10

So if you are after a final festive read this Christmas time, or after something to savour until next Christmas then I would highly recommend you give this a whirl. I really enjoyed it and it’s another ideal pick up and put down book between the merriment and mayhem of the season. It’s also reminded me I must pick up more of Burroughs books in the New Year; I don’t know why I have left it so long.

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Filed under Atlantic Books, Augusten Burroughs, Review

Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood

Simon’s Saturday Salon… Or Bookish Bits

This is something a little bit different for the blog which I thought might be fun. I have seen on various people’s blogs such as Stuck-in-a-Book who does weekly miscellany posts with links they have liked and other bookish bits and so I thought well why not? I also thought I could throw in some questions for you all. The first question I think I should ask you all is whether you prefer Simon’s Saturday Salon or Simon’s Bookish Bits, your choice shall be what this feature becomes.

This feature might become a weekly thing; it might become something I do once a month one a year who knows let’s just see how we go for now. As with reading it seems nicer to do things on a whim rather than to plan things for weeks to come. After a rather awful case of book burn out/readers block I am back to reading on whims it’s the only way. Mind you having to read the latest book group choice pushed me through it. You can see what the latest book that Linda chose was on the Book Group page.

Do any of you do podcasts, I dont mean do you make your own. I wish I could I would love that. A weekly Simon Says can you imagine… ok back to earth now. If you do enjoy a podcast then my podcast of the week has to be the BBC’s National Short Story Award podcasts where you can get them all for free!

The one book I am racing through at the moment is Small Island by Andrea Levy. I think I might just be one of the last people on earth to have read this book. I simply have to finish it by 9pm Sunday night as its on the BBC and I cant watch it and then read it, never have been able to never will. You can see the trailer here and I think it will be available on BBC iPlayer afterwards, I think its going to be a not to be missed drama. So this has been my favourite book this week what has yours been?

Oh and speaking of youtube links… are you looking for the perfect Christmas book? Then what about a slightly twisted and comic collection from the wonderful Augusten Burroughs? You can see all here. It’s one that I want quite badly, even the book cover makes me really, really giggle! I am quite a fan of Augusten Burroughs work and know that these tales will have me giggling throughout the festive season! If you haven’t already read Burroughs and in particular ‘Running With Scissors’ then you absolutely must. It’s heartbreaking and heartbreakingly funny all in one go. What books are you hoping Santa brings you this year?

Now I have to tell you all something shocking next and I don’t know how to do this. I have been out to a book shop. Not just any book shop, this is a shop Simon T of Stuck-in-a-Book told me about that rivals my 5 for £2 shop in Notting Hill. I decided that now the book ban has been lifted I would have a mooch and so I mooched through the first room…

And mooched through the second room…

And mooched through the third room…

And what did I leave with, how many books did this book addict walk away with… None, absolutely nothing! I think I might be ill. Mind you its probably for the best as my TBR is out of control. The lovely Kimbofo has been sorting her TBR pile out and has listed what she has. I am so nosey I loved this post. I then thought ‘oh maybe I should have a go’ however the shame of listing all 793 books I have on my TBR piles/shelves and in my TBR boxes is too shameful to share I think. Maybe one it decreases? Maybe!

I really must dash as I have to pick a very special someone up from St Pancras Station today; can you guess who it is? That’s right Granny (though she hates that term its ‘Gran’) Savidge Reads is coming to stay for a while. I have a shift at Highgate and then I will be picking her up and we have a rather hectic London itinerary which she knows nothing about yet. I shall of course report back. I did wonder though if you would all enjoy a bookish interview with Granny Savidge Reads? It would be a bit like a Savidge Reads Grills though instead of an author I could interview my Gran about ‘the life of a reader’ at 68 she has been reading quite sometime and am sure has anecdotes and novel tales aplenty. So what would you like me to ask her?

Blimey you do have a lot to answer today. What do you prefer Simon’s Saturday Salon or Simon’s Bookish Bits for this feature title? What’s the best book you have read of late? Last but certainly not least… what would you really like to ask Granny Savidge Reads, though remembering to respect your elders of course, about a literary loving life?

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Augusten Burroughs, Book Thoughts, Simon's Bookish Bits

Not Writing But Blogging…

I know I probably don’t know half of the good book blogs out there in the ether. I have found some I love and there are several I subscribe to or drop in on, which have become favourites of mine and which you can see on the left under Bookish Blogs. What I haven’t really done which I think I will change is added Authors blogs. I don’t know about you but I do love a good blog regardless of the reason, ones by authors telling us how they create their craft and what they are all about sounds like heaven.

The blog that has got this blog started (is anyone else confused by that) is Not Writing But Blogging by the delightful Stella Duffy which I saw when catching up with Dove Grey Reader. Having only used minimal internet time whilst in Barcelona over New Years I had missed the launch of this, and I am sure an invite to the launch party. I have read a fair bit of Stella over the last twelve months and though a new find she is becoming one of my fav’s. Her, Kate Atkinson and Anne Tyler, who I don’t think have blogs sadly. If I am wrong please let me know and I will get reading them pronto. Without sounding sychophantic Stella is also just bloody lovely and her latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’ is out in Feb in paperback, do order it now! Anyways authors and their blogs… where are they all?

I know there was a slight snobbery towards book bloggers but authors I like such as Tess Gerritsen, Augusten Burroughs and Neil Gaiman have started them and I read avidly. I was a big fan of Susan Hill’s blog which one day was there and one day wasn’t and so if you know of any please wing them my way and I will get adding them. So that’s all really welcome to a new blogger, and let me know of any more author or just book wise that I am missing out on.

After arriving back from the joys of Spain I am too shattered to write more so apologies. I will say I had an amazing time I didn’t read anywhere near as much of Anna Karenina as I intended and I know its bad but am taking a break from her as had a lovely pile of new books from Vintage when I got home and one I have been wanting to read for ages… so off to bed with it now!

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Augusten Burroughs, Book Thoughts, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen