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Powell’s Q&A: Augusten Burroughs

Note: Augusten Burroughs will present his new book at Powell's City of Books on Sunday, April 28, at 2 p.m.

Describe your latest book.
This Is How is a guide of sorts for showing people how they can survive, overcome, achieve, or free themselves of things they think they can't. The book arose from the single question I have been asked more than any other: "How did you survive...?" Because as readers of my six nonfiction works know, I've been knocked around the block a few times and survived pretty well. This Is How isn't a step-by-step, process-oriented book. Rather, it's conceptual and broad so that the approaches in the book can be applied to any issue, even those not mentioned.

This Is How speaks to what I believe is the most essential component of survival or achievement: seeing the actual, rock-bottom, elemental truth and accepting it. But because truth can often be cloaked in what we assume or believe or have been told is "true," being truthful with respect to our circumstances isn't as easy or as obvious as it may appear.

As just one example, I was suicidal as a young teenager, and only by realizing and then fully grasping on a deep level the fact that I didn't actually want to die (because I wouldn't be able to feel free or vindicated or peaceful, as these things require living tissue to experience), I wanted to end my life. And I hadn't realized that this was possible. I could step out of my life, completely. In other words, I could kill my life, not my self.

It was understanding this distinction that saved my life. And this is just one example from within the book about what the deeper truth looks like when you face it.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why or why not?
False. Even a novel based entirely on imagined events fails if it is filled with lies: reactions, thoughts, feelings, statements that don't ring true or feel authentic push the reader out of the book.

How do you relax?
I collect and restore jadeite jade, so I find polishing stones very soothing. I also collect, restore, and resell vintage and antique jewelry, and I love this process as well. I study gemology because I lose track of time and all my problems when I stare into the hidden heart of a sapphire with my microscope. I listen to a lot of great music supplied by my literary agent/DJ of a husband.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands, and why did you read it?
Gone Girl. My editor told me to read it.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I visited Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, Massachusetts, after reading The House of Mirth for the first time.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
For one thing, they are green crocodile, so that right there sets them apart. And they are exceedingly comfortable. They are also a great deal more durable than their refined profile might suggest.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
Buying glassy, emerald-green jade.

Why do you write?
Because it's something I can do entirely on my own, and there are no rules.

÷ ÷ ÷

Augusten Burroughs is the number one New York Times bestselling author of A Wolf at the Table, Possible Side Effects, Magical Thinking, Dry, Running with Scissors, and Sellevision. His latest book, This Is How, is now out in paperback from Picador.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My...
    Used Trade Paper $6.95
  2. Possible Side Effects
    Used Trade Paper $1.95
  3. Magical Thinking: True Stories
    Used Trade Paper $5.95
  4. Dry
    Used Trade Paper $4.95
  5. Running with Scissors: A Memoir
    Used Trade Paper $4.95
  6. Sellevision Used Trade Paper $7.95
  7. This Is How: Surviving What You...
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  8. The House of Mirth (Vintage Classics) Used Trade Paper $6.00
  9. Gone Girl
    Used Hardcover $9.50

Augusten Burroughs is the author of This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can't

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