Perhaps because I thought Augusten Burroughs’ new book This is How: Help for the Self—Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease,Lushery, Decrepitude, and More. For Young and Old Alike would be a parody of a self help book rather than an actual self help book, I found myself becoming very critical of it from the start. Once I realized and accepted a few chapters in that this was Burroughs’ sincere attempt to write a legitimate self help book, I still had major problems with it. First of all, he is smug throughout the book and this grows tiresome very quickly. At the beginning of the book Burroughs relays an incident where a stranger in an elevator asked him why he wasn’t smiling. A lot of people find this sort of smile-through-your-problems-no-matter-what advice grating, but Burroughs delivers a book full of equally annoying self help clichés or just plain stupid advice, such as suggesting that the terminally ill gorge on sweets. You get the sense that he feels he’s making some profound points when all he’s doing is rattling off one tired observation after another.
Second, I wonder how he is qualified to write about certain subjects. In one chapter he states that treatment for anorexia is not very advanced, that doctors and psychologists don’t know how to treat it with consistent success, and that half of those with anorexia do not recover. He then goes on to explain how he would treat someone with anorexia, as if he knows better than experts in the field or people who have suffered from it.
This Is How might have been more effective if Burroughs had focused on areas of self help where he has some experience or at least some sort of connection. When he does focus on areas that have troubled him, such as suicidal thoughts or alcoholism, the book is much better. But a few chapters can’t save a whole book. Whether you are looking for a good self help book or are a fan of Burroughs, this book is likely to disappoint.