Note: I also posted this review on Amazon. It’s funny because I haven’t posted many reviews on Amazon, but the very first one I did post was back in 2005, and it was for Augusten’s Sellevision, a quirky novel that made me laugh out loud. I wrote that way before I was so into memoir. Years later, I read Running with Scissors and he ended up being one of my biggest inspirations in the memoir genre along with Tobias Wolfe. Here’s that review.
It said it on the cover of the book, but I failed to follow the directions.
You better not cry.
My right ear was filled up with tears. I was hyperventilating. That was the precise moment I had to set the book down on my red sheets and announced to the entire world how much and hard I was laughing less than one chapter in to YOU BETTER NOT CRY. I posted this news on Twitter and Facebook from my iPhone and then went back to the book and read it, almost in its entirety before falling into a slumber and having silly, pleasant dreams.
YOU BETTER NOT CRY takes readers on a sleigh-ride through the (sometimes even ghosts of) Christmas past of Augusten, beginning when he’s eight-years-old and obsessed with shiny things (as we learned in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS) like tinsel, lights, and gold nuggets. We move rather quickly into Augusten’s adult life, spent in the most famous Christmas city of all, New York City. Here, the stories are not as gift-wrapped with material that prompts tears of hilarity: they are more about love and loss and growth- but the holidays are about that, too.
When I think about this book as a whole, the childhood chapters are like the angel at the top of the tree (or, the golden nuggets that Augusten begged for), while the adult stuff is more like a stocking-stuffer (like the crackers he wasn’t expecting so much of), even though the latter material fills more than half the book. I don’t want to say I was let down, but I so much adore Augusten’s humor and his playful, observant, imaginative, innocent, and curious view of the big world around him and the unique story-telling style that matches. So with that in mind, I wasn’t expecting the book to take such a leap from childhood to mid-twenties and later so quickly. Maybe it’s because I am obsessed with my own childhood, but I feel a certain comfort being in young Augusten’s world. The book unwraps with such child-like detail, such as students in his class folding metal chairs and stacking them so they “fit like Pringles in a can.” However, his details as a grown up are just as vivid and perhaps more moving, eloquent, and beautiful. It is through his descriptions and imagery that you can see how his impressions as a child have lingered through adulthood, giving that same knack for detail no matter what age he is writing from. I have dozens of pages folded over so I can go back and enjoy the passages again and again.
I felt the book was short and quick and over too soon, but nonetheless, very enjoyable. Nothing wrong with a quick read at all, so I don’t want to say that’s negative. However, it’s Augusten, so I wanted more. It was like the feeling you get after an exciting Christmas morning of smiles, laughter, and quickly tearing through gifts, and finally unwrapping the last one and staring at the empty tree skirt, knowing that, while you were happy for what you received, disappointed that there would be nothing else until next year. I wanted more from his big sack of childhood memories, perhaps stories of holidays that involved the Finches, the psychiatrist’s family we came to know and love in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, and even sprinkled about his other titles.
Long-time fans of Augusten will surely enjoy YOU BETTER NOT CRY, as if familiar old friends are coming in from out of town for a holiday dinner after years of being apart and hearing new stories, getting new laughs, and learning more about each other. A familiar theme flows this book as well: Augusten’s alcoholism. We see how this affects his holidays, his loneliness, and ultimately even his happiness.
After reading this book, I could not help but reflect back on my own Christmases. I, too, made very specific lists, for one. But, more importantly, no matter how terrible I thought life was at any given time period, Christmas was always a happy time. That’s why this book is so relatable to so many people. Memories of holidays are about laughter, about hope, about family, about friends, and even the absurd and shocking. We get one Christmas a year, while regular days zip by. Perhaps that’s why we remember holidays with such detail, clarity, and often, with such fondness. Augusten, one of wise men of the memoir genre, recounting his holidays past captures that exactly the way the tree at Rockefeller Center attracts Manhattan tourists.
YOU BETTER NOT CRY is a must-read for Augusten fans. I highly recommend to those who have not yet read Augusten read RUNNING WITH SCISSORS first to get to know him better. It will make this holiday memoir far more understandable and enjoyable. And remember, if you are anything like me, you WILL cry, either from laughter or from inspiration.