Full Title: You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (2009)
Number of Pages: 206
How long it took me to read: 1 week, 2 days
Where I bought this book: A dying Borders bookstore in downtown Palo Alto, CA
Like a Moth to a Flame
Borders just announced it was going out of business. I knew there was a Borders store somewhere near my office, but I thought we still had lots of time to get to know one another. I was wrong. It was time, now, before it was too late.
I went out at lunch. The clearance sales hadn’t started yet. The malnourished clerk by the cat calendars was trying to calm down a customer on the phone, explaining they may start reducing prices next week. But that’s ok, I know how to find a deal. Naked Santa was on sale for $4.99, and I knew, even back in July, that it would be kind of fun to read a festive tome around the holidays.
I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:
5. “While he’d never seen Friends and would probably tear pages from Anna Karenina to wipe oil off a dipstick, ask him about that “Length Fractionation of Carbon Nanotubes Using Centrifugation” article in Advanced Materials magazine and he’d never shut up.” (p.188)
4.“My brother grunted and said, ‘Well, you really oughtta have a fake tree like we do. They’re much less trouble, they don’t mess up the house, and they’re better for the environment.’
“I stared at him, picturing a Chinese Christmas tree factory located on a former lake bed or wildlife preserve, spewing toxic green smoke into the unregulated air; the freshly stamped trees being hoisted by forklift onto tractor trailers so they could be driven four hundred miles to the port where they would be loaded onto an oil-leaking ship and taken to America.” (pp.196-7)
3.“I walked down to Balducci’s market to look at the tiny ears of corn, the exotic cheeses, and the pies. People were already shopping for Thanksgiving, still almost two weeks away. I saw an older gay man heft a pumpkin out of his cart at the checkout with the faintest look of satisfaction on his lips. He would be making a pie, I was certain of it, and no cans would be harmed in its creation.
“I imagined him going into work the next morning with nutmeg still under his fingernails. He would casually run his thumb under his nose, pretending to scratch an itch. And there in the meeting he would get to inhale just a little bit more of his pie’s soul.” (p.147)
2. “My mother’s psychiatrist always had her on one pill or another. Sometimes, the effects could be quite entertaining. I liked best the pills that made her sleep. For days. It gave me the opportunity to paint her eyelids with blue chalk dust and apply a wide coating of lipstick, doubling the size of her lips. I saw my sleeping, made-up mother not as clownish but as beautiful.” (p.15)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “As a young child I had Santa and Jesus all mixed up. I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip, but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house? Had a good little girl somewhere in the world not received the doll he’d promised her, making the father angry?” (p.3)
Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.
New Word: palsy (noun)
Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): 1) loss of the ability to move a body part; 2) a condition marked by uncontrolled tremor
Origins: circa 1300; from Anglo-French ‘parlesie’; Old French ‘paralisie; from Latin ‘paralysis’
As in: “I could physically feel that terrible, mindless fear and palsy of the soul depart.” (p.183)
Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:
“Screw the title, I’m about to cry. Not even on page 1, and I’m about to cry. The sound of distant sleigh bells…that’s me! I do that! I hold my breath to hear them! How did he know?”
“When you can’t conceal your laughter on a train full of stern and snippy commuters, you know it’s good.
“When you consider buying a copy for everyone you know this Christmas, you know it’s good.
“When you pull it out on date night and start re-reading parts to your hungry date as he tosses his fork under the table just to hide from your hysterical laughter, and you continue reading it on the ride home while tears of laughter coat your glistening cheeks (and there’s no need to worry about your mascara running because it ran away pages ago), you know.
“That’s when you know you’re reading the best book of the year.”
“To read of a child begging for a pony flings me back to the day I sat in my well-ordered room, huddled next to My Little plastic Ponies, writing out the speech I would present to my parents, outlining all the reasons I should get a puppy.
“To read of Burroughs’ memories of having his gold nuggets plucked from his well-manicured child-fingers swoops me back to the days when presents, piled waist-high around the artificial Christmas tree, were waiting for me to finish the last of my dinner as I calculated which I would attack first. No way was I going to bed until every last gift was distributed and disrobed. Not a chance anyone was going to bed before me! Funny how things don’t change.”
“It wasn’t in Manhattan, and it wasn’t Puccini’s aria. The chunky flakes of snow were actually gobs of warm summer rain, and they were dancing to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in front of the Rathaus in Vienna. Instead of a homeless woman singing to me, the priest I had a crush on was sitting by my side, trying to teach me a lesson I don’t think I’ve learned yet. It’s in those ethereal moments when magic refuses to let Earthly logic poop on its parade that it almost feels like I can live out even the wildest of my sleepless dreams. Happy Christmas, Santa Jesus.”