Reading guide for Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

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Running with Scissors

A Memoir

by Augusten Burroughs

Running with Scissors
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2002, 288 pages
    Jun 2003, 320 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa, and a lunatic in the bargain. Suddenly, at age twelve, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients, and a pedophile living in the backyard shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules; there was no school. The Christmas tree stayed up until summer, the Valium was eaten like Pez. And when things got dull, there was always the vintage electroshock-therapy machine under the stairs...

Discusion Questions
  1. Author Augusten Burroughs was raised by his mother’s psychiatrist, who lived in a dilapidated house of almost unimaginable squalor. Why are psychiatrists such dirty people? Do you think medical schools should teach basic house-cleaning skills to psychiatric residents?

  2. Hair and hairdressing are themes that resonate throughout the memoir. Are you happy with your own hairstyle? What would you do if somebody were to offer you a makeover?

  3. Augusten Burroughs was fascinated with celebrity and pop culture as a child, and wanted to be famous himself. Now that Augusten Burroughs is famous, do you think he still does his own laundry, or do you think he sends it out? In addition, would Augusten have an easier time getting a good table at a New York City restaurant than you?

  4. Members of the Finch family regularly consult the bible when faced with making a decision, no matter how small. A question is asked, the bible is opened, and a word is chosen at random. Is “Bible-dipping” something you would like to incorporate into your daily life and if so, should Wall Street begin using this strategy as a forecasting tool?

  5. One of the most disturbing features of Running with Scissors is the graphic sexual relationship between the thirteen year old author and the thirty-four year old Bookman, who is Dr. Finch’s patient and “adopted” son. Yet if Bookman had been a television star, this would have been an exciting relationship any parent would approve of. Discuss why. 6. Throughout the memoir, Augusten’s mentally ill mother is obsessed with achieving her own fame as a poet. But everybody knows that nobody reads poetry, and thus it’s almost impossible to achieve fame as a poet. Why didn’t Augusten’s mother write a line of Chinese romance novels instead?

  6. Running with Scissors details a world with no boundaries, little personal privacy and regrettable decorating and fashion decisions. Now that Target sells tasteful yet inexpensive items designed by famed designers Michael Graves and Todd Oldham, everyone can afford to look good and live in a nice home. Do you wish Target had been around when you were a child?

  7. Augusten uses humor throughout his memoir, even while describing “appalling” or “horrifying” aspects of his unconventional childhood. Does this inspire you to do something “appalling” or “horrifying” and then tell somebody about it, trying for laughs?

  8. The “memoir” genre of literature has come under a lot of fire. Because there have been so many memoirs published, it almost seems that Augusten “jumped on the memoir bandwagon” a little late. Explain why most of the other memoirs should be pulped, while Augusten should continue to write yet even more memoirs.

  9. Reviews have compared Augusten Burroughs to David Sedaris, yet Augusten is a much funnier writer and has more unusual “material” to work with. Do you think David Sedaris hates Augusten Burroughs? If so, should Augusten send him a sympathy note?

  10. The last chapter of Running with Scissors describes the opening scene to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Since then, has Mary Tyler Moore had more cosmetic surgery and do you think her eyes are too tight and surprised?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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