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Magical Thinking: True Stories
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Magical Thinking: True Stories

4.2 134
by Augusten Burroughs

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From the #1 bestselling author of Running with Scissors and Dry--a contagiously funny, heartwarming, shocking, twisted, and absolutely magical collection. True stories that give voice to the thoughts we all have but dare not mention. It begins with a Tang Instant Breakfast Drink television commercial when Augusten was seven. Then there is the contest


From the #1 bestselling author of Running with Scissors and Dry--a contagiously funny, heartwarming, shocking, twisted, and absolutely magical collection. True stories that give voice to the thoughts we all have but dare not mention. It begins with a Tang Instant Breakfast Drink television commercial when Augusten was seven. Then there is the contest of wills with the deranged cleaning lady. The execution of a rodent carried out with military precision and utter horror. Telemarketing revenge. Dating an undertaker and much more. A collection of true stories that are universal in their appeal yet unabashedly intimate and very funny.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“One of the most compelling and screamingly funny voices of the new century belongs to Augusten Burroughs. . . . Burroughs is blessed with an offbeat perspective and a viciously uncensored wit, a delight to read.” —USA Today

“Augusten Burroughs shows why he is the memoirist-of-the-moment with his harrowing and laugh-out-loud new essay collection, Magical Thinking.” —Vanity Fair

“Ruthlessly funny . . . deliciously perverse . . . he extracts something funny from every shred of his own warped experience. Magical Thinking indeed.” —People(four stars)

“Sports nuts have Dave Barry, Midwesterners have Garrison Keillor, and the rest of us--gay guys, misfits, those with horrific childhoods--have Burroughs.…He hooks you into a story better than anybody.” —Entertainment Weekly(A-)

“Every so often a 'writer's writer' pops up and deliciously ambushes readers--writers like David Sedaris, Larry Brown, and Frank McCourt. . . . Augusten Burroughs deserves membership to this inner circle. . . . Magical Thinking is finely-honed and addicting . . . Miraculous.” —Rocky Mountain News (Denver)

“Deeply satisfying, full of both gleeful one-liners and shocking instances of profound wisdom . . . There are few writers as outrageously magical or as surprisingly thoughtful as Augusten Burroughs.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A literary favorite--right up there with humorists David Sedaris and Laurie Notaro . . . Fascinating.” —Boston Herald

“Superlatively disturbed . . . A brand-new collection of deliciously lurid true tales…offer[s] an irresistible display of sanity hanging by a thread.” —Booklist(starred review)

“Still wild, sad, funny, tender, and frightening . . . It's all about the journey. Do go along. Just be sure to pack some tissues for the laughing and the crying.” —The Seattle Times

Augusten Burroughs is always prepared for the worst. When Running with Scissors came out, he expected it to sell "about seven copies." Instead, this meandering self-exploration turned into a national bestseller. Even Burroughs gained optimism: "It was just great. It allowed me to continue writing and not have to publish myself at Kinko's." By the evidence of Magical Thinking, Kinko's has permanently lost a client and we have gained an engaging author. Burroughs himself describes these true stories as "weird things that have happened to me." The weird things include an epic contest of wills with a deranged cleaning lady; a story about the emotional complexity of rodent annihilation; and a cautionary history of failed first dates. Touching; twisted; absolutely magical.
Publishers Weekly
It would be tempting to call these highly personal and uninhibited essays painfully honest, except that Burroughs (Running with Scissors; Dry) is so forthright about his egocentricity that the revelations don't appear to cause him much pain. He approaches his material with a blithe tone that oozes sarcasm and crocodile tears. But the palpable humor of the writing itself endears listeners to him enough that they won't be completely repelled by even Burroughs's ugliest moments (which include his less than gallant reaction to accidentally stepping on a toddler's fingers in a store). His performance is off the cuff, but even when he's at his least humane, he still comes across as all too human. He adopts the same openness that made his previous memoirs-dealing with his bizarre upbringing and battle with addiction-so successful; now, however, he's focusing on less serious subject matter and displaying failings that are more vain. Burroughs excels in his personifications of others, whether portraying a domineering cleaning woman or an overbearing boss. While some may secretly wish for the death of such a boss, though, Burroughs admits openly and proudly that he believes he can will it to happen. That attitude, which is accentuated by his reading, makes this audiobook a true guilty pleasure. Simultaneous release with the St. Martin's hardcover (Forecasts, July 12). (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Like Burroughs's earlier books (Running with Scissors; Dry) these humorous stories draw on the author's unstable childhood, work in advertising, struggle with alcoholism, and quest for fulfillment as a writer and a gay man. They treat a wide range of topics, from a gay couple's search for a summer home to homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood. Whether writing about the prevalence of steroid use by gay men or the murder of a mouse in the bathtub, Burroughs uses the same light touch. While his stories may at times shock or even disgust readers, they are redeemed in the end by laughter. Like the narrator in the title story, Burroughs wants to believe he has some control over the universe, or at least a tenuous connection to a higher power. A gifted satirist, Burroughs offers hilarity in the face of despair, and loyal readers of his earlier best sellers will welcome this new collection. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.]-William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib, CUNY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

Commercial Break

When I was seven, I was plucked from my uneventful life deep in darkest Massachusetts and dropped into a Tang Instant Breakfast Drink commercial. It was exactly like being abducted by aliens except without the anal probe. I was a lonely kid with entirely imaginary friends. I played with trees.

Then, one day during penmanship class, a white van pulled up in front of our little gray schoolhouse, and the men from Tang climbed out. My elementary school sat atop a low grassy hill in the center of Shutesbury, a small New England town that was so "small New England town" one had the sensation of existing within a snow globe at a souvenir shop. The mailboxes at the local post office had ornate brass doors with etched-glass windows. There was a white church with solid mahogany pews and a pipe organ. A small red library was tucked on the edge of the town square and carried books about local birds and field mice. It was retchingly quaint.

Of course, in this wholesome idyllic community, my school was the anchor. It was a gray clapboard building, two stories tall, with shutters. There was a steeple on top and inside a bell that worked. The door was bright red. There were two apple trees on either side. The playground consisted of a sandbox, two swing sets, and an area of blacktop on which was painted a hopscotch outline.

Now that I am an adult and have wasted much of my life as an advertising executive, I can easily imagine the conversation that must have taken place among the occupants of that van, upon their seeing my schoolhouse.

"So Cronkite was grilling the guy, you know? Just really asking the tough questions. Then they cut away to Nixon, and boy oh boy, you should have seen his face. It was li-"

"Jesus fucking Christ, Mitch. Get a load of that."

"Huh? Oh, mother of fucking God. STOP THE VAN."

"Christ, there's even a bell on top."

"Love those trees. But are those actually apples? Christ, yes, those are apples. The client's gonna hate that. Apples clash with the orange flavor."

"So we'll cut 'em down and throw up a couple of maple trees. What's the fucking difference?"

"You know, you couldn't build a set this perfect in Burbank, you really couldn't. This is so New England schoolhouse. We have hit pay dirt, gents. I think we've got a few triple martinis ahead of us tonight."

I was sitting in Mrs. Ames's tedious penmanship class looking out the window when the white van pulled into the circular driveway. I watched as a window was rolled halfway down and two lit cigarettes were tossed out. Then the doors opened, and the men stepped out.

Mrs. Ames noticed, too, because she paused in the middle of looping a D. When she turned her ancient neck to the window, my mind added the sound effect of a branch creaking under the weight of snow before it snaps. I was quite sure that Mrs. Ames was one of the original settlers of the town. She once said that television was "nonsense, just a fad like radio."

Visitors were uncommon at our school. Especially visitors dressed in dark suits, wearing sunglasses, and carrying black briefcases. These were like the men who followed President Nixon around and whispered things in his ear.

"Remain seated and do not talk," Mrs. Ames said, glaring at us down the point of her nose. "I shall return in a moment." She quickly brushed her hands down the front of her heavy gray wool skirt to remove any wrinkles. She straightened the dainty single pearl that hung around her neck, centering it perfectly between her breasts, which were certainly bound with ace bandages beneath her crisp white shirt.

The group of men removed their sunglasses in unison, raised their chins in the air, and inhaled. I could tell they were inhaling because they slapped at their chests and flared their nostrils. It was a familiar gesture. Many of my mother's friends from New York City or Boston did the same thing when they came to Shutesbury.

Personally, I could never understand why, because the air was thick with pollen and insects. If one wanted fresh air, why not just open the door to the clothes drier and stick your face in there?

One of the men approached the school, came right up to the window, and knocked on the wood next to the glass. "It's real, all right," he called back to his associates.

A moment later, Mrs. Ames joined the men outside and, to my horror, smiled. I'd never seen Mrs. Ames smile before, and the thought had never occurred to me that such an act was even possible for her. But there it was, her mouth open in the white daylight, her teeth exposed. One of the men stepped forward, removed his sunglasses, and said something to her. She touched her hair with her hand and laughed. Kimberly Plumme, who liked to insert marbles into her vagina at recess, said, "Gross." Her lips frowned in disgust. I myself was horrified to see Mrs. Ames laugh. And then blush. To see her in such a state of obvious bliss was unbearable. I had to look away.

Eventually, Mrs. Ames walked back into the room, and I watched her legs, all plump and plastic-looking through her support hose. She wore high heels of an unfashionable style that made a sharp, angry sklack against the tile floor when she walked. She was kind only to the girls. And by "kind," I mean she was not mean. She was punishing to the boys, even the prissy, girly boys like me. But for once, she had something to say that interested me.

"Children, children, may I have your attention please?" She clapped her hands together quickly. Smacksmacksmacksmacksmack.

But this was unnecessary because she already had our full attention.

We'd been sitting there waiting for her, not daring to breathe lest we disturb the balance of the universe, causing her to fall and die and then not be able to tell us why the men had come to our school.

Or worse: somehow cause the men to simply drive away.

"We have some very special surprise guests here today." She looked to the door and nodded, and the men entered the room. "Hi kids," they said. "Hi there, everyone."

It was thrilling to hear them speak in their deep, baritone voices and to see, up close, the dark razor stubble that shadowed their chins. At the same time, an exotic aroma entered the room, one that made me feel light-headed and flushed, like I'd been on a pogo stick.

Only as an adult would I be able to name this intoxicating scent: English Leather.

Mrs. Ames continued. "These men are from New York City. And I hope you all know where f0 New York City is. Because we have studied our geography quite a bit this year. Does everyone here know where New York City is?"

We nodded yes, but we all thought, What's the matter with you, crazy old witch? Why is your face so red?

Although it alarmed me to recognize that my own face was red, as well. Something about the presence of the men made both Mrs. Ames and me turn red and become hot. The fact that we had this in common made me wonder what was wrong with me.

"Good. Well, then. These men are here to make a television commercial."

Here, I almost peed. She might as well have told me that as of today, I never had to come to school ever again and for that matter was free to hit anybody I wanted to, without being punished. I lived for television commercials. The only reason I watched TV was so that I

could see the commercials. Faberge Organics Shampoo: "I told two friends. And they told two friends. And so on . . . and so on . . . and so on." Or my current favorite: "Gee, your hair smells terrific!"

I was also fond of the commercial with the dog chasing the chuck wagon underneath the kitchen sink: "It makes its own rich gravy." I watched one of the men scan the faces in the room. Occasionally he would jab his friend on the shoulder and nod in the direction of one

of the students. As I was watching him he caught my eye and smiled. I thought he was a very friendly man, very nice. I admired his crisp dark suit, white shirt, and black tie. His hair was thick and glossy, combed back. I smiled at him. He nudged his friend and nodded in my

direction, and then the other man looked at me. He smiled, too. I wanted to jump up out of my seat and run to the men, hugging them around the legs. I wanted to lick the hair on their wrists.

Mrs. Ames announced to the class, "These men would like to use our schoolhouse in a commercial for their special beverage. It's called Tang. Do any of you know Tang?"

There were gasps in the room. Of course we knew Tang, the orange crystalline powder that the astronauts brought with them to outer space. I loved Tang and would sometimes eat it by the teaspoon, straight from the jar. I loved the green label, the orange lid. The way the lid was extra wide and easy to unscrew. I even liked the paper eardrum that was over the mouth of the lid when you first opened the jar. You had to puncture the eardrum with a spoon, and

printed on top was "Tang, Tang, Tang."


My mother despised Tang. "I've just made this fresh tangerine juice and put it into this nice clay pitcher I bought at the Leverette Arts Center, and you want that god-awful artificial junk."

She did like cinnamon DYNAMINTS, though.

Mrs. Ames told us that the men from the van wanted to use some of us in their commercial.

"Not all of you, now. Only some of you. They're going to have to choose."

Instantly, the students began raising their hands. Except for me.

Some voice inside me said, "Don't do it. It's beneath you."

Instead, I sat politely at my desk with my hands clasped firmly together. I was very pleased that I'd thought to wear my fourteen-karat-gold electroplated ID bracelet that day. One thing was certain: I would be in their Tang commercial. And if any of the other children tried to get in my way, I would use my pencil to blind them.

"So these men would like to separate everybody into groups and then ask each group a few questions."

Chaos erupted as the kids began to screech with excitement. Desks were shoved back, chairs knocked over. Mrs. Ames tried to gain control of her students by slapping her ruler against the edge of her globe. "Now, now, now, silence! Stop this! Children, come to attention at once!"

Reluctantly, the class came to attention, facing the flag and placing their hands over their hearts, ready to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

"No, not that," she said. "Just stand still and be silent."

Eventually, we were split up into groups of three. Then group by group the men met with the kids.

I stared hatefully at the back of Lisa Tucker's fat head. I was trying to determine where the odor she emitted was coming from. A hole? Some sort of vent for her brain? I hated Lisa, and so did everyone else. She smelled like feet and something worse, something spoiled and eggy. And she was mean. She was a strong girl who pushed the boys around. Her older brother, Tommy, was one of the big kids who went to the new school down the street. Once he hit me so hard he knocked the wind out of me. I wished that Lisa and Tommy would go swimming in the ocean and be eaten by Jaws. Surely the men would know not to cast her in their commercial.


When it was finally my turn, the men were tired, as evidenced by their loosened ties and the large wet spots that spread from under their arms. They'd spoken to all thirty kids and had notes splayed out on the table in front of them. They looked funny sitting in our small chairs, which had never seemed small before.

The man who had first smiled at me said, "Hi guys. So do any of you want to be in a commercial?" He looked at me when he said this, and I got the feeling that he had already chosen me. His eyes said, You are special and better than all the other children, and I would like you to come live with me and my blue eyes in a city far away from here. His eyes said, I will save you.

We all nodded our heads yes.

"Good then. Good. So what I want to do is, I want to see if you can laugh. I'm gonna tell you a joke, and I just want to see what you sound like when you laugh. Ready?"

The other children nodded, I thought, like puppets. I smiled and winked at him, like I'd seen people do on TV.

He winked back and nudged the man on his left.

"Okay," he said. Then he raised his voice and made a comical face.

"Your mother wears army boots!"

Neither of the other kids laughed.

I tossed my head back in an explosion of delight and laughed so hard I was able to bring tears to my eyes. My face was flushed, my hands dripping with sweat from the pressure.

"Wow," said the man. "You really liked that joke, did you?"

His friend turned to him. "Yeah, Phil, you're a real laugh-riot."

I quickly looked back and forth between the two men, but I wasn't sure what was going on between them. Had I laughed before the punch line? Or was it a trick joke? Had I just blown my chance?

"Do you kids like Tang?" he asked.

The other two kids nodded grimly.

"I love Tang!" I gushed. "Only I like to make it with an extra scoop. Plus, you can put it in ice cube trays and then freeze it! That's really good."


Where had that come from? I'd never in my life frozen Tang.

"That's great!" said the man with the blue eyes who was going to take me away to live with him in a penthouse apartment.

All of the men exchanged a look. Then my man said, "Thanks a lot, kids."

Disgusting Evan and retarded Ellen immediately pushed their chairs back from the table and fled. But I was crushed, stunned, so I moved in slow motion, carefully rising from my chair. They might as well run over me with their white Tang van now, I thought.

"Uh, no. Not you. What's your name?"

"Augusten?" I said.

"Yes, you, Augusten. You were great. We want you." It was the man with the blue eyes speaking, and now I had my confirmation: he adores me, too. Instantly, my mood reversed, and I began to grind my teeth in joy.

I can now trace my manic adult tendencies to this moment. It was the first time I felt deeply thrilled about something just a fraction of an instant after being completely crushed. I believe those three words "We want you" were enough to cause my brain to rewire itself, and from then on, I would require MORE than other people. At the same time, my tolerance for alcohol was instantly increased, and a new neural pathway was created for the future appreciation of crack cocaine and prescription painkillers.

"You want me?" I said, containing my enthusiasm so completely that I probably appeared disinterested.

"Well, yeah. Don't you want to be in the commercial?"

"Well, yeah. A lot." I tried to imitate an excited boy. I was excited but somehow unable to express the actual emotion of excitement. My electrical system was all off now.

"Good," he said clapping his hands. Then he slid a stack of papers across the table. "Then you need to take these home and have your parents read them over very carefully. We're going to be back Monday."

Copyright 2004 by Augusten Burroughs

Meet the Author

Augusten Burroughs is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Running with Scissors, Dry, and, most recently, Possible Side Effects, which have also been New York Times bestsellers and are published around the world. A film version of Running with Scissors was adapted for the screen by Ryan Murphy. Augusten has been named one of the fifteen funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City and western Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

New York, New York and western Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
October 23, 1965
Place of Birth:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
No formal education beyond elementary school

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Magical Thinking: True Stories 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 133 reviews.
Hud16 More than 1 year ago
I loved Augusten Burroughs' "Magical Thinking". A group of short essays jumping in time from childhood to recent adult activities, it has a similar feel to Rikki Lee Travolta's "My Fractured Life" (although with the huge difference that "My Fractured Life" is fiction and "Magical Thinking" is a memoir). Just like "My Fractured Life", in "Magical Thinking" the writing was crisp yet naturally meandering - like a conversation. Some of the stories are a bit sexually graphic so it is not for the easily offended, but I thoughly enjoyed the honesty. Five stars!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i love him as a writer. my favorite story in this book was the one with the maid. WEIRD! he is so entertaining. i just can not wait for his next book to come out in '06.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Totally disappointed! Did not like it at all. Not interesting subject matter and he didn't make any sense to write about such nonsense. Didn't finish it and I won't be buying any others by him. You have to be kidding to think people would be interested. I will give it one star for spelling and penmanship!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never have I felt more connected to an author in a uncomfortable world as I do with Augusten Burroughs. A fresh prospective and hard hitting one-liners that make you say 'did I just read that correctly'. Deals and tells of raw situations with a sophisicated humor. This is a must read to everyone. This collection of stories captures what life is all about and how you cannot take ANYTHING too seriously. Please give it a try!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this author! He is amazing. This was yet another great book by Augusten. I could not put it down. He has you laughing, crying, and wincing the whole time!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i love all of Augusten Burrough's work and this is my favorite,besides running with scissors, i just could not put this book down, it is very well done, a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sometimes this book is uncomfortable to read other times it's laugh out loud funny. Burrough's writes honestly and from the heart about things that most people find politically incorrect. Good for him. I loved the story about the maid, but my favorite part in the book is when he finds his soul mate. Beautiful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had read a few of "VARMENTS''books and yes I am hooked!! I couldn't decide which would be my next because I didn't know in order to"get it"I didn't know if I needed to read the prior book.So I ended up looking them all up so I could read the reviews and chose them in chronical order.Well I passed up Sellivision due to the reviews.CRAZY CRAZY to put so much time in picking out a fricking book knowing that eventually l will read all of them anyway!! Doing all of this kinda shows me why I'm attracted to Aug.in the first place-takes one to know one!!I'll be in touch with my real review when I get done.I know you all just can't wait!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Granny B.
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its so good but you must read his first two memoirs first but its so good i can barely handle the greatness radiating off of this book. augusten Burroughs is AMAZING<3
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i found myself laughing and gasping through the majority of this book i have a very vulgar and dry sense of humor so its refreshing to read from an author who does as well Its quite possible this book might offend you but i say grow a pair and get over it and enjoy the f**ked up situations in everyday life with a hardy laugh I LOVE YOU AUGUSTEN BURROUGHS
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