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The Burn Journals make for intense summer reading

August 1, 2006

I’m on an autobiography kick. Well, I guess these days they’re called memoirs. Recently I read Brent Runyon’s account of one year in his life at 14 years old in 1991. If you have a good memory, you might remember him as the kid who lit himself on fire in his bathtub in an attempt to commit suicide. I remember it because I was Brent’s age when it happened, and it was news – on MTV, in People magazine, all that.

Burn Journals PictureBrent survived and recently wrote an amazing memoir that travels right back into his mind starting from the weeks prior to striking the match. What’s so amazing about the book is that it gives you this impossible view into a little boy’s head, a view that is never translated, seemingly never understood by “everyone else” – parents, teachers, girls, counselors etc.

His website describes how “he suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life.”

I’m not sure that he returned to the “emotional mainstream of life,” but he struggled through an entire year of having to deal with his suicide attempt and being helped through many surgeries to mend his body. The book is like a secret window into a 14 year old boy’s head. I certainly recommend it to anyone who counsels or works with teens. His constant retort to all the “helpers” was that they “were asking the wrong questions!”

It was always, “Why did you do it?”  His book, in so many words, tells you that he didn’t really know.

I can’t help but wonder about the impact the book’s success has had on Brent’s life in the present moment. He writes at the end of his book: “As I talked to more people, I realized that the only thing unique about my story is the rather unfortunate and dramatic way in which I tried to kill myself. Other than that, I’m just another guy with a history of depression, which is somehow very comforting to me.”

He also has a really sweet take on Public Enemy’s 1987 song “Bring the Noise”. Check it out here.

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