How to Be a Person in the World is a collection of never-before-published material along with a few fan favorites. Whether she's responding to cheaters or loners, lovers or haters, the depressed or the down-and-out, Havrilesky writes with equal parts grace, humor, and compassion to remind you that even in your darkest moments you're not alone.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-03-28
- Reviewer: Staff
Havrilesky (Disaster Preparedness), the writer of New York magazine’s popular “Ask Polly” column, provides a wealth of new material on work, love, friendship, and fulfillment, all written in her straight-shooting signature style. She admonishes a writer worried about her eccentricities for her “reductive dichotomies” when comparing herself to others, but also acknowledges that “people are allergic to confessional, outspoken women.” Providing some much-needed real talk to a writer mired in depression, Havrilesky begins, “Reading your letter feels like playing a board game that you can only lose... Draw a ‘Not a Chance in Hell’ card: ‘Advance to Lonely Life Abroad.’ ” She can be devastating, putting a potential bridezilla in her place (“Your dream will not come true”) and verbally eviscerating a man who feels entitled to extramarital affairs (“You’ve been watching too much Mad Men”). She is similarly direct with a woman consistently involved with married men: “You don’t have compassion for other women.” True to its title, this collection touches on nearly every facet of living, and Havrilesky’s wit, intelligence, and candor set her apart as perhaps the best advice columnist currently in circulation. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Company. (July)
Get your life right
If you gravitate toward wholesome, “Dear Abby”-style advice, steer clear of Heather Havrilesky. But if profound, profane wisdom is your jam, this book is for you.
How to Be a Person in the World compiles some of Havrilesky’s best columns from “Ask Polly,” which ran first on quirky website The Awl, then on New York magazine’s The Cut. It also includes a lot of fresh material. Saying that Havrilesky has a way with words is like saying Marilyn Monroe liked diamonds. Havrilesky doesn’t just write—she dances with the words, building empathetic responses that can’t be classified as just advice columns. They are more keen observations of human behavior.
“When you spend your days staring at bony teenagers in tall boots and touching soft things that cost more than your monthly salary, it eats away at your soul like a hungry little demon-rabbit,” she writes to a woman working in fashion who feels miserable and shallow.
“Repeat after me, WB: ‘I will not lose myself. I can earn money and create art, too. I can befriend Buddhists and women in $300 heels. I am not a one-dimensional, angry human with boundary issues, like those others who get so fixated on being ONE THING AND NOTHING ELSE.’”
It was hard to choose a favorite quote, mostly because she’s so pithy but also because so many of the quotes I loved in this book included a string of F words.
The contents are divided into sections with titles such as Flaws Become You and Weepiness is Next to Godliness, each prefaced by a deadpan comic strip.
Whether she’s tackling alcoholism, STDs or deadbeat boyfriends, Havrilesky is a pure joy to read. She’s the tough-love friend who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. As she tells one advice seeker, “This is your moment. Seize your moment, goddamn it!”