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!”