People write to advice columnists for all sorts of reasons, but there often tends to be some common threads– friendship, dating, long-term relationships. Heather Havrilesky writes the Ask Polly column in New York magazine’s The Cut, and a compilation of never-before-published letters and responses, along with some ‘fan favorites’ appear in her new book, How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life.
Not familiar with the Ask Polly advice column, Havrilesky’s advice-giving tone and style were new to me, but I was instantly a fan. One could apply the label “no-nonsense,” but I hesitate to give an impression of that potentially negative connotation because in each and every response, she affirms the letter writer’s dilemma, even if he/she shoulders some of the blame for his/her current predicament. Not shying away from an effective use of profanity, Havrilesky manages to make personal connection with each of the letter writers’ situations, offering empathy along with a healthy dose of realistic and practical advice that still calls upon the letter writers to reflect on their behavior and choices.
When I first started reading, I had a slight recognition of the author’s name, only to realize that I had read her 2010 memoir, Disaster Preparedness (linked to my review). Looking back at my thoughts on her reflective memoir of a challenging childhood, it’s even more apparent to me how Havrilesky’s life experiences have brought her to the perfect point from which to dispense advice with both heart and tough love.
I quite enjoyed reading this collection of letters and responses, and I admit to making a connection to at least one or two letters myself!