Review: Disaster Preparedness


Disaster Preparedness


2010 • 256 pages • Riverhead Books

While I’ve cooled on all but one, my love for advice columns once led me to subscribe to three at once—Dear Sugar, Ask Polly, and Captain Awkward. These days, Dear Sugar has evolved into a podcast (which I don’t have room for on my current podcast rotation, sadly), Ask Polly has moved from the Hairpin to the Cut, and Captain Awkward is still chugging away. I now only subscribe to the good Captain, but I’ll occasionally drop by the Cut to see what Ask Polly author Heather Havrilesky is up to. Like when I dropped by a few weeks ago, and discovered this gorgeous gem that summed up a lot of my interpersonal issues:

What you don’t know when you’re young and single is how personal it feels to live at the whims of someone else’s bad habits.

It’s this kind of writing that really resonated with me, especially given my issues regarding control and agency. So, inevitably, that led me to add Havrilesky’s memoir to my reading list. Disaster Preparedness focuses on key incidents in the young Havrilesky’s life, growing up in the late seventies and early eighties, that highlight the dysfunction of her family. As she grows up and starts to learn that other people don’t operate the same way that her family does, she finds herself running into obstacles between herself and her ability to connect with other people.

Havrilesky writes Disaster Preparedness with the same clear-eyed wit and wisdom as she writes her column. Mostly, she marvels at the ways in which her family have pushed aside the world to cling together as a unit, in ways that damage them personally and publicly. She writes of her family life at a distance of both years and knowledge.

It’s all very well done. Nonetheless, I am left with one question: how do I review a book that pushed me into a dissociative funk for a weekend?

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The Sunday Salon: Advice Columns

As a little kid, I took a very specific approach whenever I encountered a newspaper. Obviously, the only section worth anything was the Life or Lifestyle section, where I could read about celebrities whose names I had heard somewhere, read the newspaper comics (which was the vast majority of my media diet as a kid), and read the advice columns. Everything else held no interest for me. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of my youth syndicated two columns—the ever-present Dear Abby and Carolyn Hax’s Tell Me About It, which seemed to be the hipper of the two. As time went on, my parents stopped subscribing to The Atlanta Journal-Consitution, so my advice column reading became limited to occasionally reading The Ethicist in The New York Times. But over the last few months, I’ve started reading some online advice columns that blow the syndicated stuff I’ve seen utterly out of the water, and I’d like to share them with y’all today.

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