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Disaster Preparedness: A Memoir

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A perceptive, witty memoir about the transformative humiliations of childhood-and adulthood-from a unique, already-beloved voice. When Heather Havrilesky was a kid during the '70s, harrowing disaster films dominated every movie screen with earthquakes that destroyed huge cities, airplanes that plummeted towards the ground and giant sharks that ripped teenagers to shreds. A perceptive, witty memoir about the transformative humiliations of childhood-and adulthood-from a unique, already-beloved voice. When Heather Havrilesky was a kid during the '70s, harrowing disaster films dominated every movie screen with earthquakes that destroyed huge cities, airplanes that plummeted towards the ground and giant sharks that ripped teenagers to shreds. Between her parents' dramatic clashes and her older siblings' hazing, Heather's home life sometimes mirrored the chaos onscreen. A thoughtful, funny memoir about surviving the real and imagined perils of childhood and early adulthood, "Disaster Preparedness" charts how the most humiliating and painful moments in Havrilesky's past forced her to develop a wide range of defense mechanisms, some adaptive, some piteously ill-suited to modern life. From premature boxing lessons to the competitive grooming of cheerleading camp, from her parents' divorce to her father's sudden death, Havrilesky explores a path from innocence and optimism to self-protection and caution, bravely reexamining the injuries that shaped her, the lessons that sunk in along the way, and the insights that carried her through. By laying bare her bumps and bruises, Havrilesky offers hope that we can find a frazzled and unruly, desperate and wistful, restless and funny and frayed-at-the-edges way of staring disaster in the face, and even rising to meet it head on. By turns offbeat, sophisticated, uproarious and wise, "Disaster Preparedness" is a road map to the personal disasters we all face from an irresistible voice that gets straight to the unexpected grace at the heart of every calamity.


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A perceptive, witty memoir about the transformative humiliations of childhood-and adulthood-from a unique, already-beloved voice. When Heather Havrilesky was a kid during the '70s, harrowing disaster films dominated every movie screen with earthquakes that destroyed huge cities, airplanes that plummeted towards the ground and giant sharks that ripped teenagers to shreds. A perceptive, witty memoir about the transformative humiliations of childhood-and adulthood-from a unique, already-beloved voice. When Heather Havrilesky was a kid during the '70s, harrowing disaster films dominated every movie screen with earthquakes that destroyed huge cities, airplanes that plummeted towards the ground and giant sharks that ripped teenagers to shreds. Between her parents' dramatic clashes and her older siblings' hazing, Heather's home life sometimes mirrored the chaos onscreen. A thoughtful, funny memoir about surviving the real and imagined perils of childhood and early adulthood, "Disaster Preparedness" charts how the most humiliating and painful moments in Havrilesky's past forced her to develop a wide range of defense mechanisms, some adaptive, some piteously ill-suited to modern life. From premature boxing lessons to the competitive grooming of cheerleading camp, from her parents' divorce to her father's sudden death, Havrilesky explores a path from innocence and optimism to self-protection and caution, bravely reexamining the injuries that shaped her, the lessons that sunk in along the way, and the insights that carried her through. By laying bare her bumps and bruises, Havrilesky offers hope that we can find a frazzled and unruly, desperate and wistful, restless and funny and frayed-at-the-edges way of staring disaster in the face, and even rising to meet it head on. By turns offbeat, sophisticated, uproarious and wise, "Disaster Preparedness" is a road map to the personal disasters we all face from an irresistible voice that gets straight to the unexpected grace at the heart of every calamity.

30 review for Disaster Preparedness: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    [Shai] Bibliophage

    Actual rating: 3.5 I enjoyed the author's narration of her and her family's life story. Although there are some parts that I doze off especially on the part where she tells her story about one of her exes. But some of her stories are quite comic like when she and her dad rode the plane and there was a turbulence. There are also some noteworthy subtle pieces of advice usually on every end of the chapters. If you are looking for a witty, quirky and light read novel this coming weekend; then thi Actual rating: 3.5 I enjoyed the author's narration of her and her family's life story. Although there are some parts that I doze off especially on the part where she tells her story about one of her exes. But some of her stories are quite comic like when she and her dad rode the plane and there was a turbulence. There are also some noteworthy subtle pieces of advice usually on every end of the chapters. If you are looking for a witty, quirky and light read novel this coming weekend; then this book definitely suits you.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    Salon.com is just so much duller ever since Heather H. left. Their new TV critic has yet to write a column that maintains my intereest. Hell, I can't even remember his name. Unlike the vastly overhyped "Bossypants", which IMO barely qualified as a "memoir" at all (Fey told us nothing about her life that wasn't already public knowledge), this memoir does not shy away from exploring some of the difficult aspects of Havrilesky's past. This takes courage, but Havrilesky's candor makes this a much mo Salon.com is just so much duller ever since Heather H. left. Their new TV critic has yet to write a column that maintains my intereest. Hell, I can't even remember his name. Unlike the vastly overhyped "Bossypants", which IMO barely qualified as a "memoir" at all (Fey told us nothing about her life that wasn't already public knowledge), this memoir does not shy away from exploring some of the difficult aspects of Havrilesky's past. This takes courage, but Havrilesky's candor makes this a much more interesting book than "Bossypants", which the Guardian reviewer correctly identified as more of an exercise in concealment: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radi... It's also much funnier.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    I read most of this mediocre memoir on a beach in NJ so perhaps it was the extreme environment that soured it for me. I had snagged it up on the historic last day of Borders’ existence for a buck because AJ Jacobs endorsed it and the Library of Congress had it categorized it as 1. Pessimism 2. Emergency Management. Both Jacobs and the Library of Congress lied; I want a refund! In short: girl grows up in Durham, NC during the 70s and 80s with divorced academic parents. Yawn. My memoir-writing wor I read most of this mediocre memoir on a beach in NJ so perhaps it was the extreme environment that soured it for me. I had snagged it up on the historic last day of Borders’ existence for a buck because AJ Jacobs endorsed it and the Library of Congress had it categorized it as 1. Pessimism 2. Emergency Management. Both Jacobs and the Library of Congress lied; I want a refund! In short: girl grows up in Durham, NC during the 70s and 80s with divorced academic parents. Yawn. My memoir-writing workshops produced much more interesting stuff than this. David Sederis makes the quotidian or common autobio episode funny and memorable. She’s no Sederis, and she hasn’t lived the life of Churchill, just another on-line wordsmith who once worked at the mall, lost her religion and virginity, tried out for cheerleading, fought with her siblings, etc. As such, Havrlesky’s prose is track-laid pedestrian, taking us from one slice-of-life incident to the other uninteresting to anyone not in her family.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    This was a good memoir about growing up the 1970s. It was generally a series of essays. The book was not a compelling read in that I didn't constantly want to get back to, but it was solid. I thought overall, it was generally a 3-star book, but I loved the last essay so much, I bumped it up one notch. The last essay focused on how we would like to be the perfect mom with everything clean and neat and we'd like to be the person who hired people to help with every unpleasant task so we had tons of This was a good memoir about growing up the 1970s. It was generally a series of essays. The book was not a compelling read in that I didn't constantly want to get back to, but it was solid. I thought overall, it was generally a 3-star book, but I loved the last essay so much, I bumped it up one notch. The last essay focused on how we would like to be the perfect mom with everything clean and neat and we'd like to be the person who hired people to help with every unpleasant task so we had tons of time to think and read and stare out the window, but that in the end, we were flawed people who would never be perfect and that the crazy messiness of life is really life and she loved hers and it reminded me that I love mine, crumbs on the floor/screaming toddler/no bread in the house and all.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    An uninteresting memoir about someone's uninteresting life. The "uninteresting life" part would have been fine if she had found some interesting or truly funny way to write about the average things that happened to her. But she didn't. So her parents got divorced. So she has flaws. BIG WHOOP. I kept reading this book hoping that it would have some kind of positive realization, but the maybe four times Havrilesky was positive it felt saccharine and fake. Overall a cliched, repetitive, unnecessary An uninteresting memoir about someone's uninteresting life. The "uninteresting life" part would have been fine if she had found some interesting or truly funny way to write about the average things that happened to her. But she didn't. So her parents got divorced. So she has flaws. BIG WHOOP. I kept reading this book hoping that it would have some kind of positive realization, but the maybe four times Havrilesky was positive it felt saccharine and fake. Overall a cliched, repetitive, unnecessary book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karyn

    I love Heather Havrilesky's Television Reviews on Salon, and so I was very excited when I found her book during my pillaging of the Milford Borders' final day of sales (I think I bought 20 books for $25 that day--thanks, bad economy). Havrilesky writes about her parents' failed marriage and how its impacted her adulthood: subject matter that's right up my alley. She also does a nice job looking at the larger context of disaster during the years she grew up. In many ways, this is the memoir I've w I love Heather Havrilesky's Television Reviews on Salon, and so I was very excited when I found her book during my pillaging of the Milford Borders' final day of sales (I think I bought 20 books for $25 that day--thanks, bad economy). Havrilesky writes about her parents' failed marriage and how its impacted her adulthood: subject matter that's right up my alley. She also does a nice job looking at the larger context of disaster during the years she grew up. In many ways, this is the memoir I've wanted to someday write. But the problem is: Havrilesky's book is a little boring. It's oddly organized--I think perhaps she strung together posts from her blog, because it reads like a series of disconnected blog posts. She does wayyyyy too much telling and not enough showing. She brings great insights into her subject matter, but, she doesn't earn those insights. She's often funny, but, there's not enough humor happening in scene. Her book taught me a lot about what I should not be doing in my own work; that's always a good thing. If you do read this book, think of it not as a book-length project but as a collection of essays, and that will help a lot.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Liza

    I liked this! When I was in high school, I liked Heather Havrilesky's tv writing, and now I like her advice columns or whatever else pops up on the internet. In the same way, I liked this book. What I did NOT like was the part where she confesses everything that's wrong with her to her future husband and he's like, "so you're a woman." Harhar. NO, WTF! I don't expect everyone to be a lesbian feminist (this might be a lie) but yeesh! Just sub "human" for "woman" and everything would be fine. I liked this! When I was in high school, I liked Heather Havrilesky's tv writing, and now I like her advice columns or whatever else pops up on the internet. In the same way, I liked this book. What I did NOT like was the part where she confesses everything that's wrong with her to her future husband and he's like, "so you're a woman." Harhar. NO, WTF! I don't expect everyone to be a lesbian feminist (this might be a lie) but yeesh! Just sub "human" for "woman" and everything would be fine.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The author shares my hometown, so it was fun recognizing the landmarks, roads, schools, etc. that she writes about. Also, the last few pages of this killed me. "Please remember, we were not a disappointment. Not at all, not even close. We were gorgeous and strong, you and me. We were terrible and troubled and utterly divine." The author shares my hometown, so it was fun recognizing the landmarks, roads, schools, etc. that she writes about. Also, the last few pages of this killed me. "Please remember, we were not a disappointment. Not at all, not even close. We were gorgeous and strong, you and me. We were terrible and troubled and utterly divine."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Haritha

    Found this book randomly in a little library. It felt like the author tried excessively to make her mundane life seem interesting. Not my jam. Giving it 2 stars because it held my interest enough for me to finish it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    I enjoyed this well-written and entertaining memoir about growing up in the 70s. Although my family situation and location was different, I had many of the same fears and the desire to control EVERYTHING to keep myself safe in what seemed a scary and unpredictable world.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    to be honest-- I'm not so much rating this book as memoir (it's more like a linked collection of essays anyway, probably labeled memoir by the marketing department) but for H Havrilesky's impact on my life via the Ask Polly column. So much humanity, humor, empathy and heart, with a good dose of sourness thrown in, which is why I like her so much. OK people are saying that she didn't have enough bad things happen to her (?) That is not the point of an essay-- rather, it is the observations. And t to be honest-- I'm not so much rating this book as memoir (it's more like a linked collection of essays anyway, probably labeled memoir by the marketing department) but for H Havrilesky's impact on my life via the Ask Polly column. So much humanity, humor, empathy and heart, with a good dose of sourness thrown in, which is why I like her so much. OK people are saying that she didn't have enough bad things happen to her (?) That is not the point of an essay-- rather, it is the observations. And the part where she remembers her mother getting out in the middle of a camping trip just sticks with me. As well as Heather's thoughts on her father's reaching for grace while dating three women at the same time (& going jogging), her mother's Greek chorus of friends, and her high school ice cream job. This book is very honest-- sometimes social being a social winner means being a social winner (in a chapter on the cheerleaders) and yet I found her comments on the generosity of her cheerleader friends so humane and thoughtful. A lot of us have trouble getting over our outcast natures, and being honest and reaching out and actually connecting to people, and taking our own emotions and troubles seriously. That's why I love the "If a tree falls" chapter. <3 this book and also Ask Polly.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kater Cheek

    I've really enjoyed Havrilesky's advice column "Ask Polly" where she gently and empathically and sympathetically tells people in the nicest possible way exactly why they are full of crap and how all of their problems are their own fault. I love her voice, and figured I would like to read her memoir. This is close to a "my childhood is worse than your childhood" memoir, except that it's more humorous than that. Havrilesky never takes herself too seriously, or thinks that her problems were as bad a I've really enjoyed Havrilesky's advice column "Ask Polly" where she gently and empathically and sympathetically tells people in the nicest possible way exactly why they are full of crap and how all of their problems are their own fault. I love her voice, and figured I would like to read her memoir. This is close to a "my childhood is worse than your childhood" memoir, except that it's more humorous than that. Havrilesky never takes herself too seriously, or thinks that her problems were as bad as her young self imagined them to be. This memoir doesn't feel like it's shooting for pure humor, however, as there are parts that made some profound emotional observations. (Specifically the chapter in which she reflects on her parents' divorce when she was young.) One chapter, in which she describes how and why honest is not the best policy and how her therapist made her interpersonal relationships worse, made me laugh out loud. Any book funny enough to make me laugh out loud more than once is worth the cost.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Heather Havrilesky! I'm sorry! I love you and everything you write in Salon/NYT Magazine, but I didn't really like your book, and I really wanted to! I think the issue with this memoir was, nothing seemed to particularly happen in Havrilesky's childhood that was out of the blue or particularly engrossing, and the way that she naturally writes is more cerebral and less action-oriented, which isn't really conducive to a memoir where, to a certain cheap extent, it's all about shock value. This book Heather Havrilesky! I'm sorry! I love you and everything you write in Salon/NYT Magazine, but I didn't really like your book, and I really wanted to! I think the issue with this memoir was, nothing seemed to particularly happen in Havrilesky's childhood that was out of the blue or particularly engrossing, and the way that she naturally writes is more cerebral and less action-oriented, which isn't really conducive to a memoir where, to a certain cheap extent, it's all about shock value. This book reminded me a little of Sarah Vowell's sassy ramblings (but maybe less hilarious?), but Sarah Vowell at least had some quirky hobbies and Vowell writes a little less educatedly and a little more wryly. I don't know. I'm sad. I wanted to like this, I really really did.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ame

    Heather is possibly one of my favorite people ever. I want her to be my 24 hour life coach. This is mostly due to her column Ask Polly and is unrelated to this book. However, as it turns out, she is also from my home town, which made for an interesting read. I prefer her in advice giving, conclusions about life mode and the instances of that were few, but on point.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Havrilesky grew up in Durham, NC and sprinkles this memoir with some fun details from the Bull City. The narrative is disjointed even for a memoir, but I persevered and was rewarded with some insightful, moving writing about growing up with difficult parents whom she still adored.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Felt like hanging out with an old friend Book Bingo: Memoir

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bowie Rowan

    Heather Havrilesky is one of the funniest writers I've ever read while still remaining earnest and tender. I laughed out loud on the street, on the bus, at the coffee shop, everywhere I took this book. I smiled in recognition, covered my mouth in embarrassment, and almost cried from grief while reading. Structurally, I was impressed by how Havrilesky handles time throughout the narrative. At first, I was suspicious of how we move through time in a way that could feel disjointed, but the book is Heather Havrilesky is one of the funniest writers I've ever read while still remaining earnest and tender. I laughed out loud on the street, on the bus, at the coffee shop, everywhere I took this book. I smiled in recognition, covered my mouth in embarrassment, and almost cried from grief while reading. Structurally, I was impressed by how Havrilesky handles time throughout the narrative. At first, I was suspicious of how we move through time in a way that could feel disjointed, but the book is organized thematically more than anything else, so this ultimately worked for me as a reader. I'm grateful to have finally read this memoir after being a longtime Ask Polly reader. I can't wait until Havrilesky's next book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I love Heather Havrilesky’s voice, but this book is meh. Say we’re all friends. Take some Thursday night after work, at some comfortable, low-key bar where you can hear the conversation. Take any third or half of any chapter in this book, and, as we’re all shooting the shit and telling stories and laughing, have her tell us that third or half of a chapter. Her stories would own the night, and we’d all leave thinking Wow, what an awesome evening. Reading it all, though, I got antsy and a little bo I love Heather Havrilesky’s voice, but this book is meh. Say we’re all friends. Take some Thursday night after work, at some comfortable, low-key bar where you can hear the conversation. Take any third or half of any chapter in this book, and, as we’re all shooting the shit and telling stories and laughing, have her tell us that third or half of a chapter. Her stories would own the night, and we’d all leave thinking Wow, what an awesome evening. Reading it all, though, I got antsy and a little bored. I kept wondering: What is the POINT? Where is she GOING with this? But I do know she has a new book of essays coming out in October, and I’ll buy it, because I still want to hear what she has to say, and I still want to see where she’s going.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

    Were you a child of the 70's? An awkward middle schooler-high schooler in the 80's? A child of divorce parents and at times divorced of reality? Then this is the book for you. Very funny. Very keen on the times and generally what any child would like to find in diary format as to why their mother is the way she is. Were you a child of the 70's? An awkward middle schooler-high schooler in the 80's? A child of divorce parents and at times divorced of reality? Then this is the book for you. Very funny. Very keen on the times and generally what any child would like to find in diary format as to why their mother is the way she is.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennalynn

    I remember reading this book because I thought it was a manual on how to survive on anything -- boy was I wrong. Although it was far from what I thought it was going to be, the memoir was, without doubt, something I found very interesting to read. It was very intimate and gave a lot of details about her love life... but, I can't say I'll be reading it again. I remember reading this book because I thought it was a manual on how to survive on anything -- boy was I wrong. Although it was far from what I thought it was going to be, the memoir was, without doubt, something I found very interesting to read. It was very intimate and gave a lot of details about her love life... but, I can't say I'll be reading it again.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Beckley

    Memoir of a middle class white woman that nothing happened to Navel gazing at its finest with some vague references to difficult things but very little emotional depth despite tossing around Ram Dass, Alan Watts, and Eckhart Tolle.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    Havrilesky's writing was witty, insightful, and profound, even when discussing the banal everyday things many of us go through. My favorite chapter was the last, though I also enjoyed the sections on her venture into cheerleading and her/her dad's experience with turbulence. Havrilesky's writing was witty, insightful, and profound, even when discussing the banal everyday things many of us go through. My favorite chapter was the last, though I also enjoyed the sections on her venture into cheerleading and her/her dad's experience with turbulence.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    I really, really enjoy Havrilesky’s “Ask Polly” column and have been a longtime reader, but this did not do it for me. It seemed disjointed and unfocused and pretty uninteresting.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I expected this to be funny or enlightening, but I found it very boring. And strangely convoluted. It was supposed to be smaller essays, but seemed to be very random. It didn't flow and had no purpose to me except reading someone ranting about their strange background. I have no other history with Heather, so I'm sure I missed something along the way. I was disappointed. I expected this to be funny or enlightening, but I found it very boring. And strangely convoluted. It was supposed to be smaller essays, but seemed to be very random. It didn't flow and had no purpose to me except reading someone ranting about their strange background. I have no other history with Heather, so I'm sure I missed something along the way. I was disappointed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Heather Havrilesky is the long lost best friend and unrequited crush from Junior College I never knew I had.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steph

    p 44That night Joan called, but my mom didn’t apologize. All the kids in her care had to follow the same rules, she explained calmly. Joan burst into tears, shocked that my mom wouldn’t back down. “I guess this is the end of our friendship,” she told my mother. That made my mom laugh. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, so don’t even think of it,” she said. “We’re going to be friends for the rest of our lives.” p 86This was something my parents were good at, after all: You don’t need anythi p 44That night Joan called, but my mom didn’t apologize. All the kids in her care had to follow the same rules, she explained calmly. Joan burst into tears, shocked that my mom wouldn’t back down. “I guess this is the end of our friendship,” she told my mother. That made my mom laugh. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, so don’t even think of it,” she said. “We’re going to be friends for the rest of our lives.” p 86This was something my parents were good at, after all: You don’t need anything from anyone. You just need a little time and space, to think. Go to your room and think about it, my mom would say. Why don’t you go to your room? Just spend some time alone, you’ll feel better. The answer wasn’t in connection. Salvation could be found in solitude. And so, we withdrew to our rooms, each of us, and we stayed there. p 130-133As the fall wore on, Rachel was increasingly out of sync with the other girls. While I befriended the rest of the team, Rachel remained suspicious of them. Didn’t I agree that they were a little vapid and fake? Maybe sometimes they seemed that way, but actually, I liked the fact that they were garrulous and confident. I didn’t tell Rachel that, but as I got to know Kate and Ann and Arden better, I found myself drawn in by their good-natured ribbing and their ability to have long, relaxed conversations about whatever was on their minds. When they started inviting me over to their houses after school, we never needed to have some activity or agenda the way Rachel always did. Instead, we just stood around in Kate’s kitchen, eating and talking about whatever came up. There was nowhere important to be, there were no heavy questions to tackle. Rachel’s air of urgency was replaced by a comfortable, rambling atmosphere, in which I didn’t have to say anything clever or try too hard. And even though I was obviously an outsider, with a weird old house across town with laundry hanging out back and a divorced mom with a full-time job, they didn’t seem to have any problem with that. If I joked about our differences, they laughed, but to them it was all just part of my charm. I was the smart one, the weird one, the funny one. They never tried to cut me down when I was showing off or acting goofy; they didn’t relentlessly pick apart the things I said. They accepted me in ways that even my own family didn’t always manage... But real life is never as cleanly dissected into good guys and bad guys. In the end, I chose Kate and Arden and Ann. I chose their warmth and their ease with one another and their affectionate teasing. We had fights and misunderstandings and breakups and makeups, but over the long haul, those were my real friends. Even though I wore the wrong shoes and laughed too loud or got flustered and said something dumb, they didn’t try to mold me to match them. They liked me just the way I was. I never would have predicted it, not for a minute. p 145When we’re young, we cope with loneliness by creating love out of thin air, by making it oversized and dramatic, by placing better versions of ourselves at the center of it. But when we actually fall in love, it pales in comparison with the movie in our heads—at least until our hearts are broken. Then things get colorful again. Eventually, heartbreak starts to feel a little more romantic than actually being in love. Being lonely begins to feel more vivid and exciting than being with someone. Unless, of course, we find someone who makes us feel lonely and rejected all the time. That kind of love is almost as romantic as heartbreak. p 233But the universe did seem to be on my side more often during that time, plus the healer gave me very pragmatic advice: Exercise. Get more sleep. Read this book. Stop thinking that way. Mostly she encouraged me to open myself up to the unknown, to stop hiding from the world. She quickly recognized that I was a creature of habit, interested in safety above all else, and she could see how it compromised my enjoyment of life. She told me to try new things for a change, to drive to new places, to stop and eat at random Chinese restaurants and taco trucks, to wander through the world with open eyes, to dare to be vulnerable in the face of life’s unpredictable twists and turns. I ate some really bad Chinese food during that time, but something shifted inside me. I became more courageous. I listened to the Eckhart Tolle CD she gave me only twice before I resolved to dump the stoner and move on. p 237You’re never fully prepared. You never really arrive. The best you can do is to keep painting the walls to suit your new circumstances.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Heather Havrilesky's sister Laura was my classmate at Githens, Jordan, and Williams. Now my youngest child and Laura's oldest are in the same elementary school class at Morehead. So when I saw Heather, who is a couple of years younger than Laura and I, had written a book and was giving a reading at The Regulator, naturally I had to go! It was a packed house: classmates of mine and Laura's as well as Heather's, parents of friends who now live far away, and lots and lots of folks who follow Heathe Heather Havrilesky's sister Laura was my classmate at Githens, Jordan, and Williams. Now my youngest child and Laura's oldest are in the same elementary school class at Morehead. So when I saw Heather, who is a couple of years younger than Laura and I, had written a book and was giving a reading at The Regulator, naturally I had to go! It was a packed house: classmates of mine and Laura's as well as Heather's, parents of friends who now live far away, and lots and lots of folks who follow Heather's writing as a TV critic for Salon.com. I think I heard her once on All Things Considered, but I have to say I have not been up to the minute on her writing career, and I enjoyed catching up. Heather noted in her remarks that the book was originally subtitled "Essays," as it appears here on Goodreads. The actual book cover says instead "A Memoir." I think "essays" was a better choice. Each chapter stands alone just fine, and most encompass many years, starting with how Heather's approach to a certain aspect of life (sharing or withholding emotions, for example, or determining the value of truthfulness) was formed in childhood or youth and has evolved over time. This means the chronological flow resets at the beginning of each new chapter. That's not unexpected with essays but can be a bit jolting in a memoir. The book starts with the disclaimer that the stories are true but "certain names and identifying characteristics of some people portrayed here have been changed to protect their privacy." Fair enough for the people, but as someone who know the places she writes about, I wondered why Sherwood Githens Jr. High and Charles E. Jordan High were given their true names, indeed in more complete form than most folks use, but Imacculata, where the Havrileskys went to elementary school, became Sacred Heart. Other places, although not named specifically at all, were a cinch to peg. I loved the description, although fairly brief, of the old South Square Mall. It was such a prominent place in the landscape of Durham growing up in the 70s and 80s, and now it's gone. Ah, nostalgia! The Havrilesky parents are worth the read. Mr. H was an economics prof at Duke, a somewhat sadistic dad who enjoyed scaring the living daylights out of his children as a means to toughen them up, a philanderer who, when his wife finally divorced him, kept several girlfriends around the globe at all times and advised his daughter, "'One girlfriend, or three . . . But never two. If you have two, they'll find out about each other, and they'll be pissed.' This was the sort of pragmatic advice my father bestowed: advice that made no sense (three girlfrends wouldn't find out about one another somehow?)" And yet Heather's deep love for him in spite of his questionable sanity shines through. Mrs. H is well-meaning but has a hard time saying just the right thing: "My mom was about as bad at reassuring a little kid that the world was a safe place as anyone could be. She would start out on the right track, but then give up almost immediately, exhausted by the effort of forming optimistic lies she didn't believe. 'Some people think that there's a heaven,' she'd start out saying when some pet or distant relative died and I wanted to know what would happen to them, 'but I've always thought that was wishful thinking, honestly.' Or: 'The chance of lightning striking the house is something like a million to one . . . but, then again, it did strike that tree in the side yard last year, didn't it? Ane we are on a hill, covered by tall trees.'" Both parents are a hoot to read about, as are Laura and Eric and Heather and her friends and boyfriends, teachers and bosses. It was fun to peek in the windows of a friend's house and see what life was like in there!

  28. 5 out of 5

    John Jr.

    First, why I'm suspending my reading. A dismissive review in The New York Times and a discussion on an agent's blog had made me aware of this book. An excerpt at Google Books had persuaded me that I might like it and find something useful in its technique. And when I later found a free review copy at work, an easy chance presented itself. Here's the rub: For the most part, I'm reading memoirs for possible lessons while I work off and on at writing one, and I decided when halfway through Heather First, why I'm suspending my reading. A dismissive review in The New York Times and a discussion on an agent's blog had made me aware of this book. An excerpt at Google Books had persuaded me that I might like it and find something useful in its technique. And when I later found a free review copy at work, an easy chance presented itself. Here's the rub: For the most part, I'm reading memoirs for possible lessons while I work off and on at writing one, and I decided when halfway through Heather Havrilesky's that, despite its merits, it didn't fit my particular current interest. I didn't need to finish it (though I do still want to know how it turns out). The method I'm trying at the moment is, odd as it may sound, modeled on a Harold Pinter play. If I change my tack later, I may return to Havrilesky's book; in my experience so far, it's a model of a certain approach to memoir. That approach is, in a sense, essayistic, so it connects broadly with a long tradition dating back to Montaigne. Havrilesky presents aspects of a life illuminated with a dual light: experiences as they felt at the time combined with insights from a later perspective. Making this pay off may be Havrilesky's most valuable achievement. That she doesn't dramatize everything, that (to use a common criterion) she tells more than she shows, is no failing. It's simply one way of going about the task. It works very well for her; note how Havrilesky brings back motifs introduced in one context as commentary on another, often humorous or darkly ironic, and you'll see one of the advantages she has found in this method. Of what does her life consist? Havrilesky grew up in the college town of Durham, North Carolina. Her father was a professor; her mother was a "faculty wife." They separated, then divorced, when Havrilesky was pretty young. She became, against the odds, a cheerleader. Later--the beginnings of this aren't clear in the first half--she became a writer, publishing criticism in Salon.com and The Daily as well as other work. The popularity of the memoir form nowadays means that we can meet people like Havrilesky, who may resemble us in some ways (many are the children of divorce) but will differ in others, and whom we might actually meet someday. Memoir is peopling the published world of published personal history with a greater variety than we used to encounter, when it was expected that only the most uncommon and accomplished among us, whom we would otherwise never meet in any personal way, would chronicle their lives. As literary agent Betsy Lerner wrote in the blog post linked above, "The stream of prose is beautiful because it is rich with voices." Havrilesky's is now another one we can hear.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This book was fun to read! Some parts made me laugh out loud. I stayed up late reading in bed a few nights in a row and my husband would wake up all cranky and ask "what are you giggling about? Ugh!" And some parts made me wince because Havrilesky is so honest about some of the embarrassing moments in her life. That takes courage folks! I've seen some reviews panning her for not being an important enough person to have written a memoir. Well, well, well, excuse me judge and jury! We all meet peo This book was fun to read! Some parts made me laugh out loud. I stayed up late reading in bed a few nights in a row and my husband would wake up all cranky and ask "what are you giggling about? Ugh!" And some parts made me wince because Havrilesky is so honest about some of the embarrassing moments in her life. That takes courage folks! I've seen some reviews panning her for not being an important enough person to have written a memoir. Well, well, well, excuse me judge and jury! We all meet people who are "real characters", they are hilarious and engaging and tell great stories. I personally don't think one must be a world leader or celebrity to have interesting viewpoints and stories. I found the tone of the book to be charming, funny and self-deprecating. I could relate to her stories of family dysfunction because whose family isn't messed up, right? Being approximately the same age as the author, her childhood stories from the 70's and 80's totally cracked me up. My favorite words in the book are in the final few pages: "I am not and was never going to be the relaxed, organized, manicured career mom, any more than I was going to the shiny, effusive cheerleader or the diligent Gap employee or the virginal good girl or the wise young lady who dates only responsible, emotionally available guys. I am a disorganized, melancholy second-guesser who rhapsodizes a little too loudly over the pleasures of a cold beer at the end of a long day. I am enthusiastic, yes, and passionate, sure, but I'm also fundamentally ambivalent, angst-ridden, and conflicted. I am distracted, overwhelmed, and mostly unprepared for whatever lies ahead." "You are never fully prepared. You never really arrive. The best you can do is keep painting the walls to suit your new circumstances." Yes! That is real life. It is a relief to hear someone admit some truth and imperfection. Wait, its not just me? I feel like I'm supposed to be striving to be more, better, "perfect". A clean house, well behaved children, a rewarding career, a well-balanced life. But at some point, we all realize that we just have to be happy despite the chaos and uncertainly. None of us are perfect, we learn through mistakes and experiences. I'm trying to stop wishing for more, better and perfect and just be happy with what is. So, excuse me, I'm going to get off this computer and enjoy my beautiful chaotic life. If you want a fun read, pick this book up.

  30. 4 out of 5

    tabz

    I haven't finished this yet and this wasn't particularly a book that hooked me from the beginning, but I would just love to point out how pages 144 through 147 just made me realize just how selfish and lonely i used to be as a child. The entire 9th chapter described very accurately how I used to feel about love and sometimes still do feel about it. "Once I found a love object to focus on, the unspeakably sad, indistinct, creeping form of melancholy I was haunted by as a kid became a sugary, glowi I haven't finished this yet and this wasn't particularly a book that hooked me from the beginning, but I would just love to point out how pages 144 through 147 just made me realize just how selfish and lonely i used to be as a child. The entire 9th chapter described very accurately how I used to feel about love and sometimes still do feel about it. "Once I found a love object to focus on, the unspeakably sad, indistinct, creeping form of melancholy I was haunted by as a kid became a sugary, glowing daydream with a pop-ballad soundtrack. Love transformed loneliness from a static state of depression to an extended, self-aggrandazing trip into the glossiest reaches of my imagination. Spurred on by love songs and Sixteen Candles, loneliness went from feeling lonely to feeling transcendent." Just...aaargh THAT'S EXACTLY HOW I FELT! Realizing that I was so lonely, I ""fell in love"" with a random boy from my class or my neighborhood just because that made me feel better about my loneliness. It was just a distraction, it meant nothing. This is sad. ********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Okay, so, I finished it. It was good!! I really liked her style of writing, never got bored and just LOVED some parts!! There's just the problem that I don't entirely agree with everything she says, ergo, some parts were kinda hard for me to read...But, since it's a memoir, that's completely expected! Overall, this was an enjoyable book! Even got some post its on parts that I really liked [page 144 (see above) and chapter 13] but it wasn't particularly a book that I would re-read...Therefoooore, 3 stars! (:

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