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How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  3,187 ratings  ·  380 reviews
A collection of original, impassioned, and inspiring letters by the author of the popular advice column Ask Polly

Should you quit your day job to follow your dreams? How do you rein in an overbearing mother? Will you ever stop dating wishy-washy, noncommittal guys? Should you put off having a baby for your career?

Heather Havrilesky, the author of the weekly advice column
...more
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published July 12th 2016 by Doubleday (first published June 28th 2016)
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Jean Cole I loved it. As noted in my review, I am past the stage in life where I am still making decisions about jobs, marriage and relationships. But I highly…moreI loved it. As noted in my review, I am past the stage in life where I am still making decisions about jobs, marriage and relationships. But I highly recommend this for the twenty- and thirty-somethings out there. Polly is dedicated to the notion that each and every person should valued and cherished for exactly who they are -- flaws and all. Sounds pretty elementary but in this era of examining and displaying every moment of one's life in a very public way there seems to be a need to step back and view each other as the delightfully flawed unique individuals that we are. Highly recommend.(less)

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Meghan
Jul 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2016
I was hoping for insight, warmth, compassion à la Cheryl Strayed of Dear Sugar. But this is not Tiny Beautiful Things. This is all the hashtags: #whitegirlproblems #firstworldproblems #millennialproblems.

The funny thing is that I embody all those hashtags too. I should have loved this. I should have felt like it spoke to me directly. But I feel like I’m from an different planet than the people who write to Dear Polly.

I often say that it’s senseless to compare degrees of suffering. But reading
...more
Diane
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, columns
I lovedlovedloved this collection of advice columns from Ask Polly, who I admit I hadn't heard of before this book was published.

Heather Havrilesky, who is the author behind the weekly column, uses stories from her own life, tough talk and a fair number of swear words to make her point to readers. The questions in this book include situations involving family squabbles, cheating spouses, loneliness, sexual abuse, grief, and a wide variety relationship issues. Basically, the stuff of modern
...more
Julie Ehlers
I'm an irregular reader of Heather Havrilesky's "Ask Polly" column on the New York magazine website, but I've always admired the advice she gives, so I was excited to read How to Be a Person in the World. The obvious comparison is with Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things, but Havrilesky's writing style is quite different. While Strayed's letters were poetic mini-essays, Havrilesky's letters are messier, more emotional, more meandering. This isn't meant as a criticism—in fact, this style ...more
Kathleen
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
My review for the Chicago Tribune:

The title of Heather Havrilesky's "How to Be a Person in the World" is almost too cute — too self-consciously direct and simplistic. Like: do we really need a guide to that, and is that really what this is? But it turns out the answers are yes, actually, and yes.

Divided into seven general sections, the book's organization speaks to how it's not always easy to know how to behave inwardly — as the heading "Identity and Becoming an Artist (Whether You Make Art or
...more
Bam cooks the books ;-)
I received a Chatterbox gift box with a copy of this book from Doubleday along with several fun gifts. Many thanks to the publisher!

Heather Havrilesky is the author of the advice column 'Ask Polly' which has appeared in New York magazine's The Cut; this book is a compendium of some here-to-fore unpublished letters/responses along with some fan-favorites. I think what sets Heather apart from other advice columnists is her deep-seated empathy for these people and their problems, as well as her
...more
Li Sian
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I LOVE ASK POLLY AND I LOVED THIS BOOK AND I AM GOING TO GET MYSELF A COPY AND I AM GONNA GET ALL MY FRIENDS A COPY AND I LOVE THAT HEATHER HAVRILESKY ALWAYS GIVES IT TO YOU STRAIGHT WHILE TAKING CIRCUITOUS DETOURS IN ORDER TO GIVE IT TO YOU STRAIGHT WITH ALL THE IMPACT OF A CAR CRASH IN ORDER TO PREVENT YOUR LIFE FROM, TOO, BECOMING A CAR CRASH AND I LOVE HER COMPASSION AND I THINK SHE WOULD LOVE THAT I LOVE HER TOO BECAUSE SHE LOVES LOVE AND LOVING YOURSELF AND TRUTH AND HONESTY AND THE ...more
Krysten
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
-I have no experience with Ask Polly outside of this book. I think I heard about it on Twitter?
-The title is very good.
-A lot of the advice is very good.
-The responses are way too long.
-Even when the responses were very good they were way too long.
-I take serious issue with her saying that only "crazy motherfuckers" don't respect healthy boundaries.
-Many people have issues with boundaries. Many people fuck this up constantly even after therapy because they grew up in a household with bad
...more
Halley Sutton
Jul 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Everybody should go ahead and read this book, is one wildly unbiased opinion.
Tracey
"Who do I think I am, giving other people advice?" I thought. "I’m not qualified for this! I don’t have it all figured out. What the hell am I doing?"

I was so glad to read that. Because it's going to be the first thought that comes to mind: who are you to tell others how to live their lives? (It was also a pretty funny callback to Admiral Stockdale.)

Who Heather Havrilesky (Dear Polly) is, is someone who has clear vision and isn't afraid to use it, and who has strong opinions and isn't afraid to
...more
debra
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
FFTMOI (fast forward through most of it) Thought it was going to be more like-"Is it ok to...?" etc.- it was mostly "How do I become a different person or achieve happiness....?" There were a couple of- "Do I invite my prettier than me sister and her new boyfriend to my wedding, and have her steal my spotlight?" or I think it is OK to cheat on my wife for the following reasons-what do you think?"- actual questions that are situational and have a do the right thing answer-those were interesting. ...more
Abbie
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Heather Havrilesky is that brutally honest best friend who cares about you, but is also not afraid to offend you. With a fresh, sassy voice she delivers punch-you-in-the-gut truths that are the definition of tough love. However, there’s an empathy behind her advice, spoken from her own experiences. She’s been there and done that and now she wants to help you through it. But her ability to poke fun at herself and others, as well as her healthy dose of expletives, sure adds a kick in the pants ...more
Sharvari Johari
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Love an advice column moment. Ask Polly is direct effective and very empathetic. She is funny enough that she keeps the columns interesting but insightful enough that you feel uplifted and inspired.
Nancy
No. No no no no no. This was awful and I couldn't get past the first 50 or so pages (which is 50 or so more than I should have read). This is an advice column-style book, which is something she does on her blog, or was it someone else's? Doesn't matter. Anyhoo, I will give you an example of why this is such a waste: Someone writes for advice on how to deal with the fact that she has contracted an STD (whoopsie!) from a guy who was just her friend, who one night temporarily became something more, ...more
Stephanie Thoma
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So good. A funny version of "Tiny Beautiful Things" by Cheryl Strayed. The topics covered range from relationships and striving or being on either end of infidelity to career to creativity to motherhood. It was a book that I looked forward to reading for a laugh and some sound advice with colorful language and imagery thrown in.

Books she recommends in a reply to someone, about what it means to be human:
- The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
- Angel of Repose by Wallace Stegner
- The
...more
Kristina
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I rarely read Ask Polly on The Cut (but that will change after reading this book) and loved her straight-forward, no-bullshit, get-your-head-out-of-your-ass attitude and advice in the responses. She's gentile and understanding, for sure, but also the people who write into her often need someone to give them a polite slap and be told to look in the mirror a little harder.

By the final few letters, you do get a sense of how she will respond. Maybe it's because so many people ask
...more
Jillian -always aspiring-
Jan 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
Maybe it has something to do with being a wayward twentysomething, but I find advice columns like Dear Sugar and Ask Polly deeply inspiring. Even when I cannot relate to a letter's quibbles, I still find some grain of truth or comfort in the response. We may think we're special snowflakes, but at the end of the day there are people out there tackling our same problems and issues. And there's some relief to be gleaned there, in that universal quality we all share.
Zara
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Probably everyone young(ish) should read this book. Havrilesky's advice is the tough love we all need, even when a letter doesn't directly relate to us. So much funnier and snarkier and kinder and truer than Strayed's Dear Sugar, which sometimes made me roll my eyes so hard they hurt. We'd all be a lot happier, I think, if we had Polly gently yelling at us all day long.
Sonya
Aug 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
The advice that Heather Havrilesky gives in this book taken from her advice column is unimpeachable. But there's a sameness to the letters after a while, most of them focusing on the perils and insecurities of being younger. Worthwhile, yes, but also somewhat skewing to the shallows.
Beatrice
There are some real gems in here! Some real insight! But once you get past a certain point or read a few in a row you start to see that it's all the same. One reviewer has said this book "skews to the shallows" and boy is that right.

Too bad.
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
Just the bomb. especially the last section. the woman writes like a dream and knows her shit.
Annie
Oct 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Heather Havrilesky has been giving advice, professionally, in some form or another for almost twenty years. Like many advice-givers, she’s not a psychologist or social worker. She’s a woman with life experience and a talent for speaking honestly and empathetically. How to Be a Person in the World collects letters and answers from The Cut, where “Ask Polly” has run for years...

Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.
Syar S Alia
Jan 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I love advice columns so binging this over 2 days was pretty easy for me. Halfway through the book I wasn't sure if I was getting enough from the book but the thing about Heather's advice is there are a few key notes she plays really really well. Her advice of accepting the messiness of life, accepting one's flaws, leaning into and lovingly embracing fear as a way of making it a part of you and not An Other, and of listening to the true chords of your story really gave me a lot to think about, ...more
kylajaclyn
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There was so much advice I needed to hear in this book. It was extraordinary.
Cristina
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I stumbled upon this book via an NPR article and it immediately called out to me. I love advice whether it's for me or for someone else, & I believe that good advice can reach any person at any time on a level that is deeper than what might appear on the surface. Does "Peggy" give good advice? Without a doubt. Many may seem to chalk this up as "#FirstWorldProblems" but I'd like to say this is like #HUMANPROBLEMS. You think just because someone is poor dealing with being a single mom or how ...more
Jun Chen
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the most personal and important columns I've read in my life. She is special.

(1) Her advice: She reframes. She always pointed out the essence - a mindset shift from the original, seemingly first world problems to how to be a person, something more fundamental; granted, some of the issues are first world- but now that we are on level 4 (a concept from "Factfulness"), we go from the bottom of Maslow pyramid to perhaps upper middle, we have more time and energy to re-examine and
...more
Kelly Hager
Ever since I read Tiny Beautiful Things, I have loved reading collections of advice columns. (Okay, to be fair, I have always loved advice columns. But Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugar made me not be ashamed of it anymore.)

While not quite on that level, there is a lot to love here. If at lease one of these letters doesn't apply to you, I'm not sure I'd want to know you. And I think we can all relate over not knowing how to make friends or date or stop dating or whether to stay in our job or not or
...more
Laura
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked this a lot and would def recommend the audiobook (read by the author). You have to like her advice style, which is very long and rambling and often intense/harsh (but mostly towards men who are being idiots, so I didn’t mind). I’ve enjoyed reading some of her columns online in the past, but I actually think her stuff reads better in this format. The groupings worked well together, set up in general themes, and in at least every section there was something I related to/wanted to send to ...more
Anne Rowley
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
I made the mistake of reading this too soon after Tiny Beautiful Things, which was much more heartfelt and interesting. She's a good writer, but it felt like she tried too hard when she went to the absurd and that's an uncomfortable read. The only parts that interested me were the letters, because they were the only raw and personal parts of the book.
Sara
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As someone who has doled out my own share of opinions, I'm amazed by Heather's ability to give smart, compassionate, no-bullshit advice. With each new question, I’d think “Man, how is she going to handle THAT one,” and each time her answer was both surprising and made complete intuitive sense. In other words, genius.
Katie
Apr 01, 2018 added it
"There is only this moment and what you make of it. No best life arrives. You will always be half-hearted, lopsided, annoyed. Be a lopsided conquistador anyway, indignant and industrious, generous and pushy and bold. Show yourself to the world - your real, lonely, exasperated, generous self. Build a life from the rubble of your dreams. Spend the afternoon listening to the rain, untangling your fears, satisfied but a little melancholy, melancholy but oddly satisfied, knowing that it's all up to ...more
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HEATHER HAVRILESKY is the author of How to Be a Person in the World and the memoir Disaster Preparedness. She is a columnist for New York magazine, and has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and NPR's All Things Considered, among others. She was Salon's TV critic for seven years. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and a loud assortment of dependents, most ...more
“You are a nice person, and you’re also full of anger. You’re a walking tangle of contradictions. That’s okay. Most of us are like that. Women, most of all. How could we not be? People want us to be sexy warriors who roll over and play dead on command. They want us to be flirty burlesque dancers in burkas, aggressive conquistadors with cookies in the oven, Dorothy Parker meets Dorothy Gale, Sandra Bernhard meets Sandra Dee, Kristen Stewart meets Martha Stewart.” 15 likes
“Even though people are shallow and lots of people prefer scripted fictional heroes to real human beings, they can still be shaken out of it in the presence of someone who is REAL. Your problem is not that you haven’t mastered the conversational skills necessary to maintain someone’s interest. Your problem is that you’ve never forced yourself to define exactly who you are and what you love and how you want to live. You’ve never had to talk about these things passionately. You’ve never dared to lay yourself bare, without apology. Once you can look someone in the eyes and say, “Here’s what really matters to me”? That’s what people find attractive, trust me. They want to be with someone who knows himself and gives a shit. That’s what’s alluring and attractive and irreplaceable, even in this age of smooth make-believe.” 14 likes
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