...a warm and charismatic book ... Most of us (most women anyway) have at some point in our lives had our own version of a Polly, a friend gifted with a generous ear as well as an uncanny ability to somehow see our troubles more clearly than ourselves. What makes Havrilesky’s book so entertaining to read is that she possesses both of these qualities alongside a genuinely humorous and compelling voice ... If I were to volunteer one quibble with How to Be a Person in the World, it would be that the Persons whose problems make up this book at times start to sound a little similar.
The entire book is almost overwhelming in its unrestrained gush of love, self-acceptance, and a serious exercise regimen. As the advice pools together into a longer treatise on how to live in the modern world, the letters become almost secondary to Havrilesky’s feelings on life, love, and a fridge well-stocked with beverages. Individuals are steamrolled in favor of a larger point. I often reached the end of an essay feeling inspired, but hardly remembering what the question was. But while the advice might not always be practical, it is soulful and raw. Even if she loses the initial question, Havrilesky never loses the reader, drawing us in with humor, honesty, and empathy.
I cherish nourishing potato people and stable mountain people, and sometimes I worry Polly doesn’t give them enough credit. One might also question whether creative brilliance has to go hand in hand with messiness—aren’t there plenty of calm, focused artists and disheveled, shallow normals out there? (I often suspect that I am an anxious normal; even if Polly might atomize that qualm with the glistening affirmation that my anxiety is a byproduct of my awesomeness, I’m not convinced she’d believe it.) But I’m also making Havrilesky sound more insufferable than she is. She’s not a first-person essayist reframing her weirdo habits and painful fallibilities as empowering virtues. She’s an alluringly wry cheerleader, an enthusiastic volunteer offering sports drinks as we struggle past during the half-marathon of life.