These incisive essays by New York magazine columnist Havrilesky (How to Be a Person in the World), some previously published in shorter versions, invite readers into the contradictions of upper-middle-class American life. She’s interested in “how we ingest and metabolize” the “broader poisons of our culture,” yet cannot “figure out why we’re sick.” She relates these poisons—endemic distraction; determinedly amoral entertainment; the dominance of corporate culture, as represented by the ubiquity of Disney—with a combination of anger, dismay, and ambivalence. She calls out the hypocrisy of the “foodie movement,” with its self-congratulatory “heroic sheen,” for failing to prioritize making “healthy food more affordable to the poor.” Her social criticism is keen, but her best writing is personal. There’s a beautiful essay on being unable to extricate herself from a failing relationship, because “I was more at home with longing.” Her goal is to encourage readers to ask of themselves, as she asks herself amid Disneyland’s overcontrolled banality, “How did we get here? Who stood back and let this happen to our world?” She wants Americans to “wake up to the unbelievable gift of being alive,” even though it means facing anomie, despair, and all the scary emotions that are easier avoided. It’s a message she relates with insight, wit, and terrific prose. (Oct.)
"Wise, wry essays on the false promise of self-help, the emptiness of materialism, and the beauty of the 'imperfect moment.'"
"What If This Were Enough? feels cathartic.... Havrilesky's book is hilarious and pulls no punches, and its cohesiveness feels fresh."
“A sharp, humorous, and heartfelt essay collection that explores our culture's obsession with self-improvement, perfection, and success, What If This Were Enough? asks readers to reconsider their endless quest for the coolest, the biggest, the shiniest new thing, and instead find happiness in what they already have.”
“The popular ‘Ask Polly’ columnist returns with a witty collection encouraging readers to embrace their imperfections and reject our culture’s self-improvement obsession.”
“Deftly written…Havrilesky takes sharp and incisive stand against the never-ending quest for more and for better that inevitably leads many of us to feel restless angst.”
“Always briskly observant, and often mordantly funny…brimming with the author’s warmly diagnostic and incisive voice, the pieces crystallize as potent blends of cultural critique, memoir, and anecdote, which take a scalpel to the inured surface of modern American life.”
"Insightful, intelligent, and with trademark honesty, the book (and Havrilesky through it) seems to want to grant us all permission to feel deserving of, and happy with, our lots in life."
“For the people who don't get to have their midnight crises answered personally, there is this book…[Havrilesky] has written a book of essays. But no book of essays has ever been so hellbent on making you feel better.”
“Think of Heather Havrilesky as your wisest girlfriend whose advice is never wrong. (Seriously, read her advice columns!) In this collection of essays, Havrilesky takes on our never-ending quests for self-improvement and will make you feel a hell of a lot better no matter your end goal.”
“A soothing and much-needed reminder to tap out of the digital jealousy game and give ourselves and others TLC from the Cut’s sanity-saving ‘Ask Polly’ columnist.”
“In 19 wry, insightful and compassionate essays, Havrilesky peels back the layers of late-capitalism malaise that bind us to the promise of some better version of ourselves lurking just beyond our reach, and dares us instead to accept our current, flawed lives, suffering and all, in order to settle into a less anxious and resentful present.”
“The essays in this collection are richly layered, emotionally evocative and often profoundly funny.”
—The Michigan Daily
"Heather Havrilesky is a singular talent and an indomitable force. When it comes to the tension between thinking and feeling, of being out in the world and being alone with yourself, there is no one sharper, wiser, funnier, most honest, or more insightful. In What If This Were Enough, readers will find a splendid mix of Havrilesky’s familiar and intimate 'Ask Polly' voice and the authority and erudition of a seasoned cultural critic. I couldn’t get enough."
—Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Disucssion
"There's an effortlessness to Heather Havrilesky's writing that is incredibly rare. Her funniest sentences are still empathetic. Her darkest confessions are still pretty funny. It doesn't seem to matter what she's writing about, or what point she's trying to make. She's just good at it."
—Chuck Klosterman, author of But What If We're Wrong? and Killing Yourself to Live
"Heather is that dear friend you run into at a bad party at which you’re stuck and you say ‘Oh thank God you’re here’ and spend the rest of the night making dark and hilarious jokes about the party, other attendees, and the human condition. Thank God she’s here."
—Jake Tapper, author of The Hellfire Club and The Outpost
“[Havrilesky] wants Americans to ‘wake up to the unbelievable gift of being alive,’ even though it means facing... the scary emotions that are easier avoided. It’s a message she relates with insight, wit, and terrific prose.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Provide[s] a crucial analytical perspective on human interactions…A fun, often insightful read.”
“[I]n this quick-witted collection of essays, advice columnist Havrilesky pointedly asks whether it is possible to be satisfied without having everything our world of excess offers us…[T]here is always a sharp edge to her observations…[S]he presents some more personal stories about love and loss that tantalizingly offer a glimpse into a more grounded way of life, leavening the dark atmosphere with humor and hope.”
“Thoughtful, direct, and often funny, these essays are a lovely blend of personal reflection and cultural critique.”
A New York magazine columnist examines our current culture, which "exerts a constant pressure on us that severs our relationship to ourselves and each other."In her latest collection of essays, Havrilesky (How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life, 2016, etc.) questions the way in which our society has shaped individuals who too often look to others for self-definition, who develop an identity based on the financial means with which they can purchase experiences, and who take to the digital sphere to create new exacerbations of old cultural tropes. " ‘What should I be doing right now?" is a question that feels more urgent than ever," writes the author. "Face-to-face, real-time connection to others feels fraught and awkward compared to the safe distance of digital communication. We maintain intimate virtual contact with strangers but seem increasingly isolated from our closest friends and family members." In fact, the world Havrilesky describes is systematically injured by new developments in the digital and communication realms, making even the smallest interaction unnatural, the vaguest thought superfluous, and the idea of ambition old-fashioned. Throughout these essays, some of which were previously published in different forms, the author looks at a variety of cultural reference points, including the BuzzFeed phenomenon, the hegemony of Hollywood films, and foodie culture, to provide a crucial analytical perspective on human interactions and on the future. "The past is reduced to a slide show," she writes. "The future is a YouTube video that won't load. And the present is a jumble of jaunty yellow buttons blurting ‘omg' and ‘awww' and ‘tl;dr.' What else can we do but click through?" Though there seems to be no escape from the world Havrilesky paints for her readers, she makes a point of offering a line of inquiry through which they can develop their own perspectives on society today, carving out their own space in the process.A fun, often insightful read for digital fatalists.