First of all, I should tell you how much I love reading advice columns. Ask Polly is a great one, partly because of the length and partly because Heather Havrilesky’s Polly manages to tell every writer that they’re doing just fine and that they can be better, somehow at the same time. There’s one story per column, usually a long tale of confusion, followed by long rambling advice and commiserations from everyone’s dream big sister. You’re doing fine, she says, in different reassuring words in every column, but you can be better.
I’m also loving Mallory from the Toast as the new Dear Prudence. I started out really enjoying Emily Yoffe’s Prudence, I checked Slate every Thursday to see the latest column. But over time (Letter writer: I’m wondering how best to include my complicatedly blended family in a beautiful wedding ceremony– Prudence: I DIDN’T HAVE A STUPID, EXPENSIVE WEDDING AND MY MARRIAGE IS FINE!) I started to pick up (Letter writer: My mother thinks my fiance and I should– Prudence: I DIDN’T HAVE A STUPID, EXPENSIVE WEDDING AND MY MARRIAGE IS FINE!) on a very subtle (Letter writer: I’m getting married next month and I wonder if– Prudence: I DIDN’T HAVE A STUPID, EXPENSIVE WEDDING AND MY MARRIAGE IS FINE!) pattern, and I’m really glad to see the new Prudence.
How To Be A Person In The World is a collection of advice columns and answers. Some were familiar to me, but not all of them. A lot of the questions on Ask Polly are about finding artistic and career satisfaction, or about balancing creative drive with the responsibilities of marriage, family, earning a living, and all the other aspects of adult life. These are not the sort of problems that are solved with a generic suggestion to talk to the offending spouse/coworker/sibling. Instead, Polly reminds us that trying and failing at life, love, work, and art is pretty much universal.
This book may not really be able to tell readers how to be a person in the world, but the stories and advice keep reminding us that we, struggling to be people in world, are not alone.