Love Marriage, by Monica Ali

Trigger warning for brief discussion of rape.

When Love Marriage, by Monica Ali, opens, we meet Yasmin Ghorami at her most anxious. She and her fiance, Joe, are about to introduce their parents to each other. Yasmin is very embarrassed by her traditional Bengali parents and extremely apprehensive about the judgment of her British future mother-in-law, a sex-positive intellectual. Ali is so descriptive in this opening chapter that I was cringing on Yasmin’s behalf. Strangely enough, the dinner goes relatively well. It goes well enough that it lures Yasmin into a false sense of security. Little does she know but that dinner is one of the last times that her life will be on course for many months.

Over the course of Love Marriage, almost everything will go wrong in Yasmin and Joe’s lives, and in their parents’ lives. That dinner—with all of the characters straining to make a good impression—gives us a strong hint about what’s going to go wrong in all those lives. You see, part of the reason why all the characters are sitting with their hair clenched (to borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, A Fish Called Wanda) is because all of them have secrets they desperately want to keep hidden from each other. We learn those secrets over the course of the novel as the characters make mistakes, get angry with each other, and are forced to renegotiate their relationships with each other. Sadly, Yasmin et al.’s stories prove that the course of true love really doesn’t want to run smooth.

I realize that my summary might make this book sound like a soap opera (and I haven’t even mentioned the sex addiction or the illegitimate child or the racial harassment). All of that drama serves a valuable purpose. Once the secrets start to come out, all of the characters can finally ask themselves important questions about what matters to them, who do they really love, and what are they willing to compromise over. The other benefit of all those secrets coming out is that the characters can face the things that have been haunting them, sometimes for years, and heal.

Love Marriage is one of the most cathartic books I’ve ever read. When I finished the last paragraph and closed the book, it felt like I had run a marathon. I felt emotionally wrung out. Again, this might sound bad, but it was a deeply satisfying kind of wrung out. Ali’s character development is absolutely stellar. The secrets the characters hold are original but still plausible and relatable. This is one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve read in a very long time.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

Under the Whispering Door, by T.J. Klune

T.J. Klune’s new novel, Under the Whispering Door, hit me right in the feels. This funny, beautiful, profound, slightly soppy story is just what I expect from the writer who gave us The House in the Cerulean Sea. It’s a sign of Klune’s brilliance that this book is so full of warm fuzzies considering that it’s about death and what comes after.

When we first meet him, protagonist Wallace Price is an asshole. He’s a workaholic lawyer who lives a life so efficient that it’s devoid of any hint of happiness. His sudden death from a heart attack doesn’t change anything. The hilarious roasting at his funeral doesn’t help his mood much either. Then a young woman who says she’s a reaper whisks him away to a ramshackle tea shop in the middle of nowhere and a man who calls himself a ferryman. Mei (the reaper) and Hugo (the ferryman) declare that they’re here to help Wallace transition from his new ghostly state to whatever lies in the afterlife. Wallace is having none of it.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief are a frequent theme in Under the Whispering Door. Wallace bounces back and forth between denial, anger, and some brief moments of depression eventually give way to acceptance as Wallace sheds his identity as a Scrooge-like lawyer to become an actually alright kind of guy. More than that, Wallace appears to have found his soulmate in Hugo. Too bad Wallace is dead. This not-so-little fact provides a whopping dose of pathos. The two of them are so delightful together that I started hoping that they would find a way to be together, for real. The stages of grief come back with a fury when that little dilemma suddenly gets a deadline when Hugo and Mei’s boss shows up.

Under the Whispering Tree is as close to a perfect book as I’ve ever seen. There are action scenes and hilarious moments of ghostly shenanigans to leaven the long discussions Hugo and Wallace have about life, happiness, regret, their jobs, the afterlife, mistakes, and so much more. Readers with a more traditional view of the afterlife might not enjoy this book as much as readers who are more flexible about what might happen after death. Religion is conspicuously absent from this book and I loved that Klune offers such a wide-open possibility for what happens after we shuffle off our mortal coils. And I especially love that the possibility might include a cup of tea that always tastes like home.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Notes for Bibliotherapeutic Use: Recommend to readers who are grieving.

Other People’s Things, by Kerry Anne King

Trigger warning for domestic violence in the form of coercion and gaslighting.

Nicole has always believed that she is a fuck up. The protagonist of Other People’s Things, by Kerry Anne King, has just had her marriage blow up, a criminal history, no job, and a significant percentage of her family isn’t happy with her for all of the above. The root cause of all this is something that Nicole thinks of as a curse. Every now and then she will feel an unbearable compulsion to take an object, followed by an equally unbearable compulsion to leave that object somewhere else. Nicole says this is relocation; that she is simply moving things to where they want them to be. Everyone else calls this theft. I was prepared to call it theft, too, but I started to seriously wonder well before the end of this deeply satisfying book.

Nicole’s first attempt to get a job after her latest catastrophe doesn’t last long. While working on her first two jobs for her sister’s cleaning company, she moves a book from one house to the other. The client whose book was taken is surprisingly calm about the whole thing, although she didn’t get a chance to finish that secondhand copy of Dante’s Inferno. The second client, however, completely comes unglued when she sees the book and sees an inscription inside that reveals it to be the property of someone she’s been hiding from for thirty years. Nicole loses her job and is right back where she started, except that her soon-to-be-ex-husband is getting impatient for her to return the money she took from him before he kicked her out.

I hope this description captures the way King blends whimsy with very serious interpersonal problems, because this is what Other People’s Things was like to read. Nicole—and her new protector, Hawk, a PI who switched sides for Nicole after being hired by her husband—provide a lot of the levity and warm fuzzies in this book. I loved watching them fall in love with each other without trying to let on. I also loved watching scheme to take down Nicole’s increasingly appalling spouse, as well as investigate the secrets hinted at by Nicole’s objects. The horrible husband and those secrets kept the whimsy grounded enough to keep the whole story from getting too twee for me to finish. To be honest, the way that Nicole’s gift/curse set things in motion felt deeply satisfying to me. I know a lot of readers will roll their eyes at too many coincidences, but I have a special place in my heart for books that make it seem like the universe knows what it’s doing.

Other People’s Things was a marvelous read, in every sense of the word. I would absolutely recommend it to readers who can cope with the scenes in which Nicole’s soon-to-be-ex gets violent.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: I would recommend this to readers who feel like a screw-up in their lives and would like a story in which the screw-up not only turns out not to be a screw-up, but also becomes the hero. With a hot boyfriend.

Something Wild, by Hannah Halperin

Trigger warning for domestic violence.

Hannah Halperin’s novel, Something Wild, centers on need: the need to be wanted, loved, cared for, desire. So far, this isn’t an unusual premise for fiction. What is unusual is that Halperin looks at need through the perspective of how need pushes her main characters into making bad choices with men, to the point that one of them is being battered by a man she claims to love and who claims to love her. We watch Tanya, Nessa, and Lorraine in their relationships with each other and to the men in their lives, ranging from violent (Lorraine) to indifferent (Nessa), to possibly fulfilling (Tanya). We also see them reflect on their memories of each other, before terrible things pulled them apart. Because domestic violence plays such a large part of the book, I plan to tread lightly when I recommend it—but I do plan to recommend it.

When sisters Tanya and Nessa were younger, their father left their mother, Lorraine. After he left, Lorraine married Jesse. Nessa likes Jesse; Tanya very much does not. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out why. Jesse is controlling, jealous, and violent when angry. Lorraine stays with him because she needs to be with someone. The other men she dated before him were lackluster. They didn’t desire her the way Jesse does. Nessa—before she saw the evidence of Jesse’s violence—was as willing to excuse his worse behavior as Lorraine is. Shortly after Something Wild opens, Jesse attacks Lorraine and puts her in the hospital. Very shortly after that, Nessa and Tanya urge Lorraine to get a restraining order and leave Jesse.

Over the course of a weekend, all three women—spent in semi-hiding from Jesse—find themselves thinking very hard about how they all got to this point. For Nessa and Tanya, they think back to a very upsetting incident when they were young girls, one that sent them in different directions when it comes to what they can do in their relationships with men, and what satisfies them now in these relationships. For Lorraine, this means finding a way to balance all of the demands around her and her own need. Although she’s in an impossible position, Lorraine is the only one who isn’t tearing herself apart on the inside trying to decide if her needs and desires make her a terrible person.

Something Wild is unlike any other novel I’ve ever read about domestic violence. Although it includes some of the things you’d normally expect, it doesn’t tie things up in neat bows and answers. The novel goes deeper to try and understand three women’s reasons for being with the men they’re with instead of putting all of the focus on getting Lorraine out so that there can be an ultra-shiny happy ending. Even though this sounds terribly depressing, I was enthralled by this book. I marveled at its insight. I loved the emotional depth and originality of the story. For any reader willing to tackle a book with so much domestic violence, I highly recommend Something Wild.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: While I wouldn’t recommend this book to survivors of domestic violence or people who have survivors in their lives, I would definitely recommend it to people who say they can’t understand why someone would stay with an abuser. It doesn’t provide a universal answer, of course, but it gives an amazing portrait of why one woman stays with the man who hurts her.

Cormorant Lake, by Faith Merino

There are so many ways to be a mother that I don’t know how lexicographers managed to come up with a definition. I suppose one could be very bare bones about it, but limiting “mother” to someone who gives birth to a child doesn’t take into account adoption, fostering, or found families. Traditional definitions presume a lot about sex and gender. They also don’t account for all the ways that mothers can be good or bad. That’s where literature takes over, I suppose, because it can sometimes take a 300 page novel like Faith Merino’s heartbreaking Cormorant Lake to define what “mother” can mean.

Evelyn is a mother who doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a mother. In fairness, none of the other women in this book is a particularly good example of motherhood. Evelyn comes to her version of motherhood in a way that most would consider a crime. The bare bones definition would that Evelyn stole two little girls from their biological mother. Other details are more important, I think. The biological mother was a drug addict who left her children alone, once for an entire year. Evelyn forbears until, one day when she arrives to check on the girls, she finds the youngest unsupervised in a bath and no sign of the mother anywhere. The sight of the little girl, little more than a toddler, moments away from drowning makes Evelyn snap. She takes the girls and heads for her not-biological mother Nan’s crumbling house in Cormorant Lake, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

From this surprising beginning, Cormorant Lake dives into the wrenching stories of Evelyn and Nan. We learn how Evelyn was once abandoned by her own biological mother and grew almost feral. We learn why Nan is so willing to take in children who lost their mothers—and why she is haunted by ghosts only she can see. Seeing these two women turn themselves into mothers for neglected children got me to thinking about the duty that mothers (however they become mothers) owe to their children and what children owe to the people who birthed them and raised them (not always the same mothers). I had to examine my feelings about Evelyn’s and the girls’ biological mothers. I’ll admit that I was repelled by women who ran away from their responsibilities to their children. This realization really hit me when I saw Evelyn start to pull away from the girls. I didn’t blame Evelyn as much as I blamed the other neglectful mothers because she wasn’t legally or biologically tied to the girls she kidnapped/saved—yet she chose to become a mother where it’s possible that neither the girls’ biological mother or Evelyn’s own might have consciously made the decision to become mothers.

Cormorant Lake is a fascinating read. It’s also kind of a sneaky one. Evelyn and Nan live so close to the bone that it was easy to get lost in their worries about feeding and caring for Evelyn’s girls or the possible legal repercussions of Evelyn’s kidnapping or all the gossip swirling around the town. The bigger issues about mothers and motherhood will sneak up readers. I haven’t stopped thinking about this book even though I finished it days ago. I expect that I will be thinking about Cormorant Lake for a long time.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

Notes for Bibliotherapeutic Use: Recommend to readers who have complicated relationships with their mothers.

Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi

Trigger warning for child abuse.

Throughout Avni Doshi’s unsettling novel, Burnt Sugar, the protagonist is told by others that memories and realities are shared. We create memories together. Because no one’s memory is perfect, there is no one version of what happened. Unlike many of us, however, Antara’s account of her life is complicated by mental illness, dementia, and a large dollop of rewriting the past to tell whatever story the teller needs to convey. No one can be trusted in this novel—making it a perfect read for those of us who love diving into the motives of unreliable narrators.

We don’t learn Antara’s name until well into Burnt Sugar. We learn her mother’s name first: Tara. This little clue serves as notice that Antara is rarely the protagonist of her own life. Instead, Antara follows in her mother’s wake from a home she was too young to remember, to years at an ashram where she was cared for by an older devotee of the guru, to her grandmother’s house (with a brief stint in an abusive convent school), back into her mother’s neglectful care before she could strike out on her own. When we meet Antara—before all of this backstory is revealed—she appears to be a woman who has managed to marry and make a life for herself. This life is an illusion. Antara has never left her mother’s orbit. In fact, we meet Antara at a moment when she is being pulled back into her mother’s life because Tara is showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

I’ve always found it a bit strange that we only seem to have coming-of-age stories for characters moving from childhood into early adulthood. We don’t have a word for stories that capture the transition when adult children have to start taking care of their parents, although I’ve started to see more of these books being published. Coming-of-age stories give readers a blueprint to navigate increased responsibility and freedom. There are no such blueprints for characters and readers who have to look after the people who raised them, watching as those parents lose their ability to live independently. All that said, Burnt Sugar is not a blueprint. While Antara relentlessly quizzes her mother’s doctor for remedies and diets and answers and even offers to have Tara move in, her own struggle to accurately remember the past and deal with her emotional trauma combine to pull Antara apart as much as Tara’s mental health is doing the same to the older woman.

Burnt Sugar moves back and forth, from Antara’s present to her past. A lot is unspoken in this novel, but the way that Antara tells her stories made me think that there is a lot of inexpressible anger simmering underneath Antara’s efforts to appear normal. A psychologist would probably have better words to describe (or diagnose) Antara’s inability to face what Tara did to her as a child, to explain why Antara has such a hard time bonding with her own daughter after Anikka is born, or why Antara feels so cut off from others. But, as the old psychology joke goes: if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. Tara has a lot to answer for in Burnt Sugar.

I found Burnt Sugar to be a very disturbing read. It turns a lot of expectations about mother-daughter relationships inside out, showing how they can become warped when a mother is unable or unwilling to care for her child. We see, in vivid detail, what can happen to a child who is left (mostly to strangers) to be raised and how damaging it can be for a child to know that they are only looked after by others because of obligation instead of love. Very few relationships in this book fulfill the characters in them. Because of this near-complete breakdown of family care, Burnt Sugar left me with a lot of questions about how families should be, how they ought to support members with mental health issues, and when it’s time (or if it’s even possible) to cut all ties and run for the hills.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Note for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to readers who are facing the decisions that come with having to take care of their elderly parents. Also recommend to readers who have complicated relationships with their mothers.

Mother Land, by Leah Franqui

Rachel faces a fate feared by many women around the world. Shortly after Leah Franqui’s novel, Mother Land, opens, her mother-in-law appears at her apartment door with a loaded suitcase and no plans to ever leave. Franqui presents a clash of cultures that plays out as two women try to find a way to live together when they have radically different ideas about how to live.

Rachel tells us more than once in Mother Land that she marred Dhruv because of his certainty. After a life of not knowing what she wants, she is attracted to a man who knows exactly what he wants. They married in less than a year, then took what turns out to be an even bigger step: they move to Mumbai. Rachel is more than willing to give living in India a chance. Like other Westerners, she hopes that India will help her find herself.

Unfortunately, not knowing what she wants doesn’t mean that Rachel doesn’t know what she doesn’t want. For example, Rachel does not want the maid to come more than once a day. Nor does she want a cook. Most especially, Rachel does not want her mother-in-law Swati to live with her. After seeing the way her son and daughter-in-law show each other affection, Swati realizes that she has never loved her husband. Her unhappiness leads her to separate from her husband and fly across the country, from Kolkata to Mumbai, to live with her son.

Swati and Rachel have very different ideas about the right way to live. Swati argues that of course maid has to come twice a day and that not having a cook is just not done. Rachel loves cooking so much that having a cook is an insult. Neither of these women is very good at explaining what they want and why. Swati falls back on arguing that this is just the way things work in India. Rachel can’t articulate the American shame of having servants or her satisfaction in cooking things from scratch. Because Mother Land is narrated by Rachel and Swati in turns, I couldn’t help but sympathize with both of them.

As forced proximity often does, Swati and Rachel start to learn more about each other—as much as they don’t want to at the beginning. Swati slowly comes out of her very constricted upbringing and social strictures. Rachel, however, has to come to terms with the fact that she might have made too big of a leap when it came to marrying and moving to India. And, as the characters reflect on their prejudices and choices, they start to realize just how much they have in common.

Mother Land doesn’t end with a happily ever after for Rachel and Swati that we might have expected from a story about two people from different cultures who have to suddenly get along or end up fighting to the death. But it does end with a clarity that feels brave and honest. I really, really liked this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: This book is strongly recommended for people who find themselves in close quarters with people they don’t understand.

Broken People, by Sam Lansky

One-hit-wonder writer Sam lives a life of twenty-first century of cynicism and mental malaise. He’s known happiness in the past, but is much more likely to complain about all the bad times in his life. His literary career even hinges on a memoir of his years as a teen-aged drug addict. But, in Broken People by Sam Lansky, Sam has a chance to “fix” himself. And who wouldn’t take a chance to fix the broken parts of themselves? Sam’s problem is that this fix comes at the hands of a self-styled shaman. Will he be able to put aside his very chic disbelief for a chance to heal himself?

I have to be honest. For the first third of the book, I found Sam insufferable. He whines. He wallows. He is always focused on the negative parts of his life. Sure, he knows that he’s insufferable, but Sam figures that he’s doomed to be an insecure, body-hating, impostor-syndrome-having gay man. When he talks to his similarly afflicted (apart from the homosexuality) friend Kat, they sort of but not really joke about how broken they are. Yet for all of his negativity, Sam joins a new friend in meeting with a shaman. Yup. A shaman. Jacob freely admits to borrowing methods from indigenous people all over the Americas and to making heavy use of ayahuasca in his ceremonies. He claims that he can (with some slight caveats) fix people in three days. Most of Broken People takes place over three chronological days, but it feels longer than that because Sam goes on a journey through his memories. Sam visits events in his life where he hurt and was hurt by the important men in his life. Every memory takes him closer to the root of his brokenness.

Because this book is all about Sam’s issues, it’s hard not to try and diagnose Sam. There were all kinds of labels I could have applied to Sam, based on my one semester of Psychology 101. I wasn’t wrong, entirely. The more I read about Sam’s life, the more I empathized with him. (I also confirmed that I am definitely not therapist material.) Reading Broken People was a bit of a chore at first, until I started to see glimpses of the deeply loving, quirky Sam that was buried under layers of coping and defense mechanisms. There was a moment when Sam, reviewing a particularly excruciating memory, wishes he could reach out and slap some sense into his younger self. That moment completely one me over to Sam.

It feels ironic that I read this book just a few weeks after discovering the Am I the Asshole? and Just No MIL (Mother-in-Law) subreddits, in which people reveal all kinds of self-destructive, delusional behavior. (I started reading them for the schadenfreude. I’m not proud of this.) In thinking about all of that bad behavior that I didn’t understand I realized that Broken People has done its job. Now, when I read another bizarre story from the depths of Reddit, I will always wonder about the damaged person inside of layers of thoughts and actions that make fed-up people ask strangers on the internet for advice.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to readers who have people in their lives who are constantly self-sabotaging. It might give them a little bit of hope that these people might someday find a way to heal.

Weather, by Jenny Offill

I understand the fuss about Jenny Offill now. Weather is an amazing work of fiction that captures so much of what I feel living in the world today: the dread, the anxiety, the helplessness in the face of climate change. And it’s not just the content that made me love this book. The way that it’s written, in impressionistic glimpses into the life of Lizzie, as she tries to be all things to all of the people in her life. Even though the tension in this book built with every page, I felt a strange sense of relief as I read it that I wasn’t the only one to feel all of those feelings whenever I read about the latest acts of the US government, the fires and disasters around the world, and the inertia that seems to prevent us from doing anything about all of this.

Lizzie has more of what I’ve had from time to time. I’m not sure what it is about librarians but, sometimes, people tell us things. People tell things that they should probably keep to themselves to Lizzie all the time. They confess things to her. Her former addict brother, especially, tells Lizzie all of the terrible things he thinks when he lets his anxiety spiral. When Lizzie takes on a part-time job answering questions for her former mentor, who runs a podcast and gives lectures about how to live when climate change irreparably disrupts how our world functions, it gets worse. In spite of all of the psychological pressure, Lizzie carries on with her ordinary life. She takes her son to school. She sustains her marriage to a sweet man with his own worries. Lizzie is a lot like the rest of us. We have to keep going on with our lives even when there are so many existential threats, within and without.

What’s absolutely brilliant about Weather is the way that Offill creates all of this from brief passages of dialogue, jokes that Lizzie shares with her husband, bits of emails from her other job, and encounters with library patrons. At first, I wasn’t sure how to piece things together. The text doesn’t give things away easily. When I stopped trying to put the pieces together and let it wash over me, I felt like I was starting to feel the panic of Lizzie, her brother, and her husband—a panic so like my own when I spend too much time on Twitter.

As the pages started to count down to the end, I started to wonder how all of this dread was going to be resolved. Good fiction has to give some kind of catharsis and resolution by the end. I wanted that catharsis because so much of the emotion kicked up by Weather is exactly what I and so many people feel about the world around us. If I could figure out how Offill’s characters deal with it, perhaps I could use it in my own life and share it around with others. The good news is that I think I found something to help me cope. The bad news is that it was an emotional realization that you can only get by reading Weather, preferable in one dose so that you get the full psychological impact.

The other thing I learned when I read this was what people mean when they say that they’ve read a book that made them feel seen. Being a person with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, I don’t feel like there’s a lot of fiction about the condition. I like to read about heroes who can put aside their worries and do the thing. There are plenty of these characters out there in literature for me to admire and learn from. But it’s hard for a writer to really capture what it feels like when your thoughts run away from you and think up the worst possible futures for you to fret about. Characters who can do the thing, instead of constantly worrying about all the ways that the thing can go wrong, are much more engaging to read about. Panic is not a fun experience, in life or in print. But, I feel grateful (a new reading emotion for me) for having read this book. I really do. Weather was perfect for me. And I suspect that it will be perfect for a lot of other readers out there, who feel like the world is spinning out of control.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to readers who have anxiety or who have anxious people in their lives.

How to Be a Person in the World, by Heather Havrilesky

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.

Although the letters and answers range a variety of topics and Havrilesky’s career at The Cut, a central thesis emerged as I read her answers. Readers who are lonely, want to be loved, want to be artists, want to be grown ups finally, are given advice that is a variation of learning to love oneself as a complete human being. Havrilesky wants these readers to stop wasting time procrastinating or wondering if there is something wrong with them. With the exception of the man who wanted a pass to cheat on his wife (duuuuude), Havrilesky assures her readers that there is nothing wrong with other than a need to stop beating themselves up and make their expectations more realistic.

Humans are (mostly) wired and taught to be with other humans. If it’s not marriage, it’s friendship and family relationships. We really do need other people. What we don’t need is to pretend to be someone we’re not in order to have some kind of relationship. The only thing the pretending accomplishes is bitterness, loneliness, and regret. This is easier said than done, of course. We’re all weirdos who don’t want other people to know we’re weirdos. Very few of us are really encouraged to fully embrace our weirdo-ness. We’re taught to shave off the rough edges, so as not to upset others or be obnoxious. Women especially are taught to take up less space, be less loud, and be more accommodating. It’s a lot of conditioning to overcome. Havrilesky’s bluntness, use of her own life experiences, and use of ALL CAPS are necessary to break through—whilst being very entertaining to read.

Unlike most books that I read, where the plots race and I often recommend that people read them in as few sittings as possible, How to Be a Person in the World is best read in small doses. Havrilesky’s advice tends to run together after a while if you read it in less than 24 hours like I did. The stories from Havrilesky’s live stand out, however. Because she is so open and honest about her own struggles to become a whole person in the world, I can’t help but see her as a wonderful, wise, sometimes goofy, guide through the pitfalls of human life and love.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to readers who very much need to be told that they are enough on their own, that they should cultivate things that bring them joy and meaning, and that being alone is not the end of the world.