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Disaster Preparedness: A memoir Hardcover – December 30, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A product of growing up in the destabilizing 1970s in Durham, N.C., journalist Havrilesky (Salon.com) has fashioned a series of funny, offbeat, girl-friendly essays that treat some of the iconoclasm of that era, namely the rupture of divorce, the failure of religion, and the supremacy of consumerism. The youngest of three, the author became aware early on that her parents did not get along, yet she also learned from seemingly normal (but suicidal) friends that life wasn't greener on the other side. Her mother evolved from being a faculty wife to getting a full-time job, while her father, a professor, enjoyed "a rotating cast of younger girlfriends" in his condo across town. The divorce of her parents (her mother first moved out for a spell to live in a rented apartment by herself)--made the siblings realize that nothing that adults told them from then on could be trusted. Moreover, Havrilesky's father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 56, leaving her wondering whether she had ever really known him. Havrilesky's winning essays venture into the perils of socialization and dating, always keeping a light, self-deprecating tone that attains at moments a wonderfully humane sagacity. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

As a kid of the 1970s, Havrilesky drafted plans and mapped escape routes in case any of the catastrophes depicted in the era’s popular disaster flicks happened in real life. Everything from alien invasions to house fires were covered. But what about growing up? There aren’t enough tin-foil hats in the world to prepare for the myriad everyday farces and small disasters that scar us emotionally in the course of coming of age. Disclosing her family history with both intimacy and sarcastic wit, Havrilesky focuses on her relationship with her parents, the aftershocks of their divorce, and her active pursuit of self—in cheerleading, boxing, New Age therapy, and some awkward romantic entanglements. While this memoir is dedicated to her fiercely independent mother, she creates a pensive, loving, and honest eulogy for her late father, the spontaneous adventurer. The end, refreshingly free of spite and full of hard-won optimism, is the true accomplishment of her work. --Courtney Jones
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (December 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487685
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487682
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Heather Havrilesky writes New York Magazine's Ask Polly advice column, Bookforum's Best Seller List column, and The Onion/StarWipe cartoon "Anitmatter." She is the author of How to Be a Person in the World (Doubleday, 2016) and Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead, 2011). She was Salon.com's TV critic for 7 years and co-created the cartoon Filler for Suck.com. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Baffler, The Awl, NPR's All Things Considered, and several anthologies. She lives in Los Angeles with a loud assortment of dependents, most of them non-deductible.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ah, the 1970s! That glorious time before seat belt laws and bicycle helmets. In the 1970s we stayed out, unsupervised in our neighborhoods, past dark and ate sugary cereals every day for breakfast. We wore knee socks and rainbow shirts. And then came the boom of the '80s. America was rich and powerful, and we all felt the same way. The music was happy and the television decadent. But of course, growing up in the '70s and '80s wasn't always so wonderful. Even as the country prospered and we partied at discos, families were struggling in ways they always have: with anxiety, frustration and misunderstandings threatening to bury the love.

In her new memoir, DISASTER PREPAREDNESS, Heather Havrilesky examines family life against the cultural backdrop of the late '70s and the '80s in suburban America. There is both the self-created, internal disasters of a young woman coming of age and the painful disasters of a family breaking apart. All of it is written in a compelling and provocative way.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS is more precisely a collection of 15 autobiographical essays than a chronological memoir. Each stands alone just fine, though altogether they paint an interesting and personal family portrait. In the first chapter, "Cousins," Havrilesky begins by recalling how she and her siblings made up an "alternative version" of the board game "Clue," where instead of trying to solve a murder they are trying to commit one. It is an odd but endearing picture of the children as they use pieces from the game "Sorry!" to act as witnesses to their crimes, creating a new set of rules for the macabre but funny version of the classic game.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Heather Havrilesky's memoir of growing up in the 70s and 80s is a delight. Is it screamingly funny? Not, not really. But it is poignant, witty, real, topical, touching, reflective, insolent, feisty, and utterly like life.

Each chapter, arranged quasi-chronologically, could stand alone as a general look at one phase of life: childhood, dealing with intra-family squabbles, the tension and divorce of her parents, trying out for cheerleading, who you pick and who picks you as friends, losing one's virginity, the death of a parent, finding love at last, and just discarding fairy tales and coming to terms with what real life is - everything is here. It's told against a soundtrack of 80s music, high school rivalries, a rotating cast of ever younger girlfriends entertained by her father, etc.

Havrilensky's writing style brings all of these inherently tense and anxiety-fraught situations home with honesty, clear vision, a knack for the ironic and the sardonic, and something of a gimlet eye towards life. The funny and the weird, bad jobs, loser boyfriends, vignettes of childhood - she remembers it all, and the reader will recognize his or her own stories in the mix as well.

It's good stuff.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Heather Havrilesky is a typical child of the 70s, worried about the Shah in Iran, World War III, and her parents' rocky marriage. The only problem is, she doesn't have any adults around to help her gain a sense of equilibrium and safety. In fact, most of the grownups in her life -- including her Catholic teachers and her parents -- seem to enjoy making dire predictions of their own. As a result, Havrilesky grows up with a feeling of impending doom awaiting her around every corner. Whether it's a crazed hippie river guide or a house fire, Havrilesky spends her days coming up with ways to deal with the inevitable disaster awaiting her.

This book is a collection of essays, starting with her early days and coming forward into adulthood. Her earlier memories are humorous, yes, but blackly so, with an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty. But as she matures, she seems to grow stronger, and her essays about her adult years are threaded with an inner strength and confidence that gives me hope that she will, indeed be able to survive, despite the inevitable challenges we all face.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Heather Havrilevsky's writing is accomplished, evocative and honest; it can also be a bit self-absorbed. This book is quirky and often endearing. Still, I don't think I'd recommend it(I really struggled between 3 and 4 stars). Early on, Havrilesky says she doesn't want to portray herself as a victim - the classic warning signal that someone's about to tell us about her victimhood. And tell us she does...at length. Self-disclosure is important for a writer but honestly, I don't need to know that much about ANYONE's therapy sessions. Written by a reclusive genius whose work I'd always admired, a sentence like, "...I would emerge [from therapy] with a more genuine flavor of confidence, a far cry from the hollow swagger I'd adopted out of desperation, under the bewildering circumstances of my emotionally unpredictable household" would have been fascinating. From a writer whose work is new to me, tales of unsupportive parents, unspectacular boyfriends, and the stress of parenting two small children without central air conditioning didn't elicit all that much empathy. The story was just too mundane to be worthy of the truly excellent writing. Havrilevsky alludes to depressive episodes, and it is fascinating to watch a self-aware, talented mind struggle with an innate inclination to interpret life negatively. She comes off as an intelligent, likable person who wants to encourage other frazzled woman to accept themselves, but I'm not sure this book does that. It was a bit like listening to a good friend vent after a bad day, but without the margaritas.
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