Disaster Preparedness: A Memoir

Disaster Preparedness: A Memoir

2.5 7
by Heather Havrilesky

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A perceptive, witty memoir about the transformative humiliations of childhood-and adulthood-from a unique, already-beloved voice.

When Heather Havrilesky was a kid during the '70s, harrowing disaster films dominated every movie screen with earthquakes that destroyed huge cities, airplanes that plummeted towards the ground and giant sharks that ripped

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A perceptive, witty memoir about the transformative humiliations of childhood-and adulthood-from a unique, already-beloved voice.

When Heather Havrilesky was a kid during the '70s, harrowing disaster films dominated every movie screen with earthquakes that destroyed huge cities, airplanes that plummeted towards the ground and giant sharks that ripped teenagers to shreds. Between her parents' dramatic clashes and her older siblings' hazing, Heather's home life sometimes mirrored the chaos onscreen.

A thoughtful, funny memoir about surviving the real and imagined perils of childhood and early adulthood, Disaster Preparedness charts how the most humiliating and painful moments in Havrilesky's past forced her to develop a wide range of defense mechanisms, some adaptive, some piteously ill-suited to modern life. From premature boxing lessons to the competitive grooming of cheerleading camp, from her parents' divorce to her father's sudden death, Havrilesky explores a path from innocence and optimism to self-protection and caution, bravely reexamining the injuries that shaped her, the lessons that sunk in along the way, and the insights that carried her through.

By laying bare her bumps and bruises, Havrilesky offers hope that we can find a frazzled and unruly, desperate and wistful, restless and funny and frayed-at-the-edges way of staring disaster in the face, and even rising to meet it head on. By turns offbeat, sophisticated, uproarious and wise, Disaster Preparedness is a road map to the personal disasters we all face from an irresistible voice that gets straight to the unexpected grace at the heart of every calamity.

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Disclosing her family history with both intimacy and sarcastic wit…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.
Library Journal - BookSmack!
Salon.com writer Havrilesky stumbled through a childhood and adolescence marked by divorce, stultifying part-time jobs, cheerleading, and bad romance. Her sweet and witty examination of these and other aspects of a 1970s suburban upbringing focuses on lessons learned along the way. Havrilesky's reflections on the damage and the growth caused by living through life's myriad little disasters, and her enthusiastic conclusions about the value of our efforts just to live our lives, are encouraging and designed to remind us that we are, in fact, OK.What I'm Telling My Friends: I think Heather would like to meet us for dinner. It would be fun, we'd all laugh, and you guys should really read the book before we go. Therese Purcell Nielsen, "Memoir Short Takes," Booksmack! 10/7/10
Kirkus Reviews

Generic family memoir about growing up in North Carolina in the 1970s.

ForSalonstaff writer Havrilesky, as for most, childhood was a mix of ups and downs. The youngest of three, she was at the mercy of her older brother and sister—though, despite claims to the contrary, the abuse seemed to stop at minor offenses, like serving her an unappetizing cocktail of tomato juice and seltzer. Her parents' fights and eventual divorce were a major turning point in the author's childhood, invoking an understandable amount of instability, fear and strange vacations with other families who had different ways of looking at things. Adolescence came with the usual angst and awkwardness—a shining example of which was when she lost her virginity to a Paul Bunyan wannabe who was secretly pining after her best friend, and who, much to Havrilesky's shagrin, told the entire school about their tryst, which came back to haunt her even years later at a reunion. Finally, when her siblings had shipped off to college, the author looked forward to quiet time at home with her mother after what felt like years of chaos. But the relative peace was soon broken when her elderly grandmother could no longer live on her own and moved in. As an adult, Havrilesky tried to analyze memories with her therapist, delving into complicated feelings toward her father, who is no longer living, her mother, who still tries to control many things about her life, and other experiences. Now married and a mother of two, she tries to make sense of how her childhood influenced the adult that she has become.

Havrilesky's life is relatable but unremarkable—a pleasantly told story, but not compelling enough to sustain a full book.

From the Publisher
"Heather Havrilesky's memoir Disaster Preparedness is about board games, inappropriate boyfriends, Star Wars, kickball, Amy Carter and chain stores - but it's also about life and death, and love and loss. I thought it was great."
-AJ JACOBS, author of The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries

"I love Heather Havrilesky's work, and have been reading her for years. She's smart, hilarious, unique-just terrific."

"Heather Havrilesky captures the weird, chaotic, innocent-but-also-jaded, sweet- but-also-kind-of-rancid essence of childhood in the 1970s. And if that's not enough, she takes us-hilariously, painfully, utterly relatably-through the entropy of being a teenager in the 1980s. At once sharp and tender, Disaster Preparedness both laments and salutes what it means to belong to a family- and indeed an entire culture-that seems inherently unmoored."
-MEGHAN DAUM, author of My Misspent Youth and Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Heather Havrilesky grew up in Durham, North Carolina with a bossy older brother and sister, a submissive Beagle mix named Madge, a few brutal cats and a wide assortment of ill-fated rodents. After graduating from Duke University, she moved to San Francisco where she blended into the scenery by drinking too much and writing angry songs about unrequited love, although never in a rockabilly band. In 1995, she co-created the weekly cartoon Filler with illustrator Terry Colon for Suck.com, one of the most popular daily sites on the web. Filler ran for five years and was Suck.com's most popular feature. In 2001 she created the Rabbit Blog, enabling her to dispense peevish, misguided advice to innocent strangers. Her work has also appeared in Spin, New York, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, BookForum, and NPR's "All Things Considered." Since 2003 Heather has been a senior writer on staff at Salon.com, where she covers television, pop culture and all other empty distractions that impede our progress as a species. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.

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