Heather Havrilesky’s uniquely endearing voice—always witty, often self-deprecating—has been delighting and enlightening online readers since 1995, when she cocreated the weekly Filler column for Suck.com. At Salon, where she was a television critic for seven years before recently making the jump to new iPad newspaper The Daily, her incisive columns reflected on the ways in which television mirrors its audience—and she managed to be funny. In the recently published essay collection, Disaster Preparedness, Havrilesky takes her own life as the subject, examining scenes of trauma—losing her virginity, her parents’ divorce, her father’s death—with brutal honesty, a sense of humor, and a willingness to forgive. She spoke to me recently from her home in Los Angeles.
The book is called Disaster Preparedness, and each of the chapters deals with some kind of problem or disaster. How did you decide to organize the book around this particular theme?
I had written an essay for All Things Considered about planning with my sister some way of dealing with catastrophes, probably as a result of seeing too many disaster movies. And I started looking at that essay (which is now my introduction) and saying, What does it mean that we had all this preemptive defensive stance toward the unknown?
I also have an appetite for the most humiliating, sad—to some people depressing—dark stories from my own childhood. Maybe it’s because I’m screwed up, but those are the stories that I love the most, that I think are the most sort of delightful to read in anyone else’s memoir or book of essays. Those were the stories I remembered the best, too. And I had a lot of fun with that kind of dark stuff. Certainly there were times when I leaned into the emotional core of it. I mean, I didn’t want it to be a cavalier take on the past. I really wanted it to be an honest attempt to look at the things that happened to me and how they affected me and how my perspective now is different from what it was when these things happened. I learned a lot through that process.