Book by: Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizzelle, and Bethany J. Clement
Review by: Rene Alvarez
Academic Advisor
University of South Florida

The authors of “How to be a Person” praise swearing as a cheap method of spicing up horrible advice.  The main purpose of this book is to inform, but it announces on the back cover that “If you’re holding this book, presuming it to be funny and smart and lacking in bulls***, you will be glad to know it is all these things, but it also tells the truth.”   It is, in fact, not funny, not smart, full of bulls***, and the urgency in which the authors want you to read their book jokingly displayed by the large, all-caps declaration “YOU WILL DIE WITHOUT THIS BOOK (read the front flap to find out why)” is quickly diminished by the absurd advice broken up into numerous snippets void of common sense that operate under the assumption that all college students like “to get roofied and—have a good time (p.121).”

The curse words in this book are plentiful, and are used to cater to the authors’ skewed perception that a college student will only heed important advice slathered with crude humor. If a point is valid, if it can stand alone, if it is thoughtful and thought provoking, it does not have to be accompanied with “f***” or other profanities.  “Holy f*** is it adorable.”(p. 30) “No one worth your time actually gives a flying f***.” (p.45)   “Holy s*** are they exciting.” (p. 30)  All that to extol the virtue of giving flowers, which is one way to be romantic, making mistakes as a college kid, which is par for the course,  and trying new sexual positions; college is the time for experimentation.  The funniest line in the book? “Do you want a weird, hard tongue flicking in and out of your mouth at a rapid rate like a Komodo dragon advancing on a goat carcass?”  (p. 31) Not one bad word. 

And even though “sweeping generalizations are never a good idea,” (p. 171) “The South might not be the number one easiest place to move if you’re a non-straight or a non-white.” (p. 21)   “Colorado is full of creepy Christians,” (p. 22) and “Alaska is swarming with bats*** right-wing separatists.” (p. 23)  Given that the authors of this book suggest that Universities are flooded with students who do not belong there because they do not “care about learning—they’re just taking up space, waiting for a diploma, deluded into thinking it will guarantee them lives much like their parents’,” (p.32)  as well as pander to the stereotype that students are unable to rein in their egocentric debauchery, forget that maybe, just maybe, these students have some intelligence after all and will find those generalizations insulting, and the hypocrisy of this book obvious.  An academic advisor cannot faithfully suggest this book to a student or colleague, and still celebrate multicultural diversity and sensitivity.

Sections on protecting yourself against STDs, how to drink responsibly, how to handle finances, how to cook and do laundry are good and practical in their advice.  “Cover your junk! How to not impregnate an individual…and…not get a sexually transmitted disease.” (p. 36) I applaud the authors for listing the number for a suicide hotline after a section dedicated to heartbreak and death on page 216.  Still, the bad outweighs the good.  I do not recommend this book, nor should any academic advisor, as a whole to any student if their aim is to extract important life lessons seeking prudent guidance through the formative college years.

How to Be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself. (2012) Book by Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizzelle, Bethany J. Clement. Review by Rene Alvarez, Sasquatch Books. 272 pp., $16.95 (paperback) ISBN #9781570618352                               

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