Former advice columnist, Daniel M. Lavery compiles the most memorable letters he received during his time as Dear Prudence. With the assurance of anonymity, those seeking advice feel comfortable airing their dirtiest laundry. Readers are guaranteed to run the gamut of emotions as they explore the drama that plagues everyday citizens.
Dear Prudence is divided into twelve chapters. Each chapter focuses on a specific topic. This format allowed for a speedy read. While the content discussed ranged from trivial to super heavy, the book can easily be consumed in a single sitting.
My time reading Dear Prudence, while short-lived, was unforgettable. The unpredictable nature of this book made it my most unique read of 2023. Special thanks to NetGalley, Harper One, and Daniel M. Lavery for allowing me to read this book in exchange for my honest feedback.
This is just like the Dear Prudence podcast, except it's a book! If you like the podcast, you will like the book. There's less banter, of course, but every bit of Danny's delightful and thoughtful insight.
First, I’d like to thank NetGalley, HarperOne, and Daniel M. Lavery for this arc in exchange for my fair and honest review.
I haven’t followed Mr. Lavery’s career or Slate’s beloved column “Dear Prudence” religiously, but I have to say if you’re a person who loves to laugh and enjoys hearing advice or someone else’s perspective on issues this book is for you.
Some might gripe that the book is lacking some organization - which it is - but if you’re ok with not sitting down to read the whole thing and just casually taking a bite through it you’ll have a wonderful experience. It’s witty, snarky, whip-smart, heartwarming, and filled with stories that will have you actually laughing out loud!
Lavery layers in some personal narrative that really adds context and emotion to his advice. He also provides some rich history about the column and where some generally held advice really comes from giving a lot of depth.
Overall, I give this book 5 stars because I had a fabulous time.
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an eARC of Dear Prudence. I have followed the author from afar for years, from the covet-worthy friendship with Nicole Cliffe through the heartbreaking church fiasco. At one time, the Dear Prudence column at Slate was a regular fixture in my life, particularly during the Emily Yoffe era. And finally, the book Tiny Beautiful Things based on the Dear Sugar advice column has haunted me - in the best way - for years. So of course I jumped at the chance to read Dear Prudence. I am the direct audience for the book.
Unfortunately it fell a little flat for me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. Am glad I read it. Could see giving it as a gift. But at no point was I eagerly turning the page to see what was next. Do you know what it reminded me of? In grad school there were these papers where I had to include a certain number of citations. Sometimes I would end up with 20 or so 3x5 cards with quotes on them. I would lay them out in front of me, try to find a grouping which made sense, and then wrote a little something stringing the thoughts together. That is what this reads like. It doesn't feel organic. Rather it feels like a series of letters, almost randomly grouped in chapters with cobbled together thoughts linking them to each other. I know the author is capable of making me think and feel and I will definitely read the next book. But this one was only good enough without blowing me away.
Dear Prudence, by Daniel M. Lavery, is the third collection of letters and advice I’ve read (after How to Be a Person in the World, by Heather Havrilesky, and Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed). Lavery was Prudence for Slate from 2015 to 2021, before passing on the name to another advice writer. Unlike How to Be a Person in the World—which could be read as self-help—or Tiny Beautiful Things—which was about Strayed’s own life and personal growth—Lavery’s collection includes as much commentary about being an advice columnist and why people write in, as much as it does about actual advice.
Lavery reproduces letters about family estrangement, navigating sexuality and gender expression, workplace conflict, communicating about feelings, romantic relationships, and more. The letters feed the gossipy part of myself as much as my low-key compulsion to read the extraordinary and bizarre situations people get themselves into on Reddit’s Am I the Asshole forum. I enjoy Lavery’s forgiving (mostly) approach to advice. He’s blunt with people who write in for permission to cheat (there are a surprising number of these people) but frequently encourages people to give themselves a bit of grace when they’ve tied themselves up in knots about what others might think or conflicts that can’t be resolved. I also really appreciated Lavery’s encouragement to let things go when letter writers confess their petty annoyances or make mountains out of molehills.
During Lavery’s tenure as Prudence, he transitioned and, for good cause, became estranged from his “family of origin.” (Lavery shares the details of what happened with his family and meditates on what to call the people who were his family before the estrangement.) He brings up these personal details in his reflections on how his advice has changed over the years. More than once, Lavery wishes that they had offered different advice or had delivered that advice in softer tones. It might be age and experience but Lavery mellowed over the years. Lavery is also clear about their lack of experience before becoming Prudence and how they have to ask friends with children when letter writers want help with their relationships with their children or younger relatives. I find it refreshing when an advice columnist can respond that they don’t know about something, especially when compared to other advice-givers who present themselves as infallible.
Lavery’s letters, advice, and commentary in Dear Prudence made for a very interesting look behind the scenes at being a professional advice-giver. Readers who are similarly fascinated by other people’s problems will enjoy this collection.
Thank you Netgalley and Harper One for access to this arc.
Yes, I admit it. I love to read the Dear Prudence letters along with Dear Abby and Dear Miss Manners and Dear Mr Manners. Every day after I've fixed my breakfast, got my coffee, and read my emails, I head to where I can find them. And boy howdy have things changed since the days when there was also Dear Ann Landers. Or have they? <i>Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose</i>
Beyond reading the sampling of letters grouped together more or less by theme/type of question, I was also interested in his commentary and thoughts on the letters chosen for the book. Readers need not fear that he's ridiculed anyone. No, he remains honest yet also compassionate about (most) of the topics covered with the outliers being people who have been hateful to others and seem to want a buy or pat of approval from him for their convoluted reasoning.
Many of the topics made me groan (or <i>groan</i> as one reader mystifyingly put in her letter) while others had me wincing in astonishment or biting my lip in sympathy. I laughed, I cried. I even laughed in horror at the woman complaining about her husband's toenail habit before I howled and gasped at what she admitted to being reduced to in an effort to stop it. My God if that won't get him to stop ...
I also wondered if any other writers, besides the one or two you mentioned having written later to update him, saw his responses and took his advice. And yes, I played along at home, pausing to think about what I would say and advise to someone who asked me these questions. I also learned a few resources to reference and reminded myself that we all have our faults. None of us is perfect. Hopefully many of us can change. B
Absolutely delightful. Prudence gives advice that is always spot-on and the questions are timely and relevant to all ages. I would absolutely recommend this as a must-read.
I will admit to loving advice columns. A lot. Somewhere between seeking schadenfreude and preparing yourself for a worst cast scenario, they hit a sweet spot. This is exactly what it says on the tin. You know what you're getting, and it will be a fun ride. Lavery has helpfully grouped letters into thematic buckets and written original intros for each section. Unfortunately, if you are an avid column reader, many, if not most, of the letters will sound familiar. The wit and kindness are present in abundance, but new material is not.
I both enjoyed this, and found it helpful! I was excited to read this because I enjoy Lavery's work in general, and have followed him online for years, but I've only ever actually listened to Dear Prudence once or twice, and that's not where I know him from at all. Throughout this book I was very impressed with how consistently he cut to the heart of an issue--I would finish reading a letter, think it seemed hopelessly complicated or fraught, and then have things completely turned around by Lavery's reframing of the questions the letter-writer needed to ask themself.
The only odd thing is that the book just sort of ends--there's no conclusion at all, so it felt very abrupt. But aside from that I have no problems with this book. I would definitely recommend it.
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperOne for the chance to read and review this ARC.
Received a complimentary ARC of Dear Prudence by Daniel M. Lavery from HarperOne/NetGalley. Scroll past the BOOK REPORT section for a cut-and-paste of the DESCRIPTION of it if you want to read my thoughts on the book in the context of a summary.
I have long loved reading advice columns. They offer a window into other people’s lives, a chance to watch cultural norms shift in real time, and an education on how to manage many of life’s difficulties, both large and small.
Plus, I’m nosy as all hell. I have a particularly prurient interest in the problems of strangers; the idea that friends and family might have similar issues at play makes me feel a bit squeamish. Like, I didn’t want to know _that_ about y’all. Plus, if friends and family share their problems with me, I feel compelled to come up with what I perceive to be some constructive guidance on how to manage their given situations. Usually that involves me asking them what they want the outcome/s to be and letting them come up with their own answer, but sometimes even that can feel difficult to do. No such compunction with the aforementioned strangers.
So, of course I jumped at the chance to read Dear Prudence by Daniel M. Lavery. I remember loving the column when I first came across it at Slate; it seemed to me much more witty and modern than my beloved Ann Landers and Dear Abby. It’s been a while since I read it online, so this seemed to be a good way to catch up.
And it was.
It also was an enjoyable read for the most part; would give it 3.5 stars if but only I could. Mr Lavery is at his best when witty; there were times I very literally laughed out loud.
Unfortunately, the Epigraph and Introduction sections were both bits of a slog; the writing was nowhere near as pithy as in the ensuing chapters. It was interesting to learn about how many different Prudences there have been over the years, and how Mr Lavery was the first one of them to have transitioned gender while in the role. But it was weird that the Epigraph included a letter but no answer, and then the Introduction included a reference to what happened as the result of Prudence’s answer to said letter……but not the actual answer! One can perhaps hope this is something that will be addressed in the final editing process?
Something else I specifically think should be addressed in that process is those phrases at the beginning of each chapter that summarize what’s upcoming. I dunno, maybe they’ll look better in the finished product/be easier to read? I found them distracting to the point of being offputting. They cluttered things up, didn’t add value. Unnecessary vs punctuating repetition. (I’m sure there’s a publishing term for phrases like that, but I don’t know it and can’t be bothered to try to find it out right now. Will save that for 3 o’clock some morning when I am regretting so very, very many of my life choices and need a distraction.)
Hmm, let’s see, what else? There was something else…..
Oh, I know! For some reason every time I started typing Prudence today it kept coming out Produce. Now I have gotten my self tickled, imagining the concept of an advice column titled Dear Produce. Would guidance offered by tomatoes vary dramatically from that proffered by, say, bananas? Would turnips have a more conservative view than kumquats? Should avocados have the final say?
Well. That’s just about enough of that, now, isn’t it?
I don’t recommend reading all of this in just one or two sessions. A little advice column goes a long way….
Based on the long-running Slate advice column, a collection of the most eye-opening, illuminating, and provocative installments during Daniel M. Lavery’s tenure as the titular Prudence.
Every week, millions of readers visit Slate for the irresistible “Dear Prudence,” an advice column that promises a healthy dose of reality and good humor alongside its indispensable suggestions and life lessons. The ever-hilarious and insightful Danny Lavery was one of “Dear Prudence”’s most beloved columnists, and he recounts his time as Prudie in this side-splitting, candid collection—complete with new commentary and exclusive stories—drawing out the broader themes of his informative, unfailingly illuminating guidance.
From guilt and blame (“Am I in the Wrong Here?”) to downright confusion (“Maybe This Is All a Misunderstanding”), from recently discovered wrenches-in-the-machine (“The Other Shoe Just Dropped”) to the travails of parenthood (“My Kids Are Growing Up. Can Someone Please Stop This?”), Dear Prudence isn’t afraid to go the extra mile in its search for the much-needed corrective, gentle reminder, or tough love. This is the go-to guide for anyone who’s just trying to figure it all out—with a helpful nudge.
I am hesitant to give this book a rating for many reasons- there is quite a bit of Lavery's personal history included amongst these advice columns, and it always feels odd to rate someone's life. But.... I still have thoughts, of course.
I hit the NetGalley request button so hard when this popped up, I have always loved advice columns. I'm familiar with Dear Prudence and have enjoyed reading the column in the past. And honestly, what is an advice column if not an opportunity to experience Schadenfreude- sometimes TWICE in one letter! First when we read whatever misery the writer has taken the time to ask about, and then sometimes again when the columnist (in this case, Lavery) rips a fool to shreds when appropriate. And Lavery does deliver some pretty satisfying rips and I wholeheartedly say this book might be worth it simply for those stellar moments.
It's the lack of organization and odd in-between editorialization that lost me a bit. I am not convinced of the coherence of all of the chapter topics that the columns are grouped under, and while Lavery's personal story is compelling, I did feel at times that we were being asked to pat him on the back for this or that, and there is a longer section regarding his family's atrocious behavior as members of an abusive church system that probably deserved its own book, but placed in the middle of a collection of advice columns it was glaringly out of place and felt borderline self-serving in this context.
Anyway, I would definitely say this is a great one to pick up if you like advice columns with heart and a hefty amount of sass!
Thanks to NetGalley and HarperOne for the review copy, and while I am optimistic about the tentative agreement, I want to emphasize that I stand with the union!
This was an interesting read for someone who reads Dear Prudence religiously (I do!). I recognized a lot of the letters and liked hearing about some of the recurring themes Daniel encountered when answering the letters. But the text between the letters somehow was way too wordy while also not giving especially deep insight. His writing style is inherently wordy, but at times it’s too much and I ended up just skipping portions.
For example, this is a real sentence:
It's not always mere projection that can cause tension between in-laws and a new spouse, of course, but it's important to continue to resist the temptation to problematize a child's partner for any conflict or change to the parent-child relationship (aside from extreme cases of abuse, forced isolation, financial control, etc.).
You could take out half of the words and not lose the meaning. The writing style doesn’t allow you to connect with Daniel very well because you’re just deciphering what on earth he’s getting at the whole time.
(You could say “Projection isn’t always the root cause of tension between in-laws and a new spouse, but it’s important not to blame a child’s partner for any conflicts or relationship changes… etc etc etc).
Overall I liked it mostly for the letters, all of which can be read on Slate’s archives. I wish there was more context and background on what it’s like to actually give advice and I also wish Daniel allowed for more connection to his own story throughout the book.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for my honest review!
Dear Prudence is an advice column I’ve enjoyed.Reading a bit about the man behind the column especially one with an interesting history was fun.Well written look at letters advice even mistakes made.Well written kept me reading.#netgalley #harperone.
I really enjoyed this book of letters. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the author acknowledged mistakes made and going through growth themselves.
It’s like binging the column! ..............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
I have enjoyed reading Daniel Lavery's Dear Prudence column in the past, but I never read it regularly so I was excited to see a sort of "best of" compilation. I was even happier to discovery that between the letters we get anecdotes from Lavery, shining a bit of a light on the behind the scenes of being an advice columnist. It was interesting to see what goes into the process and how different letters have effected him in different ways. This is a great book to have sitting on your bedside table if you have just a few minutes at the end of the night and want to unwind.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
3.5 rounded up to 4 stars.
Spoilers ahead. I will not reveal anything big - most of the review vaguely alludes to plot, structure, and characters.
This was a great sort of peek-behind-the-curtain look at the process of Dear Abby and advice columnists in general. I really loved learning about the perosn behind the pen, but that is also where this book fell short for me - I wanted to learn more about Lavery, rather than only get small vignettes from him in between the letters. It was, however, interesting to see which letters affect the advice-giver and why. Overall, I'm giving this a 3.5 for entertainment value, though I really wanted something a little more substantive and reflective between those letters.
Again, thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Im a long time Dear Prudence fan and was excited to read this complication broken up by theme. It was a quick read and the questions and answers are interesting as ever, with spot on advice. That said, I didn’t find that the transition paragraphs in between columns added that much to the story.
As always, thanks #netgalley!
Who doesn't love a good advice letter! This is a beautifully written book containing many of the letters Daniel answered as the resident advice columnist for Slate (Dear Prudence)
I have read Dear Prudence for years and jumped at the chance to preview this book. DP has been authored by several names and I enjoyed Daniel's voice very much. What I love about this book is that Daniel includes his own personal life and how it affected his work. For instance, at one point he began transitioning and identified as trans) which created some large scale family issues and periods where he was very much alone. I think that only someone who has experienced the sort of family dysfunction that causes you to cut ties is the only sort of t person that can give advice when it comes to truly toxic family issues.
Best of all, Daniel includes lots of anecdotes and information about writing the column - things you probably wondered such as what are the most common questions or themes, how to the advice columnists feel about their job, do they recieve updates, are they ever schamed (and if so, what is the point).
What really struck me is Daniel's use of language and the window he created into the life of an advice columnist. That, and of course the letters. As Daniel states, we love to read advice columnist letters as they give us (usually) a no-stakes situation to compare our own life to, and to even imagine the different ways we would address the issues. I don't read DP as much any more but I recommend this book for anyone who loves an advice letter! Incidentally, Danny also has a great advice podcast on Slate called Big Mood, Little Mood #Harperone