Carl Hiaasen is bringing his caustic humor and clear-eyed observations to a new advice book: Assume the Worst.
EW can exclusively report that the best-selling author, known for his offbeat crime fiction and a Miami Herald columnist, has decided it’s time to collect his wisdom, experience, and necessary pessimism for all college graduates to read and enjoy. Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear presents Hiaasen’s unique assessment of the world and his honest life template for how to plan for the future. He dispenses practical guidance while also sounding an alarm. “Graduation speakers are supposed to offer encouragement and inspiration,” he writes. “That’s not what you need. You need a warning.”
In the book, Hiaasen also explains to grads why “the odds are stacked against you” like never before, dissuades them from taking a spiritual path to serenity, and reveals that the sky most certainly isn’t the limit. There’s still some beauty to be found in Assume the Worst, however — it’s designed by the great New Yorker contributor Roz Chast.
Hiaasen spoke to EW to announce his new book, reveal what inspired him to write it, and tease some of the wisdom that’s included along the way. Read on for more, and look out for Assume the Worst when it’s published by Knopf in April.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to write this book and give this advice?
CARL HIAASEN: I’d read a few elegant volumes of graduation speeches by classy writers like Anna Quindlen and George Saunders. Then my agent, Esther Newberg, sportively suggested I do my own version of a commencement address, knowing that no respectable university would ever invite me to give one.
Were you at all worried about going too cynical?
Unless you’ve been dozing in a cryogenic pod for the last two years, it’s hard not to be cynical. The key is staying pissed off and energized. There’s nothing more tedious than a lazy cynic.
How did you balance giving productive advice with giving hard truths?
My youngest son is going off to college in the fall, so I kept him in mind when I was writing. It’s crucial that young people know it’s still possible to make a huge difference, to help others while prospering in their own lives. But it’s also important that they know what they’re up against — that sleaze, racism, greed, and political corruption are still thriving in the 21st century. It’s a fact, though not particularly uplifting.
Can you tease some advice you’ll be offering graduates in the book?
Don’t believe it when someone says you can be anything you want to be. I could have practiced on a Stratocaster eight hours a day for the last 30 years and still never played like Eric Clapton. Why kid yourself? Do the best with whatever you’ve got.
You say that “the odds are stacked against” graduates. What, in your estimation, has happened to make things so much worse?
There’s more competition, more pressure, and the unreliable lens of social media. Everything you do — or might dream of doing — is instantly judged, often by random nitwits. You’ve got be tougher now, and more clever, than my generation of graduates.
How and why did Roz Chast get involved? How did you two work together?
Roz and I have e-mailed, but we’ve never met. They sent her the speech, and a few weeks later she sent back all these hilarious drawings. It was obvious that we’re both fans of Darwin.
What steps do you hope readers take after reading the book?
Do I sound like Deepak Chopra? Seriously? This book isn’t a survival guide; it’s just a friendly warning about the real world.