Reeling from a failed marriage, Sheila, a twentysomething playwright, finds herself unsure of how to live and create. When Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist, enter her life, Sheila hopes that through close—sometimes too close—observation of her new friend, her new lover, and herself, she might regain her footing in art and life.
Using transcribed conversations, real emails, plus heavy doses of fiction, the brilliant and always innovative Sheila Heti crafts a work that is part literary novel, part self-help manual, and part bawdy confessional. It’s a totally shameless and dynamic exploration into the way we live now, which breathes fresh wisdom into the eternal questions: What is the sincerest way to love? What kind of person should you be?
About Sheila Heti
Sheila Heti is the author of several books of fiction, including The Middle Stories and Ticknor; and an essay collection written with Misha Glouberman, The Chairs Are Where the People Go. Her writing has been translated into ten languages and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Bookforum, McSweeney’s, n+1, The Guardian, and other places. She works as interviews editor at The Believer magazine and lives in Toronto.
Sheila is a recently divorced playwright—the marriage ended at her request for no clearly spelled out reason—attempting to finish a commissioned play while working part time in a beauty salon where her boss Uri is a kind of guru preaching beauty in balance. She claims what she desires is a simple life of fame without having to change her life. She also talks quite a bit about her search for a sense of self. She spends time with her friend Margaux, an artist who lives with Misha and has entered an ugly painting contest with another painter friend of Heti’s named Sholem. Heti buys a digital tape recorder and the novel includes actual taped conversations with Margaux, to whom the novel is dedicated, as well as emails between the two. Margaux and Heti have a falling-out because Margaux feels Heti has invaded her private boundaries, both by taping her and, more egregiously, by buying the same yellow dress while they are at an art festival in Miami. Meanwhile, Sheila has met Israel, who works in a bakery. He considers himself a painter, but Sheila recognizes his real art lies in the sex department. She describes their sadomasochistic antics in explicit, though untitillating detail. For a while, Sheila and Margaux fall into a pattern of heavy partying and druggy debauchery until Margaux pulls away. Sheila worries she’s a narcissist, not without good reason perhaps. Claiming imperfect wanderer Moses rather than sinless Jesus as spiritual guide, she leaves Toronto for New York, but she’s no happier there. After a gambling jaunt to Atlantic City, she returns to Toronto in time for the conclusion of the ugly painting contest. – Kirkus Reviews
A Question Unanswered: ‘How Should A Person Be?’
NPR Book Review – June 20, 2012 (Excerpt)
The unexamined life isn’t worth living, according to Socrates, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who disagrees. Few, though, have taken it to the extreme that Toronto author Sheila Heti does with How Should a Person Be? The relentlessly introspective “novel from life” earned critical raves when it was released in Canada in 2010. The book chronicles Heti’s struggle — sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking — to answer the seemingly simple questions: “What was the right way to react to people? Who was I to talk to at parties? How was I to be?”
Based heavily on the lives of the now-35-year-old author and her friends, How Should a Person Be? follows Heti (also the novel’s narrator) as she tries to sort out where (if anywhere) her life is taking her — and whether she should try to transform herself into someone else. Suffering from crippling writer’s block and fresh out of a divorce, she finds a job in a hair salon and starts recording her conversations with her friends Margaux and Sholem, both brilliant, long-suffering artists. At the same time, she struggles to make sense of her relationship with her lover, a handsome but mediocre painter named Israel with a penchant for sexual perversity. [Read the full article...]
Her Ideal Self - ‘How Should a Person Be?’ by Sheila Heti
The New York Times Book Review – July 5, 2012 (Excerpt)
There are a few sentences early on in “How Should a Person Be?,” Sheila Heti’s fifth book and second novel, that are bound to be quoted over and over. “We live in an age of some really great” fellatio artists, the narrator says. “Every era has its art form. The 19th century, I know, was tops for the novel.”
It’s a good line, but one that makes the book sound like a satire — like some scathing and funny look at our sadly declining times by, say, Gary Shteyngart or Sam Lipsyte.
Heti, though, is not a satirist. The cover of “How Should a Person Be?” proclaims it to be “A Novel From Life.” As opposed to a novel from what, you might ask. “As opposed to a novel made from other novels,” I suspect Heti would answer. What the phrase means to acknowledge is that the novel’s (occasional) action and (incessant) dialogue are largely, though not entirely, factual. The narrator is named Sheila, and the narrator’s friends share first names and occupations with Heti’s real-life friends and collaborators, among them the critic and artist Sholem Krishtalka, the writer and teacher Misha Glouberman (with whom Heti wrote a book of pop philosophy, “The Chairs Are Where the People Go,” published last year), and the painter and filmmaker Margaux Williamson — all of whom, like Heti, live in Toronto, where the book mostly takes place. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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