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How Should a Person Be? A Novel from Life
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How Should a Person Be? A Novel from Life

3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  5,291 ratings  ·  844 reviews
A raw, startling, genre-defying novel of friendship, sex, and love in the new millennium—a compulsive read that's like "spending a day with your new best friend" (Bookforum)

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 ar
ebook, 320 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 25th 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jen  Ferreira
I really dislike this book. To be honest, the best word to describe my dislike for this book is "petty". A quarter of the way through I started to resent that Miranda July and Margaret Atwood wrote kind blurbs that appear on the back cover. As in, I held the book in my hand, flipped it over, re-read the comments from these two writers that I admire, and sat there resenting them. Petty, right?

"How Should a Person Be", by Sheila Heti, is a very experimental, stream-of-consciousness novel/"fictiona
I wanted to really like this, because people have been talking about how "experimental" and "feminist" this novel is. Margaret Atwood wrote a blurb for it, and she's my fave author of all time.

However, (and I suppose that this is a testament to Heti's writing, hence a couple of stars): I know this chick. (I use that word unironically.) And I hate her. She's pretty, she's twee, she is self obsessed and shallow. She probably has some ironic mustaches and twitter birds floating around her house. S
Spoiler alert:

If your protagonist comes to a major life realization while sticking her nose in a guy's hairy ass, I'm probably not your target audience.
Being a woman of Heti's generation currently living in Toronto, this book embarrasses me. Heti thinks she is truly having a revelation about living by discovering that her life might at times be 'ugly', so much so that she feels the need to share it with everyone in a book called 'How should a person be?: A novel from life'. It reminds me of that time when Tyra Banks wore the fat suit for five minutes, had a crap experience, cried and then thought she could teach the world how it felt to be obes ...more
Insert German term for a coming-of-age novel -- Bildungsroman. Insert German term for a novel depicting an artist's maturation -- Künstlerroman. When put forth by a contemporary Canadian woman you get something not necessarily new but interesting -- and I read with true interest throughout. It's a simple love story between artistic girlfriends obsessed with art. The love between Sheila and Margaux is childish in the best BFF way. There's innocence, joy, obsession, boundary transgression, needine ...more
After reading several positive reviews and waiting a three tantalizing weeks for the book to free up at the library, I was surprised by what I found. Some of the passages were insightful and charming (Heti's description of Puer aeternus (or Peter Pan Syndrome) comes to mind); others made my skin prickle with eery familiarity (Sheila's last night with Israel). For the most part, though, the protagonist's reflections on herself, her friends and their art-making read like an extended therapy sessio ...more
JSA Lowe
Yeah, okay, I fell for it. Read it in a great swooping gulp. Perfect book for me to read in the anguishing throes of a girlfight which is taking up every inch of mental real estate. Chloe & Olivia, &c. Want to reread it immediately, want to post swathes of excerpt for everyone and myself and the world and preach the Gospel of Heti's style. The faux-naif flatly mannered simplicity, Hemingway by way of Lydia Davis, only even more stripped down and artless—people have said Patti Smith and t ...more
So, there's part of me that actually wants this book burned. I feel it may reveal (or perhaps I mean confirm) too much about how truly shallow, self-obsessed, pathetic, and insecure most women are. Especially pretty ones. Never having been a pretty girl myself I found I couldn't really relate directly to the Sheila character, but I can recognize the type. There are some very shallow, self-obsessed, pretty girls with pretensions to write who I know personally, and I kinda wanted to text them now ...more
Just as it is rare for me to want to hug a book, it is twice as rare for a book to give me a horrific, pessimistic claustrophobia. I finished How Should a Person Be? in a three hour stretch of downtime at work today, and I remember the distinct thought pop into my head that if the world is really like this, if this book carries the weight of any truth in its pages, then we as people are hopeless and maybe I'd rather not live.

Maybe I'd rather not live! This book made me briefly, unconsciously su
I actually believed the hype surrounding this book, including quotes from the New Yorker. I read the novel in growing disbelief. For the character to consider her observations 'epiphanies' -- as she seriously (seriously!) seems to do -- she'd have to start off as a major jerk. Give this book to the jerk in your life, they will only love themselves more. I fear this writer is the Paulo Coehlo of the privileged set.

Confused by the reviews, I went and actually dug up the supposedly positive New Yo
"The child of Fear Of Flying and Tove Jansson's Fair Play raised on a steady diet of Tumblr" is how I wanted to describe this book and just be done with it. It angered me, and bored me ("I like boring people. I think it's a virtue. People should be a little bored."), and fascinated me, and I was ready to throw it across the room during the whole "Interlude For Fucking" and link to the article someone wrote in the New Yorker about this and Lena Dunham's Girls, because what could I say that it did ...more
Sep 04, 2014 Linda rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who go into raptures about how le petit prince is the most profound book they've ever read
Recommended to Linda by: The World
A liveblog:

1. Obviously, your friend lied about her first few words. Now, you have to ask yourself what kind of irritating poseur would do that.

2. It's really sad that your boyfriend's embittered fanfiction bums you out that much. I suppose I shouldn't judge you because a school librarian once told me I "was a mess" in a very authoritative and angry voice and for years, I really did believe that he had seen my inner soul and deemed it unworthy. I was in Grade 4 though - it was before I had real
How should a person be?

For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers — in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all
How Should a Person Be? is a combination of fiction, non-fiction and philosophical musings. It's perhaps best described as semi-autobiographical fiction - although that description could, I suppose, be applied to a lot of fiction, but the difference here is that it's deliberately made that way. Without doing enormous research into whether every character depicted is actually a real person, it's impossible to tell what is real and what is made up, so I decided early on to treat the book as a twea ...more
I could see people hating this book. I can imagine many criticisms that I would totally accept as valid. It has taken me weeks to figure out what I liked about the book. But, despite this I thought it a brilliant illumination of contempary life of youngish city-dwellers. It felt complete and rounded and sincere. It may be a bit hollow and inconsequential - almost vapid - but that feels so much part of the novel's characters existence that it is itself a commentary on their lives and experiences. ...more
I read the British version, published 2013 & shorter than the original.
Even a couple of weeks after finishing this I still can’t rate it, my responses were so opposed.
- At times this was the most annoying book I’ve read this year, yet by the end I’d warmed to the author so much I would have quite liked to talk to her.
- If this sort of thing is a significant trend in the current avant garde, I despair of its insulated triviality. Yet I can also sort of see where she’s coming from and I foun
I started responding to my GR friend Gaeta's comment, but then I thought I'd take cue from Ms.Heti, and make my transcribed dialogue with my friends into the text itself. (How fascinating, not).


I was frightened off by the "sexy and depraved" tag. It seemed I'm-too-cool-for-you and exhaustingly quirky.

Yes, "sexy and depraved..." More like 50 Shades of Gray by way of Williamsburg (or whatever the equivalent Canadian hipster ghetto is). After 50 Shades, is it really transgressive to r
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book advanced pretty far in the Tournament of Books, but I had not read it in time. Then it ended up on the longlist for the Women's Prize (formerly the Orange Prize) and I decided to read it anyway.

I read it all tonight. I couldn't put it down because I couldn't decide if it was smart or annoying. I actually e-mailed a trusted reading friend in the middle to see if he had read it, because I thought maybe his opinion would help me figure it out. As I described it to him I realized that this
2014: I thought of this book again today, because I saw a man reading it across from me on the subway, and I got so excited. I held myself in, and timed it so that I would pass him when I got up at my stop, and I had enough time to say, "That is one of my very favorite books," and I smiled and thumbs-upped. He was about a quarter through. He looked surprised and said, "Yeah, I know, I love it!" Looking serious. And then I left. And that was perfect, but I wish I were like Sheila Heti and could t ...more
a dramatic novel in a small, almost scared voice, searching for what it means to be a person, and what kind of person to be. Set in boho toronto, on the longest street in the world, asking what it means to be an artist, a great artist, maybe a great rich genius artist. or asking what it means to be a friend, a great friend, a worthy friend. or asking what it means to be in love, great love, fantastic love and lover that blows your head off with climaxes and love. or what it means to be none of t ...more
Answer to the question : Bored Stupid

I jumped to the end in the hope that they all died ... sadly, they didn't!

This is self indulgent, fatuous, aimless, drivel filled with pointless minutiae. Get over yourself!!!

This was stream of consciousness writing that bludgeons you into boredom. I actually checked info on the author (aged 35), and at least I will give credence to the fact that she seems to write the thoughts of a vacuous 20-something-year-old. But Heaven help us if this is a
This was a very interesting books. There are countless brilliant lines that delighted me to no end. I was mostly struck by how damn funny this book was in really smart, subtle ways. I knew I was loving this book when I kept catching myself laughing out loud. There are parts of the book that baffled me--pages of philosophical exegesis that felt rather baffling and somewhat out of step with the book, but the heart of this book is about female friendship and the centrality of it, the importance of ...more
How should a person be? That's the kind of question I love. It's a simple question with a really difficult answer. As Heti writes in her introduction, "Responsibility looks so good on Misha and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?" Every person should not be alike; that is not befitting the individuals.

If there is an answer to the question, it is that a person should be like themselves. They should be sincere; they should say what they mean. Mu
I don't know whether to give this book a four or a two. I didn't like it - not at all, didn't agree with it, didn't enjoy it, didn't feel it told the truth about itself. But maybe having such a strong reaction to the book means it's an excellent book? I had heard this book raved about by smart people who think deeply and hold in high regard the same issues and values that I also carry. So I was surprised to read such a confused and confusing book. The main character, who many readers consider a ...more
John Spillane
The grandiose title immediately attracted me when this came across my goodread's friends feed last year and the outraged reviews drew me in further. Slate covered it in an episode of their bookclub podcast (highly recomended) where, I guess in a reaction to the "all the hype", they almost panned it, or basically said that it had interesting bits but that was it. However, they mentioned that Carl Wilson (Celine Dion 33 1/3 author) was the author's ex-husband and that further intrigued me.
There wa
I've never seen Girls, that TV show everybody seems terribly keen on, but from time to time I read articles criticising it for being about Privileged White Girls. How Should A Person Be? made me think of every criticism I've ever read levelled at that TV show which I haven't seen.

I didn't like it. I didn't find it funny. It wasn't just that it had nothing to say to me - which it didn't, but that hasn't always mattered in the past with other books - but what it did say seemed so self-involved. Se
Still thinking about it: mostly, courage that is about being a person other people may not like or more precisely the courage to do an action not for the sake of being liked after a lifetime of being socialized to conflate likability and goodness--this seems important, as does being an imperfect friend and still loving your friend even when you mess up. And also the irritation with another man who wants to teach you things. It's a book I want to talk about it.
Good things:
Reads insanely quickly.

The refrain “He’s just another man who wants to teach me something,” which was picked up a year ago in reviews, hits male-female dynamics in a way I hadn’t thought of before but seems true. My gf said “exactly” when she heard the line, so it’s not just me.

I like hearing people in cities talk about art, and I like hearing people talking about their friendship.

The sex stuff is hot, at least at first, before you just start picturing Adam Driver doing it all.

I had high hopes of this novel when I first read the blurb but unfortunately it left me completely cold. The main character has been commissioned to write a feminist play but she really doesn’t have a clue where to start. She decides to find out more about people and starts tape recording conversations with friends – especially Margaux – with whom her relationship is somewhat ambivalent. Sheila is divorced and is currently having an abusive relationship with a man called Israel whose tastes seem ...more

What is it about Canadian women who write? The level of intelligence is somehow a bit higher. Readers of my reviews know my opinion of Margaret Atwood as one of the most intelligent women alive. Then there is Emily St John Mandell.

How Should A Person Be? touched many a nerve among readers, some pleasurably, some unpleasantly. I loved it as an honest look at the perils and responsibilities of friendship between women. That the women in the story are both artists (one a painter, one a playwright)
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Sheila Heti is the author of five books; three books of fiction, a children's book, and a work of non-fiction with Misha Glouberman. She is Interviews Editor at The Believer and is known for her long interviews. She lives in Toronto.
More about Sheila Heti...
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“It has long been known to me that certain objects want you as much as you want them. These are the ones that become important, the objects that you hold dear. The others fade from your life entirely. You wanted them, but they did not want you in return.” 19 likes
“We tried not to smile, for smiling only encourages men to bore you and waste your time.” 16 likes
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