Jimmy's Reviews > How Should a Person Be?

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
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Jun 05, 11

bookshelves: female, canada, poetic-essay, and-a-half-stars, year-2010s
Read in June, 2011

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 together like that, how can you choose? How can you say, I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux. Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?
Smart, funny, disgusting, insightful, this is a self-help book for people who don’t believe there are easy answers, or even any answers at all. When I first read the excerpts of this book, I thought where has this book been all my life? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself since forever!!! I’m surprised this exact book hasn’t been written before, so obvious are the questions asked that it seems oddly new. Perhaps because everyone asks themselves these questions and everyone also thinks ‘Nobody else asks these questions. Everybody else already knows the answers, everybody has their shit together and has figured this all out’. Or perhaps, like me, the questioner also lives with the fear that they are asking the wrong questions all along. What if all this time I’ve been missing the point entirely?

Questions like how should a person be? How do you be someone, secure in your selfhood? Also, should you stick with something even though it’s hard? Should you give up? Should you change that hardness into something that comes easily to you? Should you just be yourself? What does it mean to be yourself? Should everything be a lesson on how to become yourself? To what lengths, self improvement? What is the value of greatness versus the price of greatness? What is beauty and is it better than ugliness? How do we appear to ourselves and to others? Even when we are at our ugliest, is there still a beauty there? Are we just an object, reduceable to aesthetic value? Where should we find the answers to these questions, in others or in the self?

Then just as you think no answers are coming, they do come, genuine answers that aren’t meant to be generalized or widely applied. Not big Hollywood aha! moments, but tiny little semi-satisfactory resolutions. And the very ending of the book is really good in that it avoids hammering anything home but at the same time captures a little something ineffable. It was spectacular precisely because it was perfectly un-spectacular. I asked myself ‘how did she come up with that ending?’
In that moment, I wanted so much for someone to say of me: She is the most consistent person you have ever known. Even at home, she never changes! p.49
This book is not available in the USA yet, but you can order it from Canada.
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