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How Should a Person Be?

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From the internationally acclaimed author of The Middle Stories and Ticknor comes a bold interrogation into the possibility of a beautiful life. How Should a Person Be? is a novel of many identities: an autobiography of the mind, a postmodern self-help book, and a fictionalized portrait of the artist as a young woman — of two such artists, in fact.

For reasons multiple and mysterious, Sheila finds herself in a quandary of self-doubt, questioning how a person should be in the world. Inspired by her friend Margaux, a painter, and her seemingly untortured ability to live and create, Sheila casts Margaux as material, embarking on a series of recordings in which nothing is too personal, too ugly, or too banal to be turned into art. Along the way, Sheila confronts a cast of painters who are equally blocked in an age in which the blow job is the ultimate art form. She begins questioning her desire to be Important, her quest to be both a leader and a pupil, and her unwillingness to sacrifice herself.

Searching, uncompromising and yet mordantly funny, How Should a Person Be? is a brilliant portrait of art-making and friendship from the psychic underground of Canada's most fiercely original writer.

306 pages, Hardcover

First published September 25, 2010

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About the author

Sheila Heti

52 books1,562 followers
Sheila Heti is the author of ten books, including the novels Motherhood and How Should a Person Be? Her upcoming novel, Pure Colour, will be published on February 15, 2022.

Her second children’s book, A Garden of Creatures, illustrated by Esme Shapiro, will be published in May 2022.

She was named one of "The New Vanguard" by The New York Times; a list of fifteen writers from around the world who are "shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century." Her books have been translated into twenty-three languages.

Motherhood was chosen by the book critics at the New York Times as one of the top books of 2018, and New York magazine chose it as the Best Book of the year. How Should a Person Be? was named one of the 12 “New Classics of the 21st century” by Vulture. It was a New York Times Notable Book, a best book of the year in The New Yorker, and was cited by Time as "one of the most talked-about books of the year.”

Women in Clothes, a collaboration with Leanne Shapton, Heidi Julavits, and 639 women from around the world, was a New York Times bestseller. She is also the author of a children’s book titled We Need a Horse, with art by Clare Rojas.

Her play, All Our Happy Days are Stupid, had sold-out runs at The Kitchen in New York and Videofag in Toronto.

She is the former Interviews Editor of The Believer magazine, and has conducted many long-form print interviews with writers and artists, including Joan Didion, Elena Ferrante, Agnes Varda, Sophie Calle, Dave Hickey and John Currin. Her fiction and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Bookforum, n+1, Granta, The London Review of Books, and elsewhere.

She has spoken at the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, the New Yorker Festival, the 92nd Street Y, the Hammer Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and at universities across North America, and festivals internationally. Her six-hour lecture on writing, delivered in the Spring of 2021, can be purchased through the Leslie Shipman agency.

She is the founder of the Trampoline Hall lecture series, and appeared in Margaux Williamson’s 2012 film Teenager Hamlet, and in Leanne Shapton’s book, Important Artifacts. She lives in Toronto.

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5 stars
2,641 (18%)
4 stars
4,125 (28%)
3 stars
4,103 (28%)
2 stars
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1 star
1,188 (8%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,850 reviews
Profile Image for Tara.
119 reviews26 followers
September 12, 2012
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 obese. Why are we suddenly incapable of understanding something unless someone from a place of privilege interprets it for us? And maybe that's the point... maybe she is providing a lens through which to see this generation and how it understands the world. But I really think that might be giving her too much credit. When she adds in the little off topic anecdotes or stories (i.e. the gravedigger), it seems like a plea for the reader to believe and feel her experience, not just see it.

And since I think she truly believes what she is saying, here are some choice quotes:
"I had looked around at my life and realized that all the ugly people had been weeded out. Sholem said he couldn't enjoy a friendship with someone he wasn't attracted to. Margaux said it was impossible for her to picture an ugly person, and Misha remarked that ugly people tend to stay home." Where 'stay home' more realistically means 'stay the f out of Queen West and other related areas to avoid judgements from Heti and her quirky-named crew'.

As a lesbian, I can't help but be offended by statements like this: "A woman can't find rest or take up home in the heart of another woman – not permanently. It's just not a safe place to land."
Or this (on the frequency of gay male relationships in France): "That's why there's suddenly a big increase in homosexuality... It's simpler to be with a man because I don’t have to deal with these issues." (these issues = relationships with women) (said earlier in the same breath, "the men in France are really messed up. They’re all afraid of women.")

The writing is OK. The chapter 'The White Men Go to Africa' was clever. Most intolerable was the lengthy exploration of her typing of sould instead of soul, as it is so representative of much of the book. Heti wants us to believe with her that this is some troubling subconscious behaviour related to her feeling like she's sold her soul. After bringing it up for the second time, she writes, "I shouldn't dwell on it" (me: yes) "Who gives a fuck in this fucked-up world" (me: ... we agreed to not dwell on it) "There are problems so vast and so deep that a young woman sitting alone in her room should slit her throat and die sooner than bother about the state of her soul, when so many great artists before her spent decades recalibrating a single blank canvas in their studio, fifteen, sixteen hours a day, as their marriages crumbled into the soil" (me: REALLY?). To write so much about what is likely a common typo related to keyboard muscle memory (would, should , could, soul… sould) is ridiculous. Surely no one takes themselves this seriously. It's so telling that her mom lives only a 15 minute bus ride away. Someone so deeply involved in self-analysis of every banal action seems never far from a parent.
Profile Image for Amy.
571 reviews63 followers
January 13, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Jenny.
6 reviews1 follower
October 22, 2012
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. She drinks too much and does self destructive things in the name of "art" that are just stupid and don't really help her art anyway.

I tried to figure out if I was having a "sexist" response-- how would i have felt if something like this had been written by a man? But honestly, there are a lot of pretty twee self obsessed men writers I don't really like either.

If this had been a series of essays, and not an "experimental novel" I might have liked it better.
There was a point in the book where I had to force myself to finish, and that is never a good sign.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
July 1, 2012
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 it. When the book focuses on the tension of the relationship between Sheila and Margaux, How Should a Person Be truly soars. The chapter, an Interlude About Fucking (or something along those lines), is also about as perfect a book chapter as there can be because of the utter... baseness of it. I'm glad I ended up reading this.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews986 followers
April 30, 2023
Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 longlisted - this read is about the trials, tribulations and racy confessions of a young woman playwright, recently (traumatically) divorced, but newly befriended by Margaux (free spirited artist) and Sheila (hew new lover) trying to create a piece of work inspired by their shared experiences, that may ultimately heal her and her art.

This is an Intriguing, very well written almost meta-fiction quasi-biographical novel communicated just like a piece of modern art using recorded conversations and real(!) emails alongside contemporary literal fiction. As the book blurb says this book asks: What is the sincerest way to love? What kind of person should you be? ..but is it asking or telling the reader? An intriguing and captivating read - part-modern-art, part-memoir, part-life-lesson 7 out of 12, Three Star read.

2013 read

355 reviews18 followers
March 12, 2013
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. I found it engrossing and satisfying, but I would still hesitate to recommend this generally, because I'm not confident enough in its general appeal.

The book is written as a memoir - I don't know how true it actually is, but it conveys the impression that it's pretty close. The narrator, Sheila of course, is a writer, and feckless in the manner of the modern world. It is a fairly scattershot narrative, and deliberately idiosyncratic. It meanders, and jumps around, and is not overly concerned with plot. This mirrors the attitudes and character of the writer, and the themes of the book very cleverly. You don't just read the memoir, but in reading it you feel the experience of it.

She suffers from writers' block and her continuing failure to work on a play that she is contracted to write runs through the novel. She doesn't seem overly bothered by it. However, the main focus of the narrative is Sheila's intense friendship with a painter, Margaux. The strength of this friendship is the dominant, most emphatic thing in the book. It subsumes everything else, she feels brilliant with Margaux and feels that everyone else feels that about them. Really Sheila just wants to be successful at and famous for being the most wonderful friends with Margaux. She realises this isn't realistic (particularly the latter; it's quite possible she believes the former already), but it is still her honest and sincere wish. In reviews, much has been written about the abusive, exploitative (and explicit) sexual relationship she is in during the novel. It is another major theme of the book - and is juxtaposed with her friendship with Margaux, her unsuccessful playwriting, and her struggling to discover how a person should be. However, it doesn't take up that many actual pages. It is not what the book is about (nonetheless, it is another reason why I would hesitate to recommend it to people).

Sheila's fecklessness manifests in a number of ways. She and her friends discuss things seriously and intelligently, but at a fairly superficial level. She longs for fame, but not a fame she has to work at, or even earn, and one that she does not wish to interfere with her current lifestyle. There is also her casual, relatively banal drug use, her under-developed work ethic. Of particular note, though, is her treatment of her divorce after three years of marriage. It is mentioned several times, but almost in passing, never really examined. She relates how her actions have affected other people, but, apart from when it affects her relationship with Margaux, is not overly concerned about it.

Despite all this, I found her to be a likeable protagonist. She is not amoral, nor particularly decadent in the context of the society in which she lives. She is self-centred, but in a natural and believable way. While she certainly doesn't always behave admirably, neither does she defend her actions. She is entirely plausible, and highly recognisable - in her desires and fears and behaviours - in people that I know. She worries how a person should be, and relates how life is.
Profile Image for rachel.
772 reviews150 followers
August 13, 2016
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 suicidal! And I just finished reading a book about suicide, and logical defenses of one's right to do so. That book didn't make me think of not wanting to live. This one did. I'm not sure if you'd call that success.

The urge to define oneself in relation to others, to not know who one is absent of the opinion or influence of others, to get suckered into relationships with people that make you feel like you have no sense of self -- who hasn't lived these ideas for herself? To me, these are natural issues that come with being a person and living among other people, developing relationships and intimacy with them. David Foster Wallace, Kazuo Ishiguro, Shirley Jackson...these writers have much wisdom to share, in my opinion, about alienation and existing in relation to others.

This book, on the other hand, is full of artists who feel like their souls are dying if their voices are recorded. Who get upset about mistyping "souls" as "soulds" (which is a mistake I actually just made while typing the previous sentence, not because I actually feel like my soul is a commodity, but because the S key is really close to the D key). Who mistrust Nietzsche when they learn that he typed his books on a typewriter, as opposed to his thoughts just materializing out of the air, I guess. Because they're hipster artists and they think in stupid metaphors that no one with normal problems/normal concept of "self" even has time to think about. I should have been warned by the Miranda July blurb on the front, I tell you.

I'm really disappointed that this book is so consciously composed of strict hipster philosophy, so forcedly Artful. Because I wanted it to give me some wisdom that I could use about intimacy. I expected some significantly wiser, less insular, more useful examination of who people are in relation to each other. Heti kind of ekes out something worthwhile at the end, with Sheila's big revelation . Most of the time you'd spend reading this book, though, would be time better spent gazing at your own navel.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews877 followers
August 3, 2016
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, neediness, inspiration, weakness. Sure, all emails are rendered in numbered lists for some odd reason and large stretches of dialogue are rendered in spare page-turnery script style. But this isn't that weird of a bird of a book. If by a 1920s European male, about moral and artistic struggle (the conflict between freedom and restraint), emotional homosexuality, and promiscuous sex with hot random harlots, no one would second guess. But what mattered for me wasn't the gender or the form -- it was the unpredictability of phrases and narrative movement. Anything could happen next, within reason. Another texture. And it knows where the funny is. I laughed aloud at the last page (which reminded me of the mimes playing tennis in Blow-Up), Solomon in Brooklyn and his Bird's milk, and a lot more, although in no way is this a comedy or solely intended to deliver LOLs. The Sexytime Interlude with Israel knocked this up a notch prose-wise, suggesting light political and almost kabbalistic associations, helping the author experience the sphere of Tifferet/beauty when united with Shekinah/Malkhuth/the Foundation/Israel thanks to his Yesod, the exalted cock of God. Despite, or because of, its unpredictable movement, it seemed faithful to the storms and stress of existence. In general, fiction that feels unlike fiction remains my favorite sort of fiction -- this is in no way as detailed and steady as Knausgaard, maybe a little more like Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station, but flightier/lighter. Unlike Tao Lin's stuff, it explicitly tries to err on the side of meaning, which I really admire as a long-time fan of the idea that ideas can thrive in fiction, even if the fiction isn't all that fictional at all. Writing fiction that closely adheres to life is nothing new, of course -- Proust, Tolstoy working in the fields becomes Levin threshing with his serfs, Thomas Wolfe (of Asheville NC not the guy in the white suit) who turned over an entire town to make one character, Kerouac who changed the names and moved it all to the west coast, and of course more recently my Incidents of Egotourism in the Temporary World (ha ha ha always ahead o' my time). This one had a few early bits that almost had me turning on the narrator -- at first she seemed condescending and flakey -- but soon enough I was on her side. Loved her contortions, especially the one at the end of which she realizes she's just another man trying to teach her something. One lesson learned: lots of Jewish artists in Toronto, home of the longest street in the world. In general, I'd like to see more books like this, that attempt to make sense of things in an artful, questing/questioning, intelligent but not wonky, impulsive/intuitive, humorous way -- really loved the squash game at the end played between opponents who don't know the rules. Nicely sums things up.
Profile Image for Elaine.
808 reviews372 followers
March 6, 2018
I started responding to my GR friend Gaeta's comment, but then I thought I'd take a 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 revel in your own subjugation? Don't people read 50 Shades at the Olive Garden? I think degradation has jumped the shark.

This book is exactly like spending several hours with a narcissistic vain hipster-ette who won't shut up. Like The Fault in Our Stars, it's vaguely possible that there is an appropriate age for this book, and I am not it. But unlike TFiOS, which is about, and I think for, adolescents, this book is disturbingly about mid-30 somethings -- making you wish the author and her semi-non-fictional characters/friends would just grow up!

This book has been much compared to Girls. And it does read like the script of Girls' worst episodes (NB I like Girls, but find it uneven) or like your college journal if you were a particularly bitchy self-centered unthoughtful college student taken with your own ability to name drop fancy artists and philosophers (ok, we were all probably a little like that) . But Lena Dunham is 26, and her character is 24, and funnier and more self-aware (in a real way as opposed to a precious way) than Heti is. And we were all 19 when we wrote that college journal. Sheila Heti and her characters are circa 35. That's too old to spend your days drunk and wasted, thinking exceedingly dull and trite "deep thoughts" about art and working and life, and hoping that you will somehow become great at art by thinking about it enough, as opposed to actually engaging with the universe on some non-navel-gazing level.

It is possible that this book is a great satiric summary of the utter loss and lostness of a certain generation of entitled aging bright ex-young things and would-be-artists. But I think it's not a satire -- more like an artifact. How sad.

To me, this book is the trucker hat of novels. It's ugly and terribly banal, yet is supposed to be so ugly and terribly banal that it's actually ironically cool. In the end, it's only dull and irritating, but, like the trucker hat, liking it signifies your participation in a certain in-group. As with the trucker hat, if you have to ask if its real or ersatz, ironic or earnest, you are probably too old or too square to get the point (and you probably don't know that "Margaux" and "Sholom" are real people who are actual artists in Toronto and actually friends with Heti (w/ luck you don't care)).

Every week when I watch Girls, even or especially the better episodes, I thank heaven I'm not 24 anymore. This book had a similar salutary effect on me.
1 review
October 8, 2012
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 Yorker article quotes by the author and her publisher, and found that what James Wood actually wrote:

"This sounds hideously narcissistic. It is."


"If I wanted to hear that, I could settle in at a Starbucks and wait for the kids to get out at 3 o'clock."


". . . insultingly shallow and sketchy . . . After all, if you title a chapter that is only a few pages long 'What is Empathy?' you cannot seriously want to hear the reply."

Too bad this essay came out after I already paid money for this book:

Exile in Girlville: Sex and Sheila Heti

"Heti, like the authors of other Sexy But Not Sexual books, is not preoccupied with sex. She’s preoccupied with success — which means navigating the difficult fact that freedom and power are not equivalent. Instead of acknowledging this difficulty, Heti offers yet another way to ignore it."
Profile Image for Vanessa Vitiello.
49 reviews5 followers
August 10, 2012
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 and say "Hey, you can pack it in already, your potential contributions to this field have just been made by Sheila Heti." Because, see, it's reasonably well done. It's written well enough (although I'd contend that it doesn't really say anything). So none of those girls I know are going to do a better job at writing it themselves.

And, so that means there's a part of me who thinks, hey, maybe it's actually good because at least it prompted a reaction out of me. But my overwhelming impression was one of surfaceyness- it went down easy without filling me up. I doubt I'll remember much of it a month from now. I think it's more a book for straight girls.
Profile Image for Lizzie.
689 reviews95 followers
August 28, 2014
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 turn this tiny contact into a perfect story to tell you, so you would know, too.
2013: First of all, this book is weird, and hard to explain. It's really not a novel, but it is like one anyway. The characters in it are the people in the author's life. The conflicts in it are the conflicts in the author's life. It is not-fiction and it is inscrutable. It is on purpose.

Probably the best thing I can do is point people at the article that made me want to read it. It's described really well there, and is situated in its difficult critical reception, and it links to a bunch of other relevant things that will help explain what this actually is like.

This book is polarizing, and that's interesting to me. I can try to explain what I noticed about my own reading. There's a lot of things in this book that, technically, I don't like, because Sheila Heti and I are really, really, really, really really different. The author is putting her honesty on the page, and almost every single thing that she says or does or believes or thinks, it is the opposite of how I act or think. So, for me, loving this book does not come from the phenomenon of, "It's like someone is speaking my own mind, right on the page!" No. That is a special feeling to get from a book, but instead, this book was a reminder to me that there is immense power in drawing love from something that does not reflect you. This author — who is the entire medium of the book — does not reflect me. And yet, she speaks to me. On every page. I loved it.

I am not a reader who likes to guess at or critique other readers' readings — I just enjoy reading! — but if I had to say something about the people who hate this book, I suppose it would be: I believed that the author was giving me lots and lots of information between the lines, lots of commentary hidden in blunt declarations or quotations. I heard it all, it was very clear to me, but sure, maybe it was projection. Maybe all reading is projection! But judging from, for instance, this book's top Goodreads review, that seems to be what is different between loving and hating. Is there more to the words than meets the eye? It's opinion.

This book has also gained a reputation for being beloved by women (when it is beloved) and hated by men (especially the powerful literary kind). I have nothing to conjecture about that because I don't want to start. And what do I know about powerful literary men? They are pretty different from me. For one thing, they think their opinions matter.

I will say something now that may prick up the ears of some people: this book reminded me of Wild .

It is also REALLY DIFFERENT! Okay? I'm telling you it's really different. But still, okay. People who liked Wild, think it over.

Mainly, in Wild, the meditations come along a literal path the author is taking from beginning to end. That's the story there. There is no such structure in this book, and no "one foot in front of the other" ethos. In the sympathetic view, I would say that's because Sheila is not so lucky as to have a journey that she understands. Her journey is that of the bum paper airplane that flips around and hits you in the face. What do you do when you don't "get" a journey? Can you wait for one, resentful, not going anywhere? Are you still a person if you aren't using your journey?

I will say something else now that disappoints me, but is honest: there is rather vulgar sex in this book, and because of it I don't feel as open about handing it out to everyone I know as I do with Cheryl Strayed. To, for instance, my boyfriend's mom. It's hard to imagine your friend or mom reading a lot about cocks and mouths filled with cum. Sorry for repeating that. Maybe I will delete that line, but I'm trying to be clear: I recommend this book! To nearly everyone! But Oprah is probably not calling today.

Unlike with some other books that inspire and heal me (Wild, seriously!), the rawness in this book is less of a bonfire to gather your friends around for strength and warmth and courage, and more of a broken, half-dead bird that you huddle with quietly over a shoebox. I still feel strength and warmth and courage from this book, but it is more like the kind you feel when you come into the house after being soaked in a pounding rainstorm.

There is something interesting and impressive to me about the way that the author does address ugly subjects. It is not the same as other authors who emphasize the badness of themselves or their characters or their bodies. Sheila Heti is open in a way that is really important — she isn't regurgitating, she is thinking. So, for instance, in the horrible, super hard to read chapter with all the degrading sex, so much, SO MUCH is going on. She is writing it all in the style of, and then I fell into this relationship where I was obsessed with sex; how come you have not experienced amazing sex like I have? Which is gross, and superior and offensive. BUT ALSO, she is telling you more. More is there, in all of the lines:

(This is paraphrase.) I was a writer, but it didn't work out and now my art form is blowjobs. I wasn't doing a good job at being a person, so I deserve to have this sadist control me. I will let him make unfair rules. Sure, teach me a lesson. It hurts a lot and I only enjoyed it three times. I don't even want my identity back. I told everyone that this would happen to me if I said yes to him, and still I couldn't stop myself, so now you have to watch how bad it is, how big my failure is, what a bad person I am. That is all I deserve to be.

This is what she's saying when she's writing cocks and cum. It is like the kind of depression where you watch your actions from outside your body, and you have both the urge to spit on yourself in disgust, and the urge to tell someone how disgusting you are so you will be hated even more. Look at me, I have fallen so far. Is it funny? Is it scary? (Is it spiders?)

That is the ugliest part of the book. Weirdly, it may belong in spoiler tags. I can't really figure that out, with this one. But I wanted to explain, that it is the saddest, saddest thing. I reread that chapter this morning, to see if I was crazy. It was only sadder. To me it is so clear.

"Vulnerable" is not really what she is, though. Oddly, the word that most comes to mind is "wrong," is what she often is. Other people, too, whom she is documenting. But this book is not an indulgent parade of her mistakes (like, maybe, it would be if a man wrote it?). It is more like evidence. I understand what I did. Now, what do I do? She learns very, very simple lessons that you dismissively think a child should know, but then you must sheepishly admit are harder than that. Honoring our friends is harder than that; sharing self-respect with honesty is harder than that. Making ourselves do our jobs — AND WHAT IS OUR WORK? — is harder than that.

There is so much I am not talking about! Why am I talking about these things?! I'm somehow not talking about the playwriting format, or the Jewish themes or pointing out how the boyfriend's named Israel. I'm not talking about female friendship, or the truth and falseness of a belief that you are a null person. I didn't mention the copy shop or the hotel spider or the trip to Atlantic City, that trip, that trip. Or paintings! Guys, this is basically a book about paintings. At least half of it's about paintings. What am I even telling you about! What kind of a recommendation is this.

I guess this kind: while it's true that this author and I don't have a lot of surface traits in common, what she shared here did link up with my life in some very important ways. While I read this, I nailed down the details of a new life plan that has been holding me up for years — YEARS!— and gave notice, of a sort, at my job of seven years. These things are, probably, unlikely to also happen to you while you read this book! I understand that! It wasn't an accident, anyway; I chose it to cover these two weeks because I hoped that it would be a liferaft to those emotions. I even slowed down my reading so it would last through my unburdening-day. I came in from the rainstorm a little shaky, but. It didn't let me down.

Books are alchemy sometimes. Those are the ones that will go to your grave with you.
Profile Image for J.S.A. Lowe.
Author 2 books41 followers
August 21, 2012
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 they're not wrong maybe I think (only I'm personally convinced that Patti had one hell of an overworked, inexhaustible editor, and probably handed that woman a thousand pages of crap which she tore apart and reworked and put back together in order). Like y'all I liked the chapter on fucking too, which is scary and gross and pretty much perfect in its abject obsessiveness. But, I guess in the end I could see the seams of the book too clearly, and its ambition diminished. I could see exactly how the chapters were written separately and at different times and stitched together like a quilt, and this is how some books are, it does open out the form and give it a possibility to be mine, because it's that kind of narrative where I keep thinking: maybe I too can pursue a long prose form, maybe I can hang my tattery rage <—typo for rags! of beautiful post-flarf onto these kinds of story-bones.

Here's the thing: I'm simultaneously reading House of Leaves, which is just stunning, and with every page I think yes, yes, I want to do THIS, I want to write that Big Baggy Book of Me, that maximalist wonder that can contain everything, all of it—guitar, magic, science, Jesus, fundamentalism, Texas, piano, Chopin, Bach, astronomy, Plato, Aristotle, having your faith ruined by attic Greek playwrights, sex, mise en abîme, the abysmal, the degraded, women's colleges, radical feminism, lovers, betrayal, two psych units, drugs and drugs, Cambridge as academic fairyland, the semi-automated mechanics of heterosexual marriage, Paris, Florence, Venice, Boston, workshop, losing your soul, Santa Fe, Zen, sexual harassment, bewilderment, broken bones, throwing up in a motel room in Arkansas, shaving your own head, adultery,—and everything afterward, including two more psych units and a lesbian psychiatrist in a black leather jacket and no hope. And that's just the personal stuff, you want it to stretch and expand like an accordion to fit in the craziness of our culture, two Gulf Wars, the decline of the academy, the distortion and/or fruition of what Americanness meant, was meant to mean, as even the most brilliant intellectual neo-cons became stupid and stubbornly reactionary despite the social equality movements taking place right in front of all our faces, the resistance to a seemingly inevitable Hegelian process making the US into the EU, no the UAE, no the EU, no the UAE, because dammit we refuse to evolve, we will remain a theocracy; and all the while the oceans are heating up that last two degrees centigrade which has already doomed us. A darkly female Bildungsroman with its healthy latte foam of late-capitalist diagnosis.

(Never finding it, by the way. Never finding it again.)

And when I think about all this somehow Danielewski's more capacious form (form also of many female novelists as many of you and I have discussed many times) seems righter to/for me than the deliberately simplified one Heti crafts and occupies so perfectly, which fits her like a shoe. My preference for the overwritten or overwrought or just over- does not mean that I produce pages, though, so what the fuck do I know. Also, it is very funny at times. Also, I winced a lot. Also, I want my friend to read this book, and my best friend. And I think fondly, foolishly "maybe I can write a novel about our friendship someday" since my best friend also is a painter/visual artist and since I too cannot ever finish this one-act play I started in a hospital bed 2 and 1/2 years ago. Because the friends get back together at the end of the book I like to think friends can always get back together. I can't finish this review without subtweeting disgustingly because I pretty much have a one-track mind at the moment, but this is close enough. I liked it and am glad I have the hardback, I will read it probably every year for a long time.

Also, this is pretty much what being in your twenties is like: doing a lot of geographicals. Thinking you can figure stuff out by buying an expensive bus ticket and then getting to the beach and realizing: no, you still have to deal with it on its own terms, you can't go to Atlantic City and have an epiphany, not really.

Also, I had that first boyfriend too—the one who basically sat down and wrote out what a cheap, shabby failure I would inevitably become, artistically and romantically and for all my life. It casts a long shadow over your adult life, that sneering prognostication. That curse, so well articulated that you can never quite slip out from under it. Even when you turn to face it squarely and deliberately choose to reclaim its ugly labelling. Probably the title of the novel—my novel, I mean—should just be, Stupid Bitch.
Profile Image for Emmanuel.
269 reviews16 followers
July 2, 2012
this didn't add much beauty to my life, but i do agree that girls should never betray their friends by buying the same dress
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
96 reviews28.1k followers
July 7, 2018
240- Better to have your failure right in front of you than the fantasy in your head.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews738 followers
June 5, 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.
Profile Image for Mapina.
8 reviews18 followers
November 30, 2017
La persona ideale, si ricorderebbe in quali circostanze, sulla base di quali suggerimenti o suggestioni, aveva deciso che avrebbe dovuto leggere assolutamente questo libro.

La persona ideale, dopo le prime 50 pagine, avrebbe tuttavia saputo dirsi "sai che c'è? non mi interessano le vicende di questa Sheila. chissenefrega di lei e della sua commedia, e della sua amica. Questa storia non mi sta raccontando niente di interessante, forse perchè sono vecchia e delle velleità artistiche di una trentenne hypsterissima di Toronto non riesco ad appassionarmi."

La persona ideale, pur apprezzando la schiettezza un po' violenta ed esplicita con cui viene raccontato il sesso, avrebbe chiuso il libro serena, senza rubare ulteriore tempo prezioso alla sua vita interessante e ad altre letture più soddisfacenti.
Profile Image for Lee.
352 reviews8 followers
January 26, 2022
Some of this was LOL funny, some poignant and insightful, and some tedious and stilted. But an interesting and worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
977 reviews1,220 followers
February 6, 2016
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 found it quite interesting.

How Should a Person Be? was first published in 2010 by a small press in Canada – it’s Heti’s third book but her first to gain much attention. Which attention in America (it helped that she’s also the interviews editor of The Believer, McSweeney’s “let’s only write about books we can be nice about” mag) led to its being published there in 2012 and now this year in the UK. It blurs memoir & fiction in a way that Alt-Lit is very fond of (characters share the names of the author and her friends and are closely based on them) and it uses a similar style, though one which is more faux-naïve than flat and banal.

Its advertised themes include personal identity and feminism, though I side with those who think it’s more about narcissism and over-cocooned creative cultures.

It seemed important to realise that Heti wasn’t writing it all about herself now - that most of it happened in her twenties. Many of her central questions, like the one in the title, have been described by others as teenage … probably a lot of people did deal with them then. I recognised a lot of it from my twenties, being honest with myself, once I took a deep breath and stopped being exasperated assuming that she should also have got a reasonable amount of this out of the way by her mid-thirties, also realising what that thought said about me. (It’s just like with Alt-lit, that watching someone ponder their own narcissism makes this reader do the same, and whilst the writers generally intend that, I don’t much like that suffocating little mirrored narcissibubble and find it airier and a better view when thinking about other things. So forgive me if I don’t spell out every point of self-awareness and recursion which occurred whilst reading this book. There were plenty.)

“How should a person be?” has the potential to be a weighty moral question. But it’s not really treated as such here. It isn’t essentially about ethics, it’s about image and self-presentation and how to be someone who effortlessly produces satisfactory versions of those, how to fit in with or carve out your own niche among “people like you”, or people whom you aspire to be like - or rather your idea of them as generated by media, arts and how you view your friends. It’s a thought-bubble fragile-self world where this particular idea of “should” rules, rather than instincts of what you want to do and what you feel, and what you may think is morally right. And because Sheila (I will use Sheila to refer to the character, and Heti for the author) only associates with other young able-bodied middle-class creative white people - in a milieu deliberately made to resemble reality TV (the LRB review cites The Hills as one of Heti's influences) - there isn’t much push towards these other ideas, though they do appear at times.

Heti has described the book as part memoir, part fiction, but also part self-help book. It’s described as an anti-novel but Sheila’s various realisations about herself – which make up the implied self-help part – as well as events in her close friendship with Margaux do create a plot structure. Her therapist's (has to take unskilled job to get by / keeps Jungian analyst on speed dial... I can't quite figure out her budget, but anyway) advice about Peter Pan syndrome and and the way out of it being to achieve and get things done is very American and capitalistic. Letting go of the ideas about being "great" and "superior" don't seem to be anywhere, which I thought was a shame - both politically and socially. The later narrative, I was happy (and patronising) to see, did include ideas about becoming more aware of how she felt and acting on the basis of them rather than being so ruled by her ideas of how she might appear most interesting to others, or “how to be” in order to be a Great Writer etc. It was a very nice way of illustrating natural "self-help" through reflection and the process of living rather than parroting jargon and rules.

That is good, but what was almost missing was a moral sense, or even much thought about, things outside her own #firstworldproblems bubble, which was typified by the very detached use of the category “poor people”. Sheila does start seeing them as individuals, just as two male friends of hers who run a theatre go to Africa on holiday (which they basically describe as a holiday from narcissism) and experience revelations about the humanity and needs of others different from themselves. But the friends’ ideas about this recede because they can’t understand how to integrate them into their own lives without walking out on everything. Er, hello, ever heard of community theatre work?

As far as the feminism is concerned Sheila is a thoroughly liberated free modern woman with very few obligations who, in an ideological sense, still seems to think she has to fight certain old battles. Most of the action takes place during a time when she’s trying to complete a play for a feminist theatre group which she’s been working on for ages, around the time of her divorce. At the start she is somewhat preoccupied with ideas about how to be a Great Woman, that there aren’t too many examples to draw on for inspiration yet (really??? This lack-of-great-women-in-literature angst does seem to be an American thing: we've plenty in Britain now and in the past 200 yrs. Anyway, I’m of the view that it doesn’t matter who she takes inspiration from, she’s a woman herself, and it’s more egalitarian to reject these separatist ideas and gender-based designations.) Yet she doesn’t write about feminist ideology and history even when it would have been interesting and appropriate – e.g. when she takes a job in a hairdresser’s to support herself whilst writing the play. Evidently she’s not a dungarees and no make up type, but more ideas would have been nice: I was reading this to hear about what she thinks, not just to rattle around in my own head considering my own opinions. She spends a lot of time with her friend Margaux whom she tries to imitate to an extent, having not really had any close female friends before her. (It would have been more interesting if she’d gone into whybut it’s part of the simplicity of the writing style that she ignores that sort of background material.) Sheila basically seems to be a sex positive feminist – most of the best writing in this book is in the chapter “Interlude for Fucking” which even if you’re not into all the kinks she is (e.g. I really don’t like the mean talk / ‘verbal abuse’ stuff) gives a fantastic sense of what it is to crave someone completely, written in a really fresh way. And one of the most interesting parts of her increasing self-definition, especially in the light of books that have been published between 2010 and the present, is how she starts to make more conscious and critical decisions about sexual submission. (Though no-one can blame Heti for not foregrounding 50 Shades of Grey etc, this book has inadvertently become part of the current media over-representation of female kink as only being about rather un-subversive young attractive straight submissives as criticised eloquently by Laurie Penny in this blog post.)

The deliberately simplistic style of writing in the book is something I can see two ways. It’s an honest and immediate representation of thoughts and feelings which I appreciate in a person-centred, Carl Rogers-influenced sort of way. But it’s also frustrating on a personal level – I just want to know more of what she thinks about certain situations – and on an intellectual level. Works like this and Marie Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life are an implied subversion of “male” intellectualising but I think that does a real disservice to interesting and useful forms of thought and expression that really need not be equated with any gender – and perhaps they even self-sabotagingly increase that sense of genderedness . Regardless of gender debates, they are also arguably a disservice to the writer whose ideas receive less recognition because they are never expressly spelt out in the work. (Even, say, in one or two chapters that make them clear.) On some level, I have to admit that similar to Lydia Kiesling in her brilliant review of Tao Lin's Taipei in Ihe Millions, I just aesthetically don’t like this approach that much.

And the same goes for the prolonged explorations of narcissism in these works and Alt-Lit generally. There’s only so much “yeah, I’ve thought that too” one can do before it gets old (and of course not everybody has thought that). “Feminist narcissism” (a minor buzz-phrase around mostly American writers like this) is all very well in terms of having enough ego to put your work out there, but even to other somewhat narcissistic middle-class women (like me) narcissism as the main substance of the art itself is just a bit boring after a while. There are so many other interesting things in the world, and even in one egotistical person’s head and life, to think and care about than that particular set of ideas. David Foster Wallace’s ‘Good Old Neon’ was a story about narcissism but it took a wider context, albeit a negative one. So perhaps what Heti is saying - in contrast to DFW's conclusion - is that narcissism in a non-aggressive form especially, isn't exactly the worst thing in the world and isn't necessarily worth quite so much shame. (The shame that's the flipside to the egotism, and the shamefulness with which the narcissist may be regarded by others - shame which Heti tries to exorcise for herself by writing a "deliberately ugly" book including potentially embarrassing material. For her it looks like this therapeutic risk-taking turned out brilliantly, as she's been acclaimed for it.)She's saying it's not hopeless, you can improve bits and pieces and it's still okay to be yourself. "Benignly narcissistic white middle class artists are people too," perhaps. Even if billions don't care either way.

I’ve spent 1400 words mostly criticising this book, yet, even if Sheila’s social circle was a bit stifling, I quite liked her in the end and when I think back on the later part of the book in a non-specific sense, I feel it was an interesting experience and one I liked. How strange.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
August 10, 2016
An interesting idea, not very well done. This reads as if the author decided to write a profound meta-novel about the creative process, but in the first draft she really didn't have that much profound to say. So she filled up most of the book with whatever vapid thoughts came to mind and planned to go back and fix them later. But then when she finished the draft she was too tired to go back and fix all the vapid sections, so she decided to act as if they were part of the plan all along and hope her agent fell for it. And her agent did.

Hype in the publishing world can be so infuriating. Would everyone really think George Saunders's book was quite so amazing, for example, if a premature and hyperbolic NYT Magazine article hadn't named it--in January--the best book of 2013? With How Should a Person Be?, I think there's a very good chance if someone handed it to you in manuscript form and asked you what you thought, you'd say it was thrown together and random and almost criminally uneven. But because the publisher decided they would throw some of their marketing clout behind this one (not every published book gets this advantage), the media all decided to get behind it as well. Who has time to think for themselves these days?

As for me, I found the book's unevenness exasperating. The few passages that were genuinely meaningful and moving were choked out by all the inane, amateurish ones. There are readers who would say the book's very infuriatingness is what makes it good, but I disagree. Being good is what makes a book good. Of course, the publisher trumpets the book's divisive qualities on the back cover, saying it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its U.S. publication," as if this were some sort of virtue. This makes me weary. This is one of those "you either love it or you hate it!" books, and as with most "love it or hate it!" situations, I didn't love it or hate it. I thought it was okay. And that's probably the worst possible thing you can say about a book like this.
Profile Image for zan.
125 reviews41 followers
November 25, 2012
"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 didn't, but then I realized that all of these emotions were provocations, and the fact that I had such strong reactions must mean there is something to it, right? Something big and important? If so, what is it?

I won't give it a star rating, because it's either a 2 or a 5; it so perfectly represents this era and I *hate* that it so perfectly does, and it makes me wonder what this era really is that I should feel so awful about it and at the same time so worked up and oddly inspired.

I hated to love this? I loved to hate this? Somewhere in between?
Profile Image for Lynne Wright.
172 reviews6 followers
November 28, 2013
I do not get why critics raved about this book.

It consists of a series of repetitive semi-existential ramblings by a 20-something woman about ... well, ostensibly about learning to like herself and the meaning of being an artist... but really, it doesn't go anywhere or say anything of any depth at all. She's supposed to write a play but can't write the play; she repeatedly submits to unfulfilling and degrading sex from a shallow lover (if that sounds titillating its not; even the sex scenes aren't all that interesting); she annoys her best friend; she gets a job then quits the job; she goes to miami and buys a yellow dress, she goes to new york and goes to a party.

It was just dumb and pointless; I couldn't even figure out when the story was set (I THINK it might have been the 80s, but who knows... and if so, WHY???? Its not like it leant the book any particular flavour); and the writing was flat and bland.It is most certainly NOT funny in any way.

I kept thinking that it was like reading the crappy, pretentious diary of one of the really tediously self-involved wannabe artists that I knew back in the day... but without any of the fun times that generally come with being a young boho in the big city.

Piece of over-rated junk
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
April 4, 2013
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 book makes me feel the way the HBO show Girls makes me feel, and then I started seeing it as the same as Girls, and heard the second half of the book entirely in Lena Dunham's voice. I think this framed it for me in a very specific way, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to separate the two again.

So if you've seen the first season of Girls, here is what I found the same. Girls in a big city, Toronto instead of New York, trying to make it in somewhat naive artistic ventures, post-failed relationships. Intertwined are relationships with each other and bizarre sexual hangups. Some of it is written in e-mail lists from Margaux to Sheila, other parts are written like a play (Sheila is trying to write a play, the main character in Girls is also a struggling writer). The book is explicitly asking "How should a person be?"... Girls is clearly about identity and purpose even if the questions aren't spelled out the same way.

Sometimes the navel-gazing is too ennui-ridden for me. There's the moment near the beginning where Sheila claims her only goal is to become perfect at blow-jobs, and this idea surfaces multiple times. As if this was the only creative thing left. "Every era has its art form. The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel." It seemed funny at first, but ends up feeling empty and hopeless as she searches for meaning in relationships. (So is this frustrating or a brilliant insight? This is why I'm struggling.) Her artist friend Margaux also struggles with her identity as an artist from the opposite perspective - she's actually had acclaim and recognition for her painting, but "her first feeling in the morning was shame about all the things wrong in the world that she wasn't trying to fix. And so it embarrassed her when ... people called her work beautiful."

There is this section on pages 184-5 that I keep returning to where Sheila is going in circles about cheating and drugs and people as objects and addictions - pretty thought provoking; we only break our own hearts. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that the author has written a non-fiction philosophy-type book, because she really is a fan of going in circles. I won't give away Sheila-the-narrators conclusions of how a person should be, in the end, but I think the journey is worth reading, at least I enjoyed thinking about whether or not it was.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,793 reviews4,432 followers
April 7, 2013
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 tweaked and refined version of reality. It's a fairly plotless account of a short period in the life of the author/protagonist Sheila, focusing on her friendships and relationships, and the questions she asks of herself and others - how to find a purpose, how to make great art, how to live with meaning, who and what to be.

I enjoyed this, but I can't really give much insight into it without just quoting a load of stuff. A lot of other reviews have described the book as being like listening in to a conversation that you find fascinating, confusing and infuriating in equal measure, which I can definitely understand, although it wasn't my personal judgement. Some of it really hit home, some of it I completely disagreed with, some of it I didn't really 'get' - or maybe it just didn't reach me because I'm not a rich American hipster.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Did I relate to it? Yes, a bit - but not anywhere near as much as I thought I would when I first read the premise. Did I feel, at the end, that I'd really got anything out of reading it? No. I wish I could say otherwise, but there weren't any concepts in this book that were new to me or that prompted any moments of real revelation.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,155 reviews1,463 followers
October 23, 2019
I somehow simultaneously think this book is genius, but also see how in many ways it's often pretentious and annoying? There are many passages with startlingly brash wisdom, many meaningful, quotable lines, exemplified with the brilliant beginning paragraph. It's half novel, half memoir sometimes written in play format. It's about a white woman in her 20s trying to figure out how to be a writer (and a person). She reminded me a lot of Holden Caulfield. I wish I'd read this when it first came out 7 years ago, when I was too in the thrall of much of the soul searching Sheila is. I loved that the heart of the book is her friendship with Margaux, a fellow artist. I cringed knowingly at the internalized sexism. This book really spoke to me, as perhaps is to be expected as I share the same demographics as Sheila. It's what I thought I'd get from reading Joan Didion that I didn't get at all.
Also this book has that weird Toronto thing where they think Toronto is like the only place in Canada but somehow also kind of just of like another American city?
Profile Image for Julie.
255 reviews15 followers
December 24, 2012
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 true picture of what goes on in the mind of contemporary young women.

Instead of groundbreaking, I found the writing "style" (huh!!!) to be lazy and incomplete. Maybe the sex scenes are what give the novel its fame (The "Fear Of Flying" of today???). Fine, she writes "sex" with no emotion ... and that fits with the rest of the "narrative" (Huh! again) where there is no emotional connection with the "characters" (huh!!!!).
Profile Image for Anna.
51 reviews6 followers
June 15, 2015
This book had no point to it. Just random ramblings by a stubborn woman with an elitist attitude. As such, I'm going to hipster-ize my review and say only #fail.
Profile Image for Sharon.
753 reviews
September 22, 2012
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 feminist heroine, I found to be trapped by her own emotions in a self-imposed way, fixated on them without offering anything new or intriguing about this tendency of the artist, kept away from life by her obsession with what life means and should be for, and using her general existential angst as an excuse to abandon every responsibility and commitment on a whim.

The book seemed self-impressed throughout with its own boldness and emotional honesty, yet nothing was probed, nothing explained, and nothing presented in a way that empowers (or goads) the reader to find her own explanations. There's a heavy overtone of resenting the male dominance over women, both intentional by men and allowed/sought out by damaged women, yet no solutions are offered, and none of the female characters in the book offer anything strong in themselves or stand up to the men that abase them. Ugh, the more I think about it, the more I'm frustrated with this book and angry with its narrator.

But maybe I'll feel differently in five years, if life - men, friends - knock me around more.
Profile Image for Karellen.
118 reviews29 followers
April 26, 2018
Here we go then.

The strange case of why some people - usually only females - don’t seem to get this book.

Is it because they dislike the author? Or are they jealous of the author’s talent? I can’t tell.

After the first chapter I wanted to be her friend. Maybe I could empathise with some of her comments? And she made me laugh out loud. Especially the parts about her sex life. And her friendship with Margaux.

So I don’t know why other women dislike her. Except that plenty of females don’t like me either. Too pretty, too clever, too arrogant. Something like that.

M recommended this to me. I’m pleased that she did. Sheila is among those writers that are not content to write conventional novels. Is this even a novel? I’m not sure. Does it fucking matter? Not to me. Probably to those boring cunts who don’t like Sheila.

I wanted to read this primarily because Sheila is one of the writers that David Shields influential book “Reality Hunger” refers to as representing a departure from traditional narrative, plot, or indeed story. Which is all very refreshing if, like me, you happen to like experimental art. If you don’t, stop fucking complaining and get back to your “Da Vinci Code”.

How should a person be? This book doesn’t answer that question, nor should it. But it did make me laugh, and cry. And it also contains some good advice about blow jobs.

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152 reviews178 followers
July 20, 2012
I was so looking forward to reading this, and instead it turned out to be one of the stupidest books I have read.

Not recommended for anyone with literary tastes, nor anyone with an appreciation for actual philosophical musings, art or feminism.

Although, if you like to read about "cock" and "shit", then be my guest.
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