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How Should a Person Be?

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  12,422 ratings  ·  1,538 reviews
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
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 25th 2010)
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Average rating 3.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,422 ratings  ·  1,538 reviews

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Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, canadian
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
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 02, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013, own, jewish, the-worst
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
Lee Klein
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Oct 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Vanessa Vitiello
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
JSA Lowe
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 n ...more
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
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
Nov 24, 2012 added it
"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
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
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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
Julie Ehlers
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 ...more
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
Lynne Wright
Nov 28, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 are
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 ...more
Dec 24, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 04, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Sep 22, 2012 added it
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

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)
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 22, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-read-soon
Honestly, I saw an interesting-looking hipster-y girl reading this on the subway. Is that a wrong reason to want to read something?
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lucy Dacus
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
240- Better to have your failure right in front of you than the fantasy in your head.
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018indch, own, fiction
Interesting book. I really feel it's a 3.5 but rounded down because I really don't think of it as a 4-star.

I had a complicated experience reading this one. Hatred, love, boredom, interest. The style is interesting: a combination of narration alternating with short bursts of play dialogue. I liked the mix.

The narrator--Sheila (of course, making one wonder if the story is autobiographical and to what degree) was problematic to me. Searching, self-hating, masochistic in her relationships with men,
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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 a

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