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How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life Paperback – June 25, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (June 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 125003244X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250032447
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Heti truly has a startling voice all her own, and a fresh take on fiction and autobiography's overlap. Her mix of hyperreal detail, sweeping gestures from the realm of parable, and self-reflexive distortions leaves us wondering what's real and what's invented. — Johanna Fateman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

A New York Times Notable Book of 2012

“Funny...odd, original, and nearly unclassifiable...unlike any novel I can think of.”—David Haglund, The New York Times Book Review

“Brutally honest and stylistically inventive, cerebral, and sexy.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“One of the bravest, strangest, most original novels I’ve read this year.”—Christopher Boucher, The Boston Globe

“A vital and funny picture of the excitements and longueurs of trying to be a young creator in a free, late-capitalist Western city.”—James Wood, The New Yorker

“A book that risks everything...Complex, artfully messy, and hilarious.”—Miranda July

“A really amazing metafiction-meets-nonfiction novel.”—Lena Dunham

"It is easy to see why a book on the anxiety of celebrity has turned the author into one herself."—The Economist

"A seriously strange but funny plunge into the quest for authenticity."—Margaret Atwood

“Boldly original...Gorgeously rendered.”—NPR

“Bawdy, idiosyncratic...The title makes me quake with envy. All good books should be called just that.”—Chad Harbach

"A significant cultural artifact."—LA Review of Books

"Original...hilarious...Part confessional, part play, part novel, and more—it’s one wild ride...Think HBO’S Girls in book form." —Marie Claire

How Should a Person Be? teeters between youthful pretension and irony in ways that are as old as Flaubert’s Sentimental Education...but Ms. Heti manages to give Sheila’s struggle a contemporary and particular feel...How Should a Person Be? reveals a talented young voice of a still inchoate generation.”—Kay Hymowitz, The Wall Street Journal

“I read this eccentric book in one sitting, amazed, disgusted, intrigued, sometimes titillated I’ll admit to that, but always in awe of this new Toronto writer who seems to be channeling Henry Miller one minute and Joan Didion the next.  Heti’s book is pretty ugly fiction, accent on the pretty.”Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered

“Heti’s craft never fails…Novels are supposed to grab one’s attention, and Heti’s wonderfully baggy, honest and affecting book does exactly that.”—New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Not the kind of book that comes along often. It’s highly quotable, funny, shocking, anxiety-inducing and, finally, inspiring… It is undeniably of the moment, a blueprint of how to be lost in the Internet Age.”—Thought Catalog

“Heti knows what she’s doing—much of the pleasure of How Should a Person Be? comes from watching her control the norms she’s subverting.”—Michelle Dean, Slate

"[A] breakthrough novel...Just as Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps (written at the same age) was an explosive and thrilling rejoinder to the serious, male coming-of-age saga exemplified during her era by Sartre’s The Age of Reason, Heti’s book exuberantly appropriates the same, otherwise tired genre to encompass female experience. How Should a Person Be?’s deft, picaresque construction, which lightly-but-devastatingly parodies the mores of Toronto’s art scene, has more in common with Don Quixote than with Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls” or the fatuous blogs and social media it will, due to its use of constructed reality, inevitably be compared with…Like [Kathy] Acker, [Heti] is a brilliant, original thinker and an engaging writer. "—Chris Kraus, LA Review of Books

“If you're not already reading Sheila Heti's second novel How Should A Person Be?, you should be. Heti's rousing, unapologetically messy, beautifully written, insightful and provocative book explores the frustrations and rewards of female friendship, and of trying to make art as a young woman in the 21st century...Heti is doing something very exciting within the form of the novel.” —Jezebel

“Heti excels at developing a cast of engaging, colorful and flawed characters.”—Willamette Week

“Enlightening, profoundly intelligent, and charming to read....It reflects life in its incredible humor—and in some of its weird bits that might be muddled or unclear...with anxiety, hilarity and lots of great conversation.”—Interview Magazine

“There are no convenient epiphanies in Sheila Heti’s newest book How Should a Person Be? Instead there are several intertwined, grinding and brilliantly uncomfortable ones that require the reader to shed a few dozen layers in the service of self-discovery...She may depart from broad harbors, but she is an analytic zealot, never imparting trite one-liners or excusing herself. Reading her is an act of participation, discomfort and joy.”—SF Weekly

“Lena Dunham loves this novel…A fresh spin on friendship, art, sex, and philosophy in five acts. And the prose, often taking the form of a numbered list, is always engaging.”—Daily Candy

“[Heti creates] one of the most personable antiheroes ever...Her tone can be earnest and eager to please, flippant and crass, terribly lucid and darkly funny...Her tortured self-deprecation can read a little like Violette Leduc’s, and her poetic bluntness sometimes reminds me of Eileen Myles, but these authors come to mind mostly because, like Heti, they have written about women with unusual detail and feeling. Heti truly has a startling voice all her own, and a fresh take on fiction and autobiography’s overlap.”—Bookforum

“Oh crap. I don’t know how to begin talking about Sheila Heti or how good she is.  People will say How Should A Person Be? is reminiscent of Patti Smith’s Just Kids or Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty and both of these things will be true.  But I am still reeling from the originality of this novel.  There are passages here so striking, to read them is to be punched in the heart.”—Sloane Crosley, author of How Did You Get This Number

"The book’s form is fluid and unpredictable… [and] the architecture gives the prose a circular, easy feeling, even though Heti is taking a hard look at what makes life meaningful and how one doesn’t end up loveless and lost. It is book peopled by twentysomethings but works easily as a manual for anyone who happens to have run into a spiritual wall."—Sasha Frere-Jones, The Paris Review

"Utterly beguiling: blunt, charming, funny, and smart. Heti subtly weaves together ideas about sex, femininity and artistic ambition. Reading this genre-defying book was pure pleasure."—David Shields, author of Reality Hunger

"[A]n unforgettable book: intellectually exacting, unsettling in its fragility, bodily as anything painted by Freud, experimental yet crafted as hell, and yes, very funny."—The National Post

"Sheila Heti’s novel-from-life, How Should a Person Be?, was published in Canada in 2010, but won’t be out in the US until next June. Watch for it – it’s great." —Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding


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Customer Reviews

There is no character development.
milou
Don't get me wrong, I don't only want to read books about people just like myself, but I DO want to be able to have some sort of connection!
Wayne Crenwelge
In the end, I did find some of the book incredibly insightful, but overall it wasn't worth reading through the rest to get there.
Christine Zibas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Parker Sims on August 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is not a novel for the faint of heart. It is at times crushing, hilarious, biting, and insightful. But more than anything, it is brave. Heti is genius in a way that hurts my feelings, and she risks our understanding of that brilliance by delivering a novel that is meticulously crafted to feel ugly. The complexity, the vulgarity, and the flip dialogue are no mistake, oversight, or a symptom of lazy writing. Like it or not, you connect with the protagonist--and Heti herself--because she is as scattered and insecure as we all are. That's why we love her, why we hate her, and sometimes why we can't stand her (as previous reviews can attest). It's those qualities, or lack thereof, that make the book such an arresting read.

Though I suspected at first I wasn't the target audience, I plowed through this unlikely masterwork in a weekend. It's a daring piece of literary "fiction" that you really have to let wash over you. I had never read anything like it (and I doubt many have), yet it always felt familiar. It's an important book, one I've been recommending to nearly everyone I know.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By rantboi VINE VOICE on June 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The main reason I chose to read this novel is that another reviewer compared it to Scarlett Thomas, one of my favorite novelists. While I do see some similarities, I think that Thomas has far more interesting ideas that she explores with her writing, at least to me. How Should A Person Be? is a (semi?) autobiographical novel, whose main character, Sheila, is working on a play and hangs out with her artist friends, pondering the question in the title: how should a person be? I found the beginning of the novel to be quite boring, especially when she talked about her failed marriage. Thankfully, soon Sheila meets Margaux, a painter, and things get interesting from there. We get transcripts of conversations recorder on Sheila's recorder, and plenty of e-mails. I love that kind of stuff in novels. She also meets Israel, an artist that she says is much better in bed than at art. There is a quite explicit chapter close to the middle of the book where Sheila rants about Israel and how everyone should get together with him, which was quite hilarious. There was a chapter in the beginning of the book where Sheila talks to her Jungian analyst about what it means to be a puer aeternus, a person who never really grows up. That section spoke to me more than anything else in the whole book.

Overall, I really liked How Should A Person Be? It was a pretty quick read. It was at turns boring, depressing, funny, touching, insightful, and even repulsive. It's a novel about what it means to be an artist, what it means to be a woman, and more importantly, what it means to be human. There is no great answer at the end of the book, but isn't that the way life is anyway?

Recommended if you're in the mood for something a little different, that makes you think about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of it all, for a little while.
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Format: Paperback
Uhm. This is fake memoir. So the character is not the author. The character is annoying on purpose, not by chance. I think some readers need a tutorial on prose and literature and the difference between authors and their creations. Start with the bible. King David killed a man to marry his wife, Bethsheba. His wife gives him a son who rebels and dies by getting his hair caught in a tree. Pretty unsympathetic all around. That's why its good lit. Russian writers. Ditto. If you want sympathetic characters then watch TV. Okay?
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Christine Zibas VINE VOICE on July 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is truly one of the strangest novels I have ever read. I like quirky and am a big fan of Miranda July (who wrote one of the book's endorsements), and July is likely the author I would most closely compared Sheila Heti with. But Heti is no Miranda July.

Overall, there is no coherent novel-worthy storyline. There are snippets of life (embellished one imagines, since the book is listed as fiction) that can best be called short stories. A few I found brilliant, insightful (for example, the Miami Beach spider tale). Overall, the rest was a lot of rambling about a life I didn't find that interesting. Sorry, Sheila.

The main storyline (if one can call it that) seems to center around her relationship with her friend Margaux. Still, this is not like any friendship I have ever had or read about. And these two women consider themselves geniuses! What?

Then, and perhaps most disheartening about the whole book, there is the author's relationship with Israel, her lover. Frankly, that could have well and truly been removed from the book.

The author complains throughout the book about men always trying to teach her something (not an invalid complaint, by the way), but her relationship with this man is far more abusive than a man simply boring her.

In the end, I did find some of the book incredibly insightful, but overall it wasn't worth reading through the rest to get there.
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24 of 32 people found the following review helpful By K. Sullivan VINE VOICE on May 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sheila is a divorced playwright living in Toronto. Although she has a broader social circle centered in the local art scene, she latches onto one particular artist, Margaux, after her divorce. They quickly journey from casual acquaintance and mutual admiration to close friendship, something more fulfilling but entailing more risk as well. Romantically, she becomes the lust interest of the sexy, brooding artist, Israel. The novel uses these relationships as a means for Sheila's self-exploration. Structurally, there's a loose linear narrative, but it's hardly the book's focus. Sheila is obsessed with determining how she should live. How is a young female artist supposed to be? As she reminisces about past boyfriends, finds and loses a husband, makes new friends, and struggles to write (and alternately to avoid writing) a "feminine" (if not feminist) play - while her friends compete to see who can create the ugliest painting - she reveals herself and her search to the reader.

"How Should a Person Be?" is no conventional novel, but a fictionalized (to what extent?) memoir. Sheila is the only character developed in any way. Margaux and Israel (and the other bit players) exist only as a means for Sheila's own self-exploration and expression. So if Margaux appears to be something of an artistic savant, incredibly gifted but socially awkward and aloof, and Israel appears to be sadistic and perverse, focused only on deriving sexual pleasure from Sheila's humiliation, perhaps they aren't to blame. Sheila's inner life is the novel's focus.

Sheila is an engaging, fascinating protagonist. Profoundly self-aware, she exposes her thoughts, feelings, and motivations with complete transparency.
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