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The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City

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The Chairs Are Where the People Go: How to Live, Work, and Play in the City [Paperback]

Misha Glouberman , Sheila Heti
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 5, 2011

Should neighborhoods change? Is wearing a suit a good way to quit smoking? Why do people think that if you do one thing, you're against something else? Is monogamy a trick? Why isn't making the city more fun for you and your friends a super-noble political goal? Why does a computer last only three years? How often should you see your parents? How should we behave at parties? Is marriage getting easier? What can spam tell us about the world?

Misha Glouberman's friend and collaborator, Sheila Heti, wanted her next book to be a compilation of everything Misha knew. Together, they made a list of subjects. As Misha talked, Sheila typed. He talked about games, relationships, cities, negotiation, improvisation, Casablanca, conferences, and making friends. His subjects ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. But sometimes what had seemed trivial began to seem important--and what had seemed important began to seem less so.

The Chairs Are Where the People Go is refreshing, appealing, and kind of profound. It's a self-help book for people who don't feel they need help, and a how-to book that urges you to do things you don't really need to do.

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Editorial Reviews


"A triumph of what might be called conversational philosophy... The world is better for these humane and hilarious essays." - The New Yorker

A triumph of what might be called conversational philosophy . . . The world is better for these humane and hilarious essays. (The New Yorker)

[A] glorious collection of essays . . . deeply hip and also endearing . . . The general message is collaboration amid density, hilarity despite and with all due respect for (some of) the rules. (Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times)

These plainspoken, idiosyncratic essays . . . coalesce cozily around the patient, earnest, well-intentioned voice of the speaker. . . The platitudes are self-explanatory, but prove so understated as to be frequently hilarious . . . overall, he dispenses the nondidactic wisdom of an avuncular sage. (Publishers Weekly)

The title of this offbeat guide by Canadian improvisation instructor Glouberman is somewhat of a misnomer, as the 72 short chapters actually contain the author's thoughts and opinions about life in general. For instance, he explains why computers last only three years and why wearing a suit is a good way to quit smoking. Glouberman reduces many aspects of socialization to game playing, and advises the reader how to be good at charades, for instance, or how to fight in gibberish. The book is surprisingly entertaining and offers enjoyable browsing. (Library Journal)

A bounty of short, sound advice and commentary from a Canadian improvisational-theatre instructor . . . Transcribing the author's words verbatim produces fresh, pithy perspectives on a wide range of diverse subjects, issues, pleasures and irritants. (Kirkus Reviews)

If you're searching for a gift for that student who is ending her academic career or about to take a job in a strange new city, you could do worse than this modest, idiosyncratic version of an urban survival manual . . . Glouberman is consistently reasonable, self-effacing and creative as he poses at least tentative solutions to these dilemmas, while discoursing on thornier and more abstract subjects, like whether monogamy is a trick or how we might go about creating meaningful ritual to serve a secular society . . . It's pleasant to imagine sharing a coffee with Misha Glouberman in a Toronto café, exploring some of life's recurring mysteries. Until that opportunity presents itself, this book is an admirable substitute. (Shelf Awareness)

An odd and satisfying blend of philosophy, self-help, and, improbably, charade game theory. Misha Glouberman wins you over with a simple and good-spirited reasonableness that leaves you feeling uplifted by the power a voice of common sense can still have in the world. The Chairs Are Where the People Go reads like the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin as told to David Byrne. (JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN, contributing editor to This American Life and author of Lenny Bruce Is Dead)

Sheila Heti is the patron saint of raconteurs. Misha Glouberman is a raconteur. The result is a compendium of riffs on a variety of interesting subjects. Misha stays serious throughout. Sheila stays calm. The result is very funny. (DAVE HICKEY, author of The Invisible Dragon and Air Guitar)

A clever, thoughtful commentary on modern urban life, illuminating everything from how to deal with annoying neighbors to how to run an improv class. (PHILIPP MEYER, author of American Rust)

The book initially seems a series of exercises in studied naiveté. Then Glouberman admits to waking up in the middle of the night with panic attacks about the charades class he's developed and taught for years, and the tone changes. You, too, start to remember the difficulty and the crucial seriousness of impracticality, of relearning unpracticed behavior, and of life itself. (SARAH MANGUSO, author of The Two Kinds of Decay)

This breezy but smart book tells you everything you need to know about how best to play charades, the dilemmas of being an urban activist, how to set up chairs, why wearing a suit might help you give up smoking, and many other things. It lulls you into thinking you've got it sorted out only to suddenly become surprisingly insightful and even moving. (BRIAN EVENSON, author of Altmann's Tongue and Baby Leg)

The ethos that emerges from The Chairs Are Where the People Go -- and I say "emerges" because it is only ever implicit --offers a possible way out of America's inwardly focused mess. Glouberman and Heti never admonish or direct, but as a reader, seeing empathy in practice is helpful and encouraging -- even, and maybe especially, if it's demonstrated through an improv game. (Jessica Gross, The Rumpus)

[The Chairs Are Where the People Go] almost makes me think of Demetri Martin giving up on being a comedian, and becoming a philosopher. (Jason Diamond, Vol. 1 Brooklyn)

The Chairs Are Where The People Go is sort of an Advanced Urban Studies, about the aesthetics of the everyday, and how to get along with everyone else while learning to enjoy yourself more creatively. For someone like me who hates the genre (is it a genre?), it does for self-help books what Moby Dick did for the novel. (Chris Estey,

But these brief essays -- most are just a page or two long -- pile onto each other in an interesting, even hypnotic fashion (that's Heti's hand at work). As Glouberman explains why he enjoys making actors babble gibberish at each other, and as he lists some of the most difficult charades clues he's ever encountered (including Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Guam, and 1984), you start to, grudgingly at first, fall for the guy . . . When you get near the end of Chairs, you realize that all the stories have a common theme: Glouberman is most interested in teaching people how to communicate. That's a decidedly urban goal--cities would not be tolerable places without effective communication?but it's also a beautifully human goal. What Glouberman has learned from teaching and finding compromises and community with his neighbors can be used everywhere, to make life better for everyone. Without the struggle to find food or to simply stay alive, he can focus on bettering the fundamental glue that holds us all together. (Paul Constant, The Stranger)

There is definitely something about Misha Glouberman that makes us want to hang out inside his head for a little while. (Renee Ghert-Zand, The Forward)

About the Author

MISHA GLOUBERMAN is a performer, facilitator, and artist who lives in Toronto.

SHEILA HETI is the author of three books of fiction: The Middle Stories, Ticknor, and How Should a Person Be?. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney's, n + 1, and The Guardian. She regularly conducts interviews for The Believer.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 175 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Original edition (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865479453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865479456
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars common sense is not so common July 20, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I'm enjoying this book and will be sharing it with friends. Grounded, yet light and approachable philosophy and style. You know when you read something and go - oh my gosh, i've thought that but could never say it so well. And then there are the parts where I'm stretched. I appreciate the insights into improvisation and miscommunication. Hopefully someday I'll bump into Misha and share a beer.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful Life Lessons and Insights Into Humanity July 30, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had a chance to read The Chairs Are Where The People Go Last Weekend. I enjoyed it immensely. The stories provided useful life lessons. The insights into humanity felt real and practical. I was particularly moved by the recurring theme of compromise. It struck a chord for me given the acrimony so pervasive in our world right now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TALKING TO A GOOD FRIEND WHO HAS SOMETHING TO SAY April 3, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sheila Heti is an author with three novels under her belt. Misha Glouberman is her friend. He’s a cool friend. He’s a performer and an artist: one of the things he does is facilitate performances that are kind of non-performances for other people. He lives in Toronto, which is important because some of the best pieces in this book have to do with where he lives and what it’s like living there. Misha is also, Sheila writes, a near-perfect conversationalist. He speaks in sentences that read well written down, with little or no editing.
So she had this idea. She asked Misha, the best talker she knows, to talk about anything he wanted and she’d write it down. And that’s what he –they- did. This book is Misha talking about things he cares about enough to talk about them or things he knows enough about that it’s worthwhile to explain them to people who only know him through this book.

The pieces are short. The longest is the last one in the book. It’s about quitting smoking and it runs six pages. Many are only one paragraph or page long. Hey! It’s a good idea! How many people do you know who once they start talking, can’t stop but just prose on, like the Little Engine That Could, until they run out of steam. Misha’s talkpieces are only as long as they need to be to say what Misha has to say. When he’s said it, he stops talking. Hurrah for Misha!

Misha is a delightful companion. He’s thoughtful. He has strong views and enthusiasms but he’s not doctrinaire. The way he expresses himself is elegant though seeming casual: many of his statements just to catch it, whatever it is he’s talking about. “The best conversationalist,” he writes (in a piece entitled Storytelling Is Not the Same as Conversation), “are people who are hoping to end up somewhere they didn’t expect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, thought provoking, without necessity March 3, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As a sculpture and performance artist I was recommended this book as a engaging resource for thinking about interdisciplinary work. the book was an easy read that made me think about how I approach things. Was it life changing? Will I be ranting to my friends and exclaiming you must read this book? probably not, but I think it was an appropriate tool to meditate on and get another artist perspective.
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5.0 out of 5 stars sit down! May 9, 2013
Misha Glouberman is a man of mystery, he has an encyclopedia of knowledge and world wisdom. His friend Sheila Heti wanted to capture these gems and has done so in her book.
This book is written in a conversational style, they talk about life, discovering your passion, and how trivial matters can make a big difference. This nontraditional self help book is a whimsical journey into a world of wonder. Misha is a performer, teacher, and artist who has traveled the world discovering friends, adventures and the joy of life.
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