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How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life Hardcover – June 19, 2012
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Four girls on a trip to Paris suddenly find themselves in a high-stakes game of Truth or Dare that spirals out of control. Learn More
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“Ms. Heti's deadpan, naked voice is what makes Sheila's journey so engaging… [Her] mordant take on modernity encourages introspection. It is easy to see why a book on the anxiety of celebrity has turned the author into one herself.” ―The Economist
“A significant cultural artifact.” ―LA Review of Books
“Funny…odd, original, and nearly unclassifiable…Sheila Heti does know something about how many of us, right now, experience the world, and she has gotten that knowledge down on paper, in a form unlike any other novel I can think of.” ―David Haglund, The New York Times Book Review
“Utterly contemporary, wickedly clever, and profoundly irreverent.” ―Lilith Magazine
“[Sheila Heti] has an appealing restlessness, a curiosity about new forms, and an attractive freedom from pretentiousness or cant…How Should a Person Be? offers a vital and funny picture of the excitements and longueurs of trying to be a young creator in a free, late-capitalist Western City…This talented writer may well have identified a central dialectic of twenty-first-century postmodern being.” ―James Wood, The New Yorker
“Brutally honest and stylistically inventive, cerebral and sexy, this ‘novel from life' employs a grab bag of literary forms and narrative styles on its search for the truth…meandering and entertaining exploration of the big questions, rousting aesthetic, moral, religious and ethical concerns most novels wouldn't touch.” ―Michael David Lukas, San Francisco Chronicle
“A perfect summer read. It is also one of the bravest, strangest, most original novels I've read this year…We care about Sheila's plight, but the souls in limbo here are, ultimately, our own. With so many references to the world outside of the fiction, this novel demands to know: Can art inform our lives, and tell us how to be?” ―Christopher Boucher, The Boston Globe
“It's a bawdy, idiosyncratic novel about art, sex, Toronto, female friendship, and the endless quest to learn how to live. The title makes me quake with envy. All good books should be called just that.” ―Chad Harbach, Entertainment Weekly's "Hey, what are you reading?"
“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's book is so boldly original, each sentence so gorgeously rendered, that the distinction between exceptional novel and exceptional memoir seems irrelevant” ―Michael Schaub, NPR Books
“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] really amazing metafiction-meets-nonfiction novel that's so funny and strange. It has a lot of the same concerns that Girls does.” ―Lena Dunham, Entertainment Weekly's "Stars Own Must List"
“[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
“A new kind of book and new kind of person. A book that risks everything--shatters every rule we women try to follow in order to be taken seriously--and thus is nothing less than groundbreaking: in form, sexually, relationally and as a major literary work. With this complex, artfully messy and hilarious novel, Heti has done the rare and generous thing of creating more room for the rest of us. This is how a person should be.” ―Miranda July, author of No One Belongs Here More Than You and It Chooses You
“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
“A seriously strange but funny plunge into the quest for authenticity.” ―Margaret Atwood, @MargaretAtwood
“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
“Original, contemplative, and often tangential, this is an unorthodox compilation of colorful characters, friendship, and sex that provides an unusual answer to Heti's [titular] question.” ―Publishers Weekly
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
"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.Read more ›
How Should a Person Be? is marketed as a novel about the path of the artist and about what it means to be human. I'm not sure that it is successful in accomplishing either of these lofty goals, but perhaps it is a reflection of one rather unpleasant person's reality- and that is, I suppose, one path an artist can take.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I didn't really know what to expect when I started this book, but I was very pleasantly surprised. For a 30-something who is dealing with a mild existential crisis, it was exactly... Read morePublished 19 days ago by Rachel Rose
A good book! I love the feel of the characters and the morals and ideas presented.Published 1 month ago by Brian Klimowski
Quick read, funny. Insightful to an artsy world of people who spend their lives doing exactly what they want and being sure of nothing.Published 2 months ago by Kathleen M. Earley
This is an odd novel, and courageous in a way - it treats a difficult topic, sort of the meaning of life. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Art Chester
Sheila has an interesting style and fresh perspective, but this was a dry read that I would not recommend to anyone.Published 2 months ago by Peter J Lane
Finished the book and don't even know what happened in it.Published 3 months ago by Helene Taormino
This story just felt all over the place. Certain parts of it were hard to read. The protagonist was very difficult to empathize with. I wasn't a fan of the writing style.Published 3 months ago by fdcampbell16
There was nothing interesting about this book. It was basically the TV show Girls but slower and lacking any sort of entertainment.Published 5 months ago by Acacia Matheson