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How Should a Person Be? [Hardcover]

Sheila Heti
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

24 Jan 2013

Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2013

Reeling from a failed marriage, Sheila, a twentysomething playwright, finds herself unsure of how to live and create. When Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist, enter her life, Sheila hopes that through close-sometimes too close-observation of her new friend, her new lover, and herself, she might regain her footing in art and life.

Using transcribed conversations, real emails, plus heavy doses of fiction, the brilliant and always innovative Sheila Heti crafts a work that is part literary novel, part self-help manual, and part bawdy confessional. It's a totally shameless and dynamic exploration into the way we live now, which breathes fresh wisdom into the eternal questions: What is the sincerest way to love? What kind of person should you be?

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (24 Jan 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1846557542
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846557545
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14.2 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 168,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Helen Fielding made it funny and fictional in Bridget Jones's Diary; Elizabeth Gilbert did it without laughs in Eat, Pray, Love. Now in this mashup of memoir, fiction, self-help and philosophy, Sheila Heti has added a bit of a story, quite a few blow jobs and some cheeky exclamation marks, and finally made it credible" (Guardian)

"A really amazing metafiction-meets-nonfiction novel" (Lena Dunham, star and creator of HBO series 'Girls')

"A beguiling "novel from life" about creativity and authenticity" (Guardian Pick of 2013)

"Funny, bawdy and fiercely original, this is the book everyone's talking about - and for good reason" (Easy Living)

"A shamelessly funny read that's got all of America talking" (Grazia)

"Part of a growing movement to explore the messiness, self-consciousness and doubt of young women who have been told the world offers them unprecedented opportunity, and who are discovering just what that means" (Kira Cochrane G2)

"It will be one of the most talked-about books of 2013" (Irish Tatler, 2013 Hot List)

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

"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)

"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" (The Paris Review)

"Sheila Heti's vaguely autobiographical new novel might make her the Joan Didion of the "Girls" generation" (Salon)

"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, author of The Art of Fielding)

"What's compelling about the book is certainly its raw interrogation of the process of creating both a work of art and an artist's personality" (Telegraph)

"How Should a Person Be? is a question to be revisited by the author herself, or another writer, or many other writers - but it's also the question novels were invented to respond to. Sheila makes it ugly to clear a space: for novels to be less fictional, for women to dream of being geniuses, for a way of being 'honest and transparent and give away nothing'" (Joanna Briggs London Review of Books)

"Genuinely laugh out loud" (Daily Mail)

"Utterly now" (Claire Allfree Metro)

"A sharp and unsentimental chronicle of what it is like to be a 20-something now.Heti's 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" (Economist)

"Joyously self-conscious.profoundly ironic.or, perhaps more accurately, it is a production profoundly concerned with how to live authentically in a world saturated by irony" (Olivia Laing New Statesman)

"She's at her best when she turns outwards to faux-innocent criticisms of the creative and slightly self-regarding circles she moves in. Read this for the jolt between reality and fiction and as an attempt at mapping the complicated emotional terrain best friendships can be" (Emerald Street)

"Ambitious, assured and ruthlessly controlled.exhilarating" (Richard Beck Prospect)

"Witty, unusual, raw.a powerful read.a classic in the making. Its montage of thoughts and emotions, written in the fearlessly true voice of its author, lend the book an unmistakable honesty and make it a truly original memoir as well as a great novel in its own right" (Stylist)

"An unconventional blur of fact and fiction, How Should a Person Be? is an engaging cocktail of memoir, novel and self-help guide" (Grazia)

"A candid collection of taped interviews and emails, random notes and daring exposition.fascinating" (Sinead Gleeson Irish Times)

"Terribly compelling" (Hollie Williams Independent on Sunday)

"Occasionally magical.this is an undeniably strange and unique book" (Doug Johnstone Scotsman)

"Genuinely provocative, funny and original" (Hannah Rosefield Literary Review)

"A serious work about authenticity, how to lead a moral life and accept one's own ugliness" (Richard Godwin Evening Standard)

"An exuberantly productive mess, filtered and reorganised after the fact.rather than working within a familiar structure, Heti has gone out to look for things that interest her and "put a fence around" whatever she finds" (Lidija Haas Times Literary Supplement)

"We may suspect this is barely fictionalised autobiography and we may well be right, but it's very witty barely fictionalised biography" (Michael Conaghan Belfast Telegraph)

"A sharp, witty exploration of relationships, art and celebrity culture" (Natasha Lehrer Jewish Chronicle)

Book Description

A novel from life: a raw, startling, genre-defying novel of friendship, sex, and love in the new millennium

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I read this having heard great things about the book's human insights. But it struck me as narcissistic, shoddily written, grandiose and dull. It is marketed as a novel, but it's more on the lines of a memoir or diary reworked into something a bit like a novel.

Why two stars rather than one? Because there were a few funny, knowing moments that recalled Lena Dunham's sharper, funnier TV show Girls. Overall, though, it reminded me of listening - not by choice, but because there was no escape - to someone really self-obsessed talking to a friend on the train.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Neurotic and narcissistic but oddly engaging 4 Mar 2013
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you're looking for a traditional `story', this will be a challenging read. Written in a self-consciously postmodern fashion - fragments, emails, recorded conversations - this is a meditation on identity, art, sex, and gender.

Sheila is a playwright who can't write her play, and her friends are artists - parts of this book are witty and smart (`how could I castrate my mind - neuter it! - and build up a resistance to know what was mine from what was everyone else's, and finally be in the world in my own way?'), parts are banal and mundane... like life itself.

This is theoretically-informed and draws on modern critical theory on art, text, psychoanalysis, and gender. In pondering why it's ok to spend time perfecting a work of art but not a sexual act (!), for example, this poses some provocative questions, and asks what is the role of the artist in a postmodern, capitalist society.

So this is one of those books which presses on the boundaries fiction, of narrative, of the novel, without providing easy definitions.

It's neurotic, self-consciously narcissistic, sometimes boring, sometimes obtuse, sometimes funny, sometimes really quite wise. I'm glad I read this but if you've hated other recent postmodern fiction (Swimming Home, Communion Town,Signs of Life) or the writing of people like Barthes, then this probably isn't for you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How a novel should be? 4 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is definitely not going to be to everyone's taste, but then Sheila Heti would be the first person to acknowledge that. For, as Heti says on page one, "you can admire anyone for being themselves", and that is really what this book is about; although more importantly it is the way that this book is concerned with this topic that makes it so monumental and has resulted in it receiving so much praise (although apparently not on Amazon).

"How Should a Person Be?" is not concerned with living up to traditional expectations of what a novel should be, it is concerned only with saying what it wants to say, and saying it in the best way the author can find to say it. It is a memoir-cum-novel-cum play about a female writer (also called Sheila) trying to write a play and failing, trying to hold together a friendship and partially failing, and trying to understand how a person should be, and finally understanding it (sort of) through her failings. By stripping away many of the pretences of traditional fiction, Heti finds a way of drawing the reader into her world, taking the reader along with her, through her failings and her despair and her sufferings and out the other side. And it is this highly personal, self-flagellating method of story-telling that helps to get across the book's message: "A life without failure, suffering or doubt [is] empty of those things that make a human life meaningful." A person should be someone who is happy to fail, who is prepared to keep on failing, to face up to their failings (as Heti is doing with this book, which is not the play she set out to write), and to learn from their failings; rather than someone who keeps running away from their failings in the hope of finding a place where they never fail, suffer or doubt themselves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time for a rethink 26 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Please note that the title of this book is not 'How a person should be'. The title is a question (that goes back over two thousand three hundred years to Aristotle and beyond) and the story is one of the myriad attempts in the history of humankind to answer that question. However, it doesn't find the answer, or maybe there isn't an answer, or maybe there are as many answers as there are persons in the universe, or maybe Sheila Heti has the insight that we will never know how a person should be. For me, this a description of a life explored, and as such is worthy of publication. The form and content of the narrative may be unfamiliar and shocking to many. For sure, 'How should a person be?' is very different to much that I've read before, but so was Ulysses by James Joyce. Thank you Sheila, for providing a thought- and discussion-provoking work of art, with humor attached.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You'll love it...or hate it! 1 Sep 2013
An unusual memoir style book, Heti ruminates in a philosophical way on her life as she contemplates how it should be lived. She does this through the 'character' Sheila, a playwright with a failed marriage who searches to find herself again with arrival in her life of artist friends Margaux and Israel. Oftentimes crude in her very personal revelations, it is obviously the voice of a young woman who considers life in her own very unique way. Heti herself calls it a "novel from life". It was first published in 2010 in Canada before it was revised to be published in the U.S in 2012 and in UK/Ireland in early 2013. It was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction.

Heti's book identifies that uncertainty of identity that lurks in us all, seeing how a friend behaves and wanting to emulate them or seeing someone pass us on the street and thinking that we'd like to dress like them. And it challenges that aspect of our insecurity. But it is the disconcerting openness in her talk on sex, which is in no way sexy, that sometimes just takes away from the real argument that Heti puts forward which is ultimately one on art and ugliness. There are many ideas to consider in this book, and it is a challenging read, but the author's voice sometimes just jars too much.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Slipshod
Before I bought this, I read pages from it using the Amazon preview and liked them. After I finished it, squeamishly unable to keep such a bad book in the house, I gave it to... Read more
Published 8 months ago by digit
2.0 out of 5 stars a challenging text - clearly not for all - and in the event, not for...
Sheila wonders 'how a person should be?' and is engaged in writing a play about this. She also works part time as a trainee in a hairdressing salon; meets up with and befriends... Read more
Published 8 months ago by William Jordan
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, unique book
This is a novel describing the lives of a group of artists in the early 21st century, in particular focusing on the friendship of Sheila, a writer, and Margaux, a visual... Read more
Published 9 months ago by emma who reads a lot
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost brilliant, ultimately stultifying
'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. Read more
Published 10 months ago by purpleheart
1.0 out of 5 stars utter twaddle
I gave this appalling piece of drivel one star because there was not a zero button. It has the record for the most self indulgent, narcissistic, vapid book I've read. Read more
Published 11 months ago by J. Turner
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-narratives and selling your soul
Sheila Heti explores her fragmented search for self-realisation written through conversations, emails, and straightforward first-person in this novel, longlisted for the Women's... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Laura T
5.0 out of 5 stars Charmingly sharp
Charming, arch, camp, funny, winsome, sharp, sometimes intense, always fresh and alive and true, Sheila Heti comes across as a fey friend for highly intelligent people. Read more
Published 13 months ago by A. Travers
5.0 out of 5 stars How should a book be? Hmm...
Gosh, this one gets mixed responses - ranging from one star to five stars! It gets five stars from me, though, and I can explain why. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Gabrielle O
1.0 out of 5 stars what a banal piec e of noise.
what can be said other than "don't do it" SUCH a boring piece of work. Ifeel that the author istrying too hard to be artsy tha she fails to write a story
Published 14 months ago by wwx
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea but result is too mundane
Much has been made in the media about the similarity in approach of Sheila Heti's fictionalised autobiographical "How Should A Person Be? Read more
Published 15 months ago by Ripple
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