Review: How Should A Person Be? — Sheila Heti

Read: 82
To Go: 18

Book List:
81. Low Pressure — Sandra Brown
82. How Should A Person Be? — Sheila Heti


For reasons multiple and mysterious, Sheila finds herself in a quandary of self-doubt, questioning how a person should be in the world. Inspired by her friend Margaux, a painter, and her seemingly untortured ability to live and create, Sheila casts Margaux as material, embarking on a series of recordings in which nothing is too personal, too ugly, or too banal to be turned into art. Along the way, Sheila confronts a cast of painters who are equally blocked in an age in which the blow job is the ultimate art form. She begins questioning her desire to be Important, her quest to be both a leader and a pupil, and her unwillingness to sacrifice herself.

How Should A Person Be? is one of the books that I received from my fabulous friend who used to work at Flare. Since a few of them were advanced copies, I didn’t feel like I should read them until later in the year. Lo and behold, I am reading them now.

I enjoyed How Should A Person Be? but I keep blanking on what to say about it. I couldn’t tell — and I still wonder — if the book was autobiographical in nature, or if Sheila the main character was a construct created by Sheila the author. Although, as the book points out, even an autobiographical work would still present a constructed Sheila; our outside persona is a combination of how we present ourselves to the world, and who others perceive us to be.

How Should A Person Be? was smart, sexually frank, funny, and just a little over my head. Art and its meaning, topics heavily discussed in the book, tend to be a bit out of my grasp.

Next book: Will Schwalbe or Michael Connelly. Or a picture book.

– Kelsey


2 thoughts on “Review: How Should A Person Be? — Sheila Heti

  1. I meant to read this, but I didn’t get to it before it was due back at the library! It seems really interesting, but I suspect the discussions of art might have been over my head, as well.

    You point out that an autobiographical book would present a constructed Sheila, and I think it works the other way, too; a fictional character in a novel may be based on (or at least have some qualities of) the author. It’s so interesting how fiction informs reality and reality informs fiction!

    • It’s an interesting read, art-talk aside, so you should definitely pick it up when you get a chance. One thing I didn’t mention in the review, and that I probably should’ve, is that there’s a really sweet subplot in the book about female friendships, which I liked a lot.

      I love this observation — it’s so true! When I did an interview with Terry Fallis a couple of years ago, we ended up talking about a similar thing: in two of his books, his main character is so like him that it’s startling, and he agreed that the book was “strewn” with pieces of himself. I guess writing fiction, it could be sort of inevitable.

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