How Should a Person Be?

Title: How Should a Person Be?
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (2012)
Pages: 320
Rating: 3 stars

How Should a Person Be? is part fiction, part memoir, and part play. Sheila Heti is a playwright based in Toronto, who—when she couldn’t finish her play—wrote a book about not being able to finish her play (with some of the play thrown in there).

This book is all over the map as far as structure, but the core of the book is about a person’s journey to learn how to be. That is, how to think, how to feel, how to act, how to look, etc. You would think a woman at Sheila’s age would have mostly figured this out by now, but after a divorce this question of How Should a Person Be? begins to take shape.

Sheila interviews her friends, mostly her best friend Margeaux, to figure out what makes other people be who they are. She talks about trying on other personalities and styles to see which one fits best, because what does being yourself mean? No one is entirely of themselves, people are continually adapting themselves according to what is happening around them and who is influencing them.

I find this an intriguing question on a personal level. Who am I? How do I BE? I don’t really know. I know that I say “bless her heart” and apologize a lot because I grew up in the South.

I say “kitty boo boo baby” to my cat because my crazy friend says that to her dog. So, how much of me is me? And how much of me is outside influence? Does making that distinction even matter?

Like I said, definitely an interesting question. However, I have never been a fan of a character that completely lacks self-respect. In the novel, Heti ponders how to BE famous for fame itself not for DOING something great, engages in an extrememly degrading relationship, and never completes her art.

From the raving reviews of this book,** I really thought this was going to teach me something about love, female relationships, and art in the 21st century. How Should a Person Be? had some enjoyable, quotable moments, but otherwise was not what I expected.

I wanted a strong female character (as always!) or at least one who stands up for herself. For example, this guy she’s sort of seeing is all I HAVE to have blow jobs first thing in the morning. And she’s like OK, I want to please you *pants like a dog*. And I’m thinking, I HAVE to have jasmine tea first thing in the morning but I steep it myself, so take some yoga or get some ribs removed. This guy is a total jerk and she knows it but finds it hot. Ick.

One thing she said that really stuck with me and that I loved was (I’m paraphrasing): Some people walk through life with all of their clothes on. And some people walk through life without any clothes on. They are the artists. The naked people are the ones who bare their souls to the rest of us (whether ugly or beautiful), so that we can all better understand the human experience. To her credit, Sheila Heti does just that and bares her inner-workings, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

**”A seriously strange but funny plunge into the quest for authenticity.”—Margaret Atwood. My response: Dear Favorite Author Margaret Atwood, I fail to see how this book is a quest for authenticity when all the author really wants is to do is be famous for the sake of being famous. You’re still my FAV though. -Natalie

About Natalie Ramm

I read a lot, y'all.
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2 Responses to How Should a Person Be?

  1. At least the book made you think! When a book does that, I think it still has plenty of merit. Sounds like one I may have to pass on though. Loved reading your thoughts on it.

    Liked by 1 person

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