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Sheila Heti

Author of How Should a Person Be?

27+ Works 2,056 Members 74 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Sheila Heti was born in Toronto, Canada in 1976. She studied playwriting at the National Theatre School and philosophy at the University of Toronto. Heti runs Trampoline Hall, a monthly lecture series, and writes regularly about the visual arts. Her title The Middle Stories was Shortlisted for the show more 2001 Upper Canada Writer's Craft Award. Heti was voted Best Emerging Writer in NOW magazine's Reader's Poll in 2001. In September 2010, Heti's book How Should a Person Be?, was published by Henry Holt in the United States in July 2012. It was chosen by The New York Times as one of the 100 Best Books of 2012 and by The New Yorker as one of the best books of the year. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Octavia Books, Uptown New Orleans: Author Sheila Heti reads from and discusses her book "How Should a Person Be?" By Infrogmation of New Orleans - Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26965546

Works by Sheila Heti

Associated Works

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths (2013) — Contributor — 265 copies
McSweeney's Issue 28 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern) (2008) — Contributor — 168 copies
Trans: A Memoir (2015) — Foreword & Afterword, some editions — 156 copies
McSweeney's Issue 32: 2024 AD (2009) — Contributor — 143 copies
The Best of McSweeney's {complete} (1800) — Contributor — 138 copies
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015 (2015) — Contributor — 103 copies
Darwin's Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow (2010) — Contributor — 90 copies
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017 (2017) — Contributor — 82 copies
How Should One Read a Book? (1922) — Introduction, some editions — 64 copies
McSweeney's Issue 50 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern) (2017) — Contributor — 50 copies
Granta 145: Ghosts (2018) — Contributor — 48 copies
Granta 158: In the Family (2022) — Contributor — 25 copies
A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors (2015) — Contributor — 12 copies
Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose (2016) — Contributor — 7 copies


2013 (12) 21st century (25) American literature (14) anthology (141) art (37) Canada (32) Canadian (46) Canadian literature (29) collection (19) contemporary fiction (15) ebook (18) essays (82) fantasy (21) fashion (31) feminism (27) fiction (384) first edition (19) friendship (21) goodreads (13) Granta (12) journal (13) Kindle (15) literary journal (20) literature (41) McSweeney's (116) memoir (39) music (17) mythology (25) non-fiction (107) novel (46) periodical (18) read (19) science fiction (16) Sheila Heti (13) short stories (204) signed (20) to-read (462) Toronto (15) unread (22) women (26)

Common Knowledge

Places of residence
Toronto, Ontario, Canada



I could see people hating this book. I can imagine many criticisms that I would totally accept as valid. It has taken me weeks to figure out what I liked about the book. But, despite this I thought it a brilliant illumination of contempary life of youngish city-dwellers. It felt complete and rounded and sincere. It may be a bit hollow and inconsequential - almost vapid - but that feels so much part of the novel's characters existence that it is itself a commentary on their lives and experiences. I found it engrossing and satisfying, but I would still hesitate to recommend this generally, because I'm not confident enough in its general appeal.

The book is written as a memoir - I don't know how true it actually is, but it conveys the impression that it's pretty close. The narrator, Sheila of course, is a writer, and feckless in the manner of the modern world. It is a fairly scattershot narrative, and deliberately idiosyncratic. It meanders, and jumps around, and is not overly concerned with plot. This mirrors the attitudes and character of the writer, and the themes of the book very cleverly. You don't just read the memoir, but in reading it you feel the experience of it.

She suffers from writers' block and her continuing failure to work on a play that she is contracted to write runs through the novel. She doesn't seem overly bothered by it. However, the main focus of the narrative is Sheila's intense friendship with a painter, Margaux. The strength of this friendship is the dominant, most emphatic thing in the book. It subsumes everything else, she feels brilliant with Margaux and feels that everyone else feels that about them. Really Sheila just wants to be successful at and famous for being the most wonderful friends with Margaux. She realises this isn't realistic (particularly the latter; it's quite possible she believes the former already), but it is still her honest and sincere wish. In reviews, much has been written about the abusive, exploitative (and explicit) sexual relationship she is in during the novel. It is another major theme of the book - and is juxtaposed with her friendship with Margaux, her unsuccessful playwriting, and her struggling to discover how a person should be. However, it doesn't take up that many actual pages. It is not what the book is about (nonetheless, it is another reason why I would hesitate to recommend it to people).

Sheila's fecklessness manifests in a number of ways. She and her friends discuss things seriously and intelligently, but at a fairly superficial level. She longs for fame, but not a fame she has to work at, or even earn, and one that she does not wish to interfere with her current lifestyle. There is also her casual, relatively banal drug use, her under-developed work ethic. Of particular note, though, is her treatment of her divorce after three years of marriage. It is mentioned several times, but almost in passing, never really examined. She relates how her actions have affected other people, but, apart from when it affects her relationship with Margaux, is not overly concerned about it.

Despite all this, I found her to be a likeable protagonist. She is not amoral, nor particularly decadent in the context of the society in which she lives. She is self-centred, but in a natural and believable way. While she certainly doesn't always behave admirably, neither does she defend her actions. She is entirely plausible, and highly recognisable - in her desires and fears and behaviours - in people that I know. She worries how a person should be, and relates how life is.
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thisisstephenbetts | 39 other reviews | Nov 25, 2023 |
Original WOmen In Clothes, 2014, 562 women write about their wear to dress and their clothes
betty_s | Sep 27, 2023 |
"Sheila, you never come to clown class anymore.”

"You have to know where the funny is." The burned-out sense of humor (and, occasionally, that of parenthetical insertion) remains, perhaps, a sign that thinking has occurred. Heti is writing a sentiment which is already flaring out of existence, but she is funny, too. A novel accidental-contingency. The title phrase ("How should a person Be?"), following a reading of the text, turns out to emphasize "How" (question of modalities of being) rather than "Be" (question of the possibility of being), such that we sense each moment could have been written differently than it appears on the page (not in the bad sense). In the regurgitation of hi-fi tape-recorded conversations and the paring of emails into a series enumerated phrases, a kind of archaeology is being illuminated. ME: (Reassuringly) I don't even know what that means.

"Interlude for Fucking" chapter as a re-dubbed "Song of Songs," but she's crazy and really pulls it off. (Israel is so hot, but his sexts are pathetic. There is some sense in this.)

Miscellaneous Quotes, or, Heti Writes the World:

Heti as Oppenheimer --> "We live in an age of some really great blow-­job artists."

Heti as Adorno --> "Everyone enjoys economy for its relation to a certain morality, "

Heti as Beckett --> "It would not help me finish my play, or solve any of my problems.
Yes it would. It would solve them all."

Heti as Emma Lazarus --> "Where would all of America be—­and ­wouldn’t the flame long be extinguished in the sea—­if not for that tall girl’s steady wrist?"

Heti as Heti --> "I should put a lot of shit in the play,"
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Joe.Olipo | 39 other reviews | Sep 19, 2023 |
Go ahead and add me to the never-ending list of people who have read — and adored — “Motherhood” by Sheila Heti.

We follow the (often) relatable, inner-monologue of a late thirties woman as she navigates the possibility of being a mother, her perception of her own mother and grandmother, and attempts to understand the women in her life (near her own age) who are becoming mothers, alongside the dynamics of her romantic relationship and her creative career. As you can imagine it’s messy and poignant and sad, at times.

Much didn’t apply to me… and won’t to those who fall outside the categories of “want to have kids” and “don’t want to have kids” because this book isn’t about those who have no choice in their own motherhood. It’s more about the ways in which society and family use guilt and tradition to funnel women into certain lives, and choosing not to be a mother is deemed “less than”. But it never condemns motherhood vs not being a mother, or frames either as an absence of anything else, in a bad way.

Side note; I really liked the use of coin-flipping in the narrative, which is a device that added to the poetic flow and philosophical nature of the narrative.

Definitely recommend this one, it’s my favorite Sheila Heti, thus far.
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jo_lafaith | 12 other reviews | Sep 19, 2023 |



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½ 3.5

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