Thursday, February 21, 2013


How Should A Person Be?, Sheila Heti, Henry Holt and Company, 2012, 306 pp

What is it about Canadian women who write? The level of intelligence is somehow a bit higher. Readers of this blog know my opinion of Margaret Atwood as one of the most intelligent women alive. Then there is Emily St John Mandell.

How Should A Person Be? touched many a nerve among readers, some pleasurably, some unpleasantly. I loved it as an honest look at the perils and responsibilities of friendship between women. That the women in the story are both artists (one a painter, one a playwright) only made it more intense for me.

I also dived right into Sheila's troubles with being married. The question of this novel set in the interrogative mood is how to be faithful (not necessarily sexually) without sacrificing one's own personhood. Another aspect of the question is how to stay in love with another person and still be selfish when one needs to be. 

I think what raises Heti's novel above the navel-gazing of which she has been accused is its philosophical underpinnings. Now that I consider that last sentence, I realize that at least a couple of my favorite philosophers were quite the navel-gazers. Didn't one philosopher say that the unexamined life is not worth living, or something like that?

I thank Sheila Heti for examining her life and having the courage to write about it. I also thank the Tournament of Books folks for putting her book on the 2013 list.

(How Should A Person Be? is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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