On 'How Should a Person Be?' by Sheila Heti

You recommended How Should a Person Be?, and when you said Heti’s book read like no other, I picked it up immediately. I guess you’d call it a docu-novel. Most of the characters are based on Heti’s circle of friends, named as they are in life—with the apparent exception of her love interest (er, fuck buddy) Israel. (I’ll get to him later.) I’d love to hear more about what you thought was so unique about Heti’s writing. For me, it’s not just that she’s walking the line between fiction and nonfiction, which writers do all the time. It’s the wavy, vernacular path she carves between documenting and fictionalizing her own experience. In the process of fictionalizing art and feeling and drugs and sex, she manages to document a very right now cultural moment and to feel like more Keats or the Shelleys than your Kerouacs and Ginsbergs (who did something similar in their time). And she’s rawer than most contemporary writers, offering a close look at her own scrapes and humiliations. There’s some prurience involved. But there’s also plenty of reflection and philosophy.

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I like your Romantic take on the book. I hadn’t precisely thought of it that way and yet that does describe how I feel about the book. It reads like a deliberate and genuine search, and less like experiment, which is how most critics seem to be reading it (although I did think of Kerouac, too, while reading). I believe Heti. The book feels honest. Which is sort of an odd thing to say because for some it’s absolutely not that because it explicitly presents itself as a distortion of the “truth.” But for me that is what makes it such an exciting read. The book reads as a sort of middle finger at truth and authenticity, two words that I hear a lot more lately, especially by younger people. These are also words I don’t particularly like or trust. And yet this book comes closer to what I think we imagine those words mean more than most books. I find that tension thrilling.


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