As many of you probably know, Sheila Heti has a new book out. It’s called How Should a Person Be? It was reviewed last week in The New Yorker by James Wood. It was reviewed as well as by Chris Klaus in the LA Review of Books and Emily Witt in the Observer. I recommend Klaus’s and Witt’s reviews if you haven’t read the book—Wood seems a bit unsure how earnestly to read Heti’s novel.
I also had a chance to interview Sheila about her book. I met her maybe a year ago at a reading at Powerhouse Arena for The Chairs are Where the People Go. She is total girl crush material.
We Gchatted for the interview. I was sitting in my bathrobe at my desk, and I kept feeling nervous that I was taking up too much of Sheila’s time. I would offer signals, like telling her this one of my last questions. Or apologized for belaboring or lingering on a point. But by the end of it, that wonderful thing happened where I relaxed, and realized that my politeness was a guard against my insecurities that she was not having fun, or finding my questions lame, or was bored by this entire event, and that if Sheila had anywhere to go after this, it wasn’t horribly urgent, and that she was probably enjoying herself too.
One of my favorite moments was when we talked about Girls—whether or not its a fair comparison to make with Sheila’s book is your decision—but I especially admire the way both are unafraid of the ugly or the wretched. So many books I read seem to have characters who are morally good, who don’t dwell on their own perversions or vanity, and I find it inauthentic:
Sheila: I like when Adam admires her pencilled eyebrows in another episode and says, “You look like a Mexican teenager,” and she’s like, “I’m NOT here to talk about that.”
Me: There is a curiosity she has about being wretched, of not desiring the pure or innocent life. And I see that in your book, too.
Sheila: Yeah. But also, that’s something very normal to go into.
Me: But I think some people are repulsed by wretchedness. Others want beauty. Which I think that doesn’t interest you or Lena as much. But maybe I’m wrong.
Sheila: But there’s beauty in what’s real. I perceive much more beauty in her show than shows featuring “beautiful people” living “beautiful lives.” Showing that kind of beauty doesn’t create beauty. It creates awful feelings. In my book, Sheila’s big problem is related to that: she wants a perfect, beautiful, ideal self. That turns out to be ugly.